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Mexico – The Music of Corn

The canario is the only kind of music played during the time of the planting and harvest ceremony, called the Tlamanes ritual. The name ‘canario’ may come from the musical and choreographic tradition of the Canary Islands, introduced to Mexico during colonial times. Regional musicians now believe that the name in fact comes from the bird that sings so beautifully. Canarios are lovely melodies that form part of the offering to the Lords of the Earth and to corn. Their function is also to create a sacred time and space where it is possible to establish contact with the world of the gods. Canarios are played by the so-called Huastec trio, made up of a violin, a jarana (a small guitar) and a huapanguera guitar.

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There are said to be seven kinds of sones making up the canarios played for the corn festivities, and that each one is meant to accompany a particular moment in the ritual, but the actual number is closer to forty. The reference to the number seven in this context is metaphorical, given that in the Nahua world view, for example, this number is linked to the sacred world.

Different names of corn

The best known canarios and the ones most frequently heard during the ritual are Canario, Chiconcanario, Xochicuicat!, Xochicanario, Xochipitzahuac, San Josentzin, El tordo and La calandria. In most cases, they are rooted in fundamental concepts of the Nahua world view: xochitl = flower, chicome = seven, and cuicatl = song. However, other canarios exhibit no direct relationship between such concepts and their names.

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This confirms that part of the musical significance is created during the performance itself, and derives from the relationship between the songs and different aspects of the ritual act. For example, there are temporal sequences and ritual spaces (The Beginning, The End, Early Morning, The Journey); actions, gestures and behavior (Asking Leave, Giving Back, Thanks); ritual objects (The Copal, The Tlamanal, The Rubbish). It is also interesting to note that the titles of certain canarios allude to different forms or names of corn, such as The Cob, Xanconet, Cintetzin, The Ear, Seven Flowers, The Young Ear and The Seed. They may also be related to aspects of corn’s production process, including the people involved and the tools used: The Plow, The Harvest and The Farmer. All this serves to demonstrate that due to their close ties to ritual development and its meanings, the canarios construct constellations of signs that form part of a social fabric and reveal the community’s identity and cultural values.

During the Tlamanes ritual, there is a transposition from the world view to music, which in turn can be seen as the acoustic expression of that world view: the canarios thus become ‘auditory symbols of corn’. For example, a single melodic type may go by the names Of jeering, Farewell, Corn Dance and Gourd Bowl, depending on the ritual act being performed at the moment it is played. Moreover, these same names have been assigned to other melodic types.

Lizette Alegre Gonzalez

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