Recently we’ve been hired to play more Catholic masses, and more parties. If you’re curious, here we are paid about the same in pesos as we were in dollars in the US. A dollar is worth around 17 pesos right now. We don’t do it for the money. We do play out of devotion to what we were born for – music.
We played for a fiesta last Sunday – a big birthday party held in a nearby ex-fertilizer vendor’s warehouse. We received mixed reviews. A man who worked for 25 years in Nevada and Montana loved it. Two tables of women sat and listened to every single song, hardly talking. An older man asked for “Mexican music! Don’t you play Mexican music?” When Chon announced “This next song is pura Mexicana! I wrote it myself, and I’m Mexican.” The guy and his wife got up and left after the song.
The menu was puro Mexicano – carnitas and sopa. (Dessert came later). When a pig is butchered and cooked in an enormous copper kettle it’s called carnitas. Sopa here (sounds a bit like soup, doesn’t it?) is what you might call Mexican rice. The recipes vary, but it is almost always red rice. Some recipes have more ingredients, like diced carrots and peas. It’s always good.
We played different styles of music. We played cumbias (check out cumbia rhythm: it’s one of the most infectiousand non-boring rhythms I’ve heard, ever). We played baladas, slow songs. We played rock ‘n roll. We played rock. We played original songs (very popular). We played songs in Spanish and English. We played until after 11 p.m., and we had been hired until 9 p.m. It’s typical that Chon plays better and better, and sings better and better the later it gets. (Look up the word “duende”). He’s an astonishingly good singer, guitarist and composer.
WOMEN helped us load up our equipment! Women! They stayed on and on, chatting, until nearly everyone had left. They loaded our heavy equipment into our big truck, and then loaded us with food to take home. Most of these parties are well armed with to-go plates and containers and aluminum foil. We had food for a week! There was at least two pounds of carnitas which I prudently packaged and froze.
Although the fiesta was less than 5 miles away we arrived home very late indeed. We had to call it a success.
And here’s a truth about local Mexican audiences: in general, they’re surprised by us as a band. The first thing they notice, other than we’re only two people, is that we don’t play banda. They love banda. They expect banda, that ubiquitous mix of Spanish lyrics, simple, repetitious melodies, and what I would call a tuba band. Instead, they get something more like a rock band. We have big equipment, enough to produce sound for large crowds. We have a large truck to carry equipment – you should see the stares when we show up.
If you are a musician, or have some knowledge of what you see on a stage, you may wonder how we do it. Among the pieces of electronic equipment we carry are two drum machines, programmed by us. We would love to have a live drummer, but it’s just not likely to happen. I’m a classically trained singer and keyboard player, the person you might see singing on a stage with a chorus and orchestra, or in an orchestra pit accompanying a musical comedy, and I use two synthesizers. On one synthesizer I play bass with the left hand, and lead parts like introductions, and accompaniment parts like strings and piano sounds as well.
Chon is a very, very, very good guitarist, with many years of experience playing in a bar and touring band from Chicago. He has extensive training and on-hands experience in sound engineering. He also has impressive skills as a composer. He has written literally hundreds and hundreds of songs for church services and live performances of all styles. I love it sometimes when we’re recording or practicing and I tell him that I think what I’m playing on the keyboards sounds boring, and he thinks for a couple of seconds (literally) and then says “Try this.” And sings me a riff or a melody or a rhythm. He has stunning ideas!