Ranchera Music: A Mexican National Symbol

January 9, 2017

Ranchera, a style of music that grew out of the Mexican revolution, highlights the beauty and simplicity of Mexican life for all citizens. Known for its drama, passion and patriotism, this style of music elicits images of Mexican ranch life. The most famous ranchera singer is inarguably Vicente Fernandez, who has become a national icon in Mexico in the same manner as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley in the U.S.(1). This style of music was inspired by various styles of waltz, polka and bolero music. Over time adaptations of this style have given rise to mariachi bands (2). To this day, ranchera music can be found throughout Mexico and the United States, where ranchera radio stations and Canción Ranchera music festivals can be found in various regions.

Ranchera music developed and gained popularity in the 20th century due to its relatability in speaking to the patriotism and passion felt by many Mexicans. This type of music surged in popularity as films called “ranchero comedies” became commonplace in Mexico. They included ranchera music and demonstrated the values of honor, love and patriotism that are constant themes in the songs. Both the movies and the music were ways in which Mexico could counter the false stereotypes of Mexicans presented in American film, music and television (3). Further spread of ranchera music came thanks to the establishment of radio stations. Beginning in the 1930s, XEW radio station (known as “the Voice of Latin America from Mexico”) further incorporated ranchera music, spreading the sounds throughout Mexico and across the globe (4).

By the 1940s, the greater establishment of connections with the U.S. had started to affect Mexican culture and nationalism. Ranchera music was categorized as “stereotypical Mexican music” and in some places it began being produced less for the enjoyment of Mexicans and more for exportation to the U.S. and to tourists visiting Mexico. This movement towards capitalizing off of a national symbol was met with some backlash and more regional patriotism in order to preserve Mexican nationalism as something of and by the local people. This resulted in a further rise in popularity of ranchera music and the adaptation of new styles and genres.

In the 1950s, ranchera music again faced challenges from the North. The popularity of fast-paced music grew as rumba, boogie-woogie and swing gained popularity with the youth, while older generations considered it to be indecent music. This division created a resurgence of popularity of ranchera music, thanks to the music of Felipe Valdés Leal, José Alfredo Jiménez and Chucho Monge. On the other hand, it helped to spread corrido music, which is a variation of the ranchera with a faster pace to satisfy the craze of pulsating hits. This music also spread when rural Mexicans moved into the cities, carrying with them the slow, emotional music of the countryside(5).   

Through the past 50 years, ranchera music has remained a steadfast genre of music that gives Mexicans a sense of national unity. The popularity of ranchera music spread to Chile as well. The style’s focus on the simple life in rural areas was relatable to Mexicans and Chileans. One recent study of Mexican ranchera music in Chile found that there were three reasons why rural and formerly rural Chileans enjoyed ranchera music; a connection to the music’s themes, the “fun” beats demonstrated their values and finally the nostalgia that the music elicited. Though this survey focuses on Chileans, it is realistic to assume that many Mexicans feel similarly, most likely with an added sense of national pride for Mexico(6).

Throughout Mexico’s history, ranchera music has changed and adapted as the culture and values of the country evolved, giving the music a constant theme, but with an ever-changing identity and purpose. In the words of ranchera music researcher Dora Ramirez-Dhoore, this phenomenon is due to the fact that “ranchera music specifically is bound by shifting cultural meanings produced by an individual or community. Individuals read and reformulate their interpretations of texts according to the stories or cultural myths that surround them.” Though this type of music has changed and evolved over time, it still spreads messages of a shared Mexican identity and a unified national struggle.


References:

1) Was, D. “The Living Legend' of Mexican Ranchera Music” (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2016, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5626710

2) Ranchera Music - Music from Mexico. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2016, from http://www.donquijote.org/culture/mexico/music/ranchera-music

3) Montfort, R. P. “Music in Mexico City, 1880–1960”. (2016, May 02). Retrieved December 20, 2016, from http://latinamericanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/978019936...

4) Montfort, R. P. “Music in Mexico City, 1880–1960”. (2016, May 02). Retrieved December 20, 2016, from http://latinamericanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/978019936...

5) Montfort, R. P. “Music in Mexico City, 1880–1960”. (2016, May 02). Retrieved December 20, 2016, from http://latinamericanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/978019936...

6) Mularski, J. P. (2012). Mexican or Chilean: Mexican Ranchera Music and Nationalism in Chile. Studies in Latin American Popular Culture, 30(1), 54-75. doi:10.1353/sla.2012.0015

 

About Author(s)

Katherine Andrews
Katherine Andrews is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Political Science with certificates in Global and Latin American Studies. She spent her summer interning with the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department and has done research with CLAS in Costa Rica and Mexico. Her focus is on gender and sexuality issues in Latin America, specifically international gender-based violence policy.