Sounds from the Northern Frontier

In the space where the United States blurs into Mexico, the chords of the accordion and the bajosexto (a kind of twelve-string guitar) mix to create the typical sound of the borderlands region: música norteña.

Boots, jeans, leather belt, a plaid or lisa shirt, and of course a sombrero: these are the perfect complement for the fans of these rhythms. They cut circles at public dances, private fiestas, or in the intimacy of the home, turning on the radio and tuning into one of the dozens of stations dedicated to norteña programming.

Even though fronterizos on both sides of the border surrender to the love of these sounds, the music’s origins are little known. Norteña dates back to the colonial period and the popularity of the violin, but after Independence the genre lost none of its favor.

The use of the accordion and the bajosexto in música norteña is owed to Czech migrants who arrived in the borderlands during the second half of the 19th century bringing with them polkas and other dances. The new sound was adopted by other musicians in the region and mixed with the roots of música ranchera.

This sound began to be known as “música norteña” for the geographic location where it was created. After the Mexican Revolution, it boomed with the corridos—songs capturing and reflecting in their lyrics political and social crises in both countries. It was during the mid-20th century that its commercial exploitation increased considerably.

Many confuse musica norteña with Tejano music; even though there are many who mix the genres, the latter shows strong influence from country and jazz music from north of the border. As culture joins the rush to globalization, music has grown commodified and genres come and go. Norteña defends its place and earns popularity as it is exported to the world. As the style evolves, it attracts more and more fans and becomes all but indispensable at celebrations and parties.

Jhovanni Raga is a freelance contributor to cultural magazines and books. He can be reached at jhio.raga@gmail.com.

 

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