A tour of Mexican music in the Twin Citiesby Sanden Totten, Minnesota Public Radio
One of the largest niche markets in Latin music in the Twin Cities is regional Mexican music. We took a tour of the Mexican music scene with the author of "Musica de la Raza," a book that tells the story of Minnesota's Mexican and Chicano musicians.
St. Paul, Minn. — Maya Santamaria is our guide. Santamaria is a cultural anthropologist with an emphasis in musicology. She is also the owner of El Rodeo Nuevo night club and restaurant on Lake St. in Minneapolis.
On a recent summer night, El Nuevo Rodeo is hopping. Men in fancy hats are buying tequila for women wearing exotic ostrich-skin boots. Everyone speaks Spanish. It's hard to remember you're still in Minnesota. Santamaria says for this crowd, that's the point.
"They come here to feel home away from home," says Santamaria. "After a long week of being a laborer in a society where you're considered an alien, going somewhere where you feel familiar and accepted, and you feel that happiness of your home music -- it validates you as a person, it makes you feel whole and human again."
Santamaria says non-Latino Minnesotans rarely show up at her club. They're always welcome, but with the high cover charge and heavy Mexican vibe, most casual clubbers feel out of place. She says this is a change from the 1970s and '80s.
"In those years the Mexican-American community was very bicultural. The difference came right around the turn of the century, starting around 1995, when a large second wave, an influx of real regional Mexicans came through," she says. "Then all of the sudden it was more important to be authentic than to assimilate."
And this is reflected in the music. According to Santamaria, regional Mexican music packs her club like nothing else.
Many of the headlining acts come to Minneapolis fresh from playing dusty dance halls in Mexico. They play well-defined genres.
One example is Nortena music, a style from northern Mexico. It's heavy on accordion and features a Bajo Sexto, a 12-string guitar native to Mexico. Santamaria thinks of it as lonely cowboy music.
Another popular style is called Banda. It often features 20 wind instruments, mostly brass -- and is anything but lonely music.
Aside from at El Nuevo Rodeo, you can catch this type of music at outdoor festivals all throughout the summer. The Spanish language station Radio Rey hosts regular concerts at places like the state fairgrounds, and at the rodeo in Hugo, just north of St. Paul.
Even though the music hasn't changed much, Santamaria says the emotions behind it have. As an example, she points to the grito -- a cry you'll hear wherever good Mexican music is played.
A grito is a boisterous sound. And for Mexicans living abroad, Santamaria says it also conveys a sense of nostalgia for home.
"There are a lot of different emotions in that expression. And that's found in our music, too," Santamaria says, using one song as an example. "It's a celebratory music, we're dancing, but the accordion is so sad. You know, there's that real kind of longing in the music. And the beat, you're marching on, but there's something that kind of makes your heart feel that tinge of sadness while you're happy and while you're dancing."
Anthropologist Maya Santamaria says the grito says all that, without saying much at all.