In the prologue to Luck and Death at the Edge of the World I wrote:
This program was also created on a steady diet of music from Greater Mexico, which is not just a geographical place but a set of orientations defined by language, by blood ties, by family recipes, by letters back to your grandma in Mérida, by one’s state of mind. It incorporates not only the Estados Unidos Mexicanos, but former Mexican territories in Texas, New Mexico, California, and elsewhere. It also includes members of the Mexican diaspora living in far-flung places like Montreal, Berlin, and Stockholm. It was to the music of this Mexico – distributed, amorphous, and sometimes surreal – that this broadcast was created, and listening to it will enhance your enjoyment of the show.
Unfortunately we are experiencing difficulties with our audio feed at this time, likely as a result of government signal jamming. Our strong recommendation is that you obtain recordings of at least the following: Oaxaca powerhouse Lila Downs, the multifaceted and multitalented Plastilina Mosh, musical surrealist deluxe Juan Garcia Esquivel, and the incomparable Flaco Jiménez, and lay these down over a solid foundation of mariachi and ranchera.
I wish I could share all the great Mexican music I’ve collected over the years, but online resources can give you a pretty good idea of what I was talking about.
So this is the Luck and Death jukebox, an ever-expanding project to bring you some of the incredibly varied music of Mexico. This is what was playing in the background while the book was being written.
In this section I’ve posted songs by the musicians I mentioned by name in the prologue: Lila Downs, Plastilina Mosh, Juan Garcia Esquivel, and Flaco Jiménez.
Lila Downs was born in Oaxaca, Mexico to a Mixtec mother and a British-American father and she’s speaks fluent Spanish, English and Mixtec. Okay, that’s all the biography you need — now just listen to her. Downs has a voice that is awesome in its power, communicative in its passion, and honed to fine precision. Some music I like when I first hear it, but it grows on me until I love it. Not this; this was love at first listen.
Zapata Se Queda
Back before music sales migrated online, rising into the cloud like some kind of weird, melodic rapture, I used to have a policy of regularly going into my local CD store, going to one of the “world music” sections — which mostly meant stuff that hadn’t yet hit big within the U.S., including some stuff from within the U.S. — picking something that looked interesting, and buying it based on nothing more than instinct and cover art.
I ended up with some good stuff (awesome Hawaiian music, great African psychedelia, cool Vietnamese music) and a lot of crap, but the entire scheme was vindicated the day I bought the first Plastilina Mosh album just after its release in 1998, before any hype had reached Toronto. I took it home and listened to it and, to paraphrase Cordelia Chase (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 1), immediately had to call everyone I’d ever met.
I’ve Got That Milton Pacheco Kinda Feeling
Juan Garcia Esquivel (Wikipedia)
Begin the Beguine
Flaco Jiménez (Wikipedia)
La Mojadita / El Pantalon Blue Jean
Obviously I couldn’t list every Mexican musician or band I love in the prologue to the novel. I wanted to provide a few examples, not write an essay on Mexican music.
Here, though, I can expand on that list a little.
In this section I’ve posted songs by people who weren’t specifically mentioned in the prologue but who easily could have been.
Yo Digo Baila
Traditional Music by Various Artists
Llorona — performed by Gloria de la Cruz
Sin Ti — performed by Trio Los Panchos
Antonio Aguilar (Wikipedia)
La Cama de Piedra
El hijo desobediente