Everything you didn’t know about Orchestras in Yucatán

“To sing to my land, the land of trova musicians, you have to carry the perfume of its flowers in your soul,” fragment of “A Yucatán” by Luis Espinosa Alcalá

Yucatán is international known for its immense musical talent, by its “trova” and the romanticism reflected in all its love songs, like “Peregrina” by Ricardo Palmerín, dedicated to the journalist Alma Reed; or by songs that narrate the beauty of the “jarana” dance, like “Aires del Mayab” by Pepe Domínguez; you can listen to them every Thursday at the “sereneta” in Parque Santa Lucía. This music has been played all over the world in pop versions, with mariachis, and of course with orchestras.

An orchestra is a musicians’ ensemble that can vary in number or composition of its members, according to its musical style. It will always have wind instruments (wood or metal), strings, and percussion. In Yucatán the first orchestras were founded around 1918 and became established during the following decades, coinciding with the golden age of cinema and radio in México and with the beginning of the big dance ballrooms. All you needed was to pay a token entry fee and have lots of energy to dance and listen to the live orchestras.

Many groups like “Orquesta Venus,” “Unión,” and others, traveled all over southeastern México entertaining their fans in dance halls with “danzón,” “pasodoble,” and cumbia rhythms; playing classic pieces in shows; or as accompaniment to folk dancers. This is how the state orchestra “Típica Yukalpetén,” among others, got started. The word “típica” applies to the ensembles that play folk music; in the case of southeastern México the music is the “jarana.”

Can you imagine a live orchestra duel? During those years, all over the Peninsula, when musical encounters took place, two or more orchestras performed, and the result was a continuous party with song and dance: something like the concerts of today.

You might be wondering how these great musicians began; great empirical musicians were born from that first contact with an instrument, finding their vocation and their passion; others with musical studies of harmony and composition become orchestra conductors. And others dedicated a big part of their lives to composing songs about the traditions of Yucatán in festive “jaranas.” Together they transform orchestra music into a true language without social classes: it’s the same whether they play live in a city theater or in a local small town party.

Today Mérida, Motul, Ticul, and Izamal all have their own “típica” or youth orchestra, mainly promoted by the municipal or state government. These ensembles continue to be the soul of the party, providing all the music that accompanies “gremios” and processions, in the public plazas and in the “vaquerías”.

You can live this experience in Mérida with a live orchestra and dance, each Tuesday at “Remembranzas Musicales” at 8:30 pm in Santiago Park, Calle 59 x 72. Don’t forget your dancing shoes!

By Violeta H. Cantarell