Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cancion Mixteca - beauty in Mexican music

For the past week, a song has been invading my thoughts, as sometimes happens. It's Cancion Mixteca, written about eighty years ago in Mexico City by José López Alavéz, a homesick native of Oaxaca State (a place I have visited, although I didn't know the connection at the time).

Que lejos estoy del suelo donde he nacido!
inmensa nostalgia invade mi pensamiento;
y al ver me tan solo y triste qual hoja al viento,
quisiera llorar, quisiera morir de sentimiento.

Oh tierra del sol!, suspiro por verte
ahora que lejos yo vivo sin luz, sin amor;
y al verme tan solo y triste cual hoja al viento,
quisiera llorar, quisiera morir de sentimiento.

It's a real weepy, and a decent singer can evoke the beautiful and the tragic at the same time. Even without knowing the words, it's still possible to appreciate both the sentiment and the beauty of the Spanish language.

Placido Domingo is a particularly decent singer - and a native speaker of Spanish. But I don't get a lot out of his rendition (a low quality video can be seen here). Strangely, for an opera singer, he doesn't seem to have put much emotion into it.

Linda Ronstadt does (seen here) - unsurpisingly, since her background is steeped in the Mexican tradition. Quite a creditable performance, although it has a bounce than rather belies the gravitas of the sentiment.

The best performance I've heard comes from Harry Dean Stanton, the well-known actor. Firstly, the arrangement is rather different from others - and it suits Stanton, who cuts out the high notes without loss. And he sounds so melancholy - as if his rehearsal consisted of conjuring up the most mournful of his memories.

The tune can be heard in the film Paris, Texas - but only as an instrumental by Ry Cooder. Stanton's singing can only be heard on the soundtrack to the film. One could say that Wim Wenders had his reasons for dropping the singing from what is ultimately a very moving film. But Stanton's version is so thoroughly moving that it would have enhanced the film if deftly slotted in.

Well, we live and learn. Meanwhile, we are fortunate to be able to get hold of Stanton's version.

How far I am from the land where I was born
intense nostalgia invades my thoughts

and when I see myself as alone and sad as a leaf to the wind
I want to cry, I want to die of grief.

Oh land of the sun! I sigh to see you now
how far I am now, I live without light, without love



Walter Benjamin said...

Couldn't agree more: Harry Dean Stanton, best performance. Deep song. Apparently reflects only sadness, "saudade" and grief from lost childhood dreams that always come along with you. But it's more than that: it's nothing more than that.

Z said...

Being hispanic myself, born in New Mexico, and a guitar player, I have to say that when I heard the Harry Dean Stanton/Ry Cooder (on guitar) version of the song, it brought tears to my eyes, it was that moving. I understood the lyrics and the guitar work is amazing. It sounds so distant, and melancholy, yet hauntingly beautiful. Recently, The Cheiftan's released a new CD entitled "San Patricio" featuring Ry Cooder. (and Linda Ronstadt). It has yet another moving instrumental guitar version of the song as well as a vocal version that is not quite as melancholy, yet still in its own way, beautiful. Check it out if you can!


I like the version by Tony Aguilar. Proper sentiment and good mariachi.
My fantasy version would be Cuco Sanchez with Antonio Bribiesco accompanying

Emilio González said...

I have not listened yet the Harry Dean Stanton performance. According to your comments it must be awesome. I will look for it in youtube. Canción Mixteca is a very emotional song to listen. I am glad to see how an English-speaker can appreciate the beauty of the Spanish language. Mexico is one of the richest countries in terms of culture. Talking about music we have many kind of styles and sounds. We also have a very complex map of cultural regions and have cult music as well. If you want to see how regional (folk) and cult music can be put together in a marvelous composition, you must listen Jose Pablo Moncayo's "Huapango." No truly Mexican can avoid crying when listening to this sort of national anthem. Greeting from Mexico City!

S Simmonds said...

Yes, I tried Youtube, but there's nothing useful there. Anyone know of other places on the web to hear specific songs? The best I can suggest is to listen to a small extract from the Paris Texas soundtrack on Amazon.

Esparza said...

In my opinion, Cuco Sanchez give us an amazing performance. Here I leave you the link in youtube:


S Simmonds said...

Muchos gracias. Eso es muy triste, verdad!

Robert said...

This is my favorite version:

Classic, simple TexMex/Norteno style.