When I first bumped into the Vancouver Folk Fest line-up yesterday morning, I was relieved. Being a fan of Canadian music living in Mexico can be frustrating. In Mexico City I get to see Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene or Japandroids, but I’ve come to terms with knowing that bands like The Wilderness of Manitoba or Folly and the Hunter may never play in my hometown, and it’s ok. It’s just I feel a bit sad knowing the bands I like are touring and I can’t do anything to go to their gigs.
That’s why I was relieved: Vancouver Folk Fest will feature only quite a few bands I know and enjoy–definitely not the first time it hurt to see Born Ruffians or Great Lake Swimmers playing somewhere far away from me this summer–but not enough to drive me to throw the “I wish I could be there” tantrum.
Among the bands I didn’t know, I spotted a name in spanish: La Manta. Soon I noticed they were from Mexico. I had never heard about them.
Mexican musicians aren’t new to canadian festivals: A band called Los Oxidados played last year’s North by NorthEast Festival in Toronto; Magos Herrera, a jazz singer, has played the Montreal International Jazz Festival and Mexican Institute of Sound is in the Winnipeg Folk Fest 2014 line-up. Big or small, whatever the genre, everybody gets a shot at being booked in the Great White North.
I was intrigued about La Manta. I thought I may be missing something important. I asked my friends, who are really into music, respect every genre, know lots of bands and are always looking for new bands. Nope, no one had heard about them.
31, 523 Facebook fans couldn’t be wrong, but I didn’t know La Manta–a band who defines its sound as “Traditional mexican music + Jazz” and that was formed in 2009 in Xalapa, Veracruz (close to the east coast of Mexico)–and my friends and acquaintances didn’t know of them either. What were we missing?
When I consider what people think of Mexico, it seems like a colorful land with a heavy heritage, so naturally they would expect us to reflect it in our folk music. Suddenly, it struck me. Are we doing folk music here? Does it have to be completely committed to our roots? What would count as our folk music? What does folk mean here?
You may have heard of Lila Downs or Astrid Hadad, who take elements of Mexican music, dress it up with strangely stereotypical things and give the world what it wants and expects to hear from us–a practice that has slowly transformed them into mainstream overproduced products. For example, Downs is now signed to Sony Music and her latest project, in which she is joined by ‘folklore singers’ from Spain and Argentina, was conceived by a senior executive of the company and its marketing campaign felt kind of plastic. What if our folk music is defined by what the world thinks about us?
On the other hand, the biggest reason why we had never heard about La Manta is quite simple: The most famous local bands that have been created in the recent years are bands who play rock, pop, electronic and all those genres that mesmerize the world. And you can’t blame them because it’s happening everywhere and you’re not going to keep them from playing their Interpol cover. It’s globalization. Or maybe it’s a suggestion that we are way more than just our own culture and heritage. Sometimes we’re head over heels about being more than just our culture and heritage.
When I listened to La Manta’s “El Buscapies,” it really impressed me. The most amazing part of it was the novelty of properly integrating contemporary music with indigenous sounds; I can easily imagine this played in a Mexican fair organized by an embassador or in a alternative music festival by the sea. We’re lucky that the global doors of folk are opening and letting us learn more about their culture through popular music. Yes, it may be “traditional Mexican music + jazz”, but if there’s ever going to be something like contemporary Mexican folk, this is it. It’s a great chance to let the world we can mix all the things that mean being a Mexican in this day and age, instead of showing one face to the world and and keeping a completely different one for us back home.
When I first bumped into the Vancouver Folk Fest line-up yesterday morning, I was relieved, but then it hit me: I didn’t know what a Mexican folk band could sound like, or if there’s anything like contemporary Mexican folk at all, but I’m glad there’s a few of us ready to tell the world about our culture, but ready to teach us about ourselves through music.
Here’s La Manta playing the very groovy “El Buscapies.” Maybe they’ll be coming to Canadian folk festival near you this summer: