By Pablo de Sainz
Mexican music is very diversed. There are many rhythms: From norteña music, with its accordions and basses, to rock en español, with its electric guitars and hardcore lyrics.
Every region in Mexico has its own genre of popular music. Every age group. Every song has its listeners.
Kronos Quartet is aware of this. The group knows Mexico’s musical culture and it loves it. As proof, the quartet, with its violins, its violas, and cellos, take an original tour through Mexico’s rich musical repertoire, and create a fabulous album simply titled “Nuevo” (Nonesuch, 2002), which was recently released.
The outstanding fact in all this, is that the Kronos Quartet mainly consists of instruments usually associated with classical music. One would never expect to hear a tambora song in a classical music concert. But then again, Kronos Quartet is known for its constant experimentation in music.
This album is no exception.
Let us take a peek at the diverse set of songs “Nuevo” has to offer.
The first track in the album is “El Sinaloense,” the famous band song that narrates the story of a man from the northern state of Sinaloa. This version, though, instead of tubas and trumpets, has a gallery of violins and cellos, reinventing the melody and giving audiences familiar with the original song, a chance to enjoy the new version.
Another song that stands out in “Nuevo” is another classic in Mexico popular culture: “Chavo Suite,” which is a outrageous and funny mix of theme songs from three popular TV shows: “Chespirito,” “El Chavo del Ocho,” and “El Chapulín Colorado.” This track can very well be the best one in the whole album, because of its changes in tempo, rhythm, and the relaxing sounds of the violin and the brief samples from “El Chavo del Ocho.”
Kronos’s tendency to experiment with music is more clear in the song title “12/12,” featuring Café Tacuba, one of Mexico’s leading and innovative rock en español bands. The title refers to the date (December 12) in which Mexican Catholics celebrate the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. In this song, one can hear a series of sounds, ranging from mariachi bands to street vendors.
Perhaps this song capture what Kronos violinist and artistic director has said inspired him to create “Nuevo”: “I became fascinated with this sense of the layering of things there-- of time, of music, of culture, of art... You’d walk down the street and never know what you’re going to hear next.”
Another post-modern version of a popular norteña song is narco-corrido “Nacho Verduzco,” made famous by Chalino Sánchez, the man who turned norteña music into a way of living among young Chicanos in Los Angeles.
In this corrido, Kronos captures the essence of norteña, and presents it to a broader audience.
Produced by rock en español guru Gustavo Santaolalla, with participations by many Mexican musicians, “Nuevo” is a perfect experiment. Violins, violas, and cellos, together in Kronos Quartet, play a wide range of famous Mexican melodies in a way you’ll never expect to hear.
Other titles in “Nuevo,” include: “Se me hizo fácil,” written by all-star Mexican composer Agustín Lara; “Sensemaya,” a piece composed by Silvestre Revueltas, Mexico’s leading classical musician; “Perfidia,” made popular and recorded by many American singers, such as Nat King Cole and Glenn Miller; “K’in Suenta Ch’ul Me’tik Kwadulupe,” which is an indigenous change dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and which points out Kronos Quartet’s not ignoring the much ignored indigenous music of Mexico; and “El sinaloense (Dance Mix),” which is a remix of samples from Kronos’ “El Sinaloense,” made by Plankton Man, one of the original DJ’s in the Nortec Collective.
“Nuevo” is one of the most innovative albums that experiment with traditional Mexican music.