Some of the most beautiful Mexican music, and the music which is easiest for foreigners to appreciate, is Trios. I don't mean that in the jazz or classical sense of anything played by or written for three musicians: Trios is a special kind of music that can be played by two, three, or four people. It is essentially vocal music accompanied by guitar, or the same songs just played instrumentally, on two or three guitars.
This is a lovely music, romantic, lush, and full of harmonies and intricate embroidery. The best way to hear it would be to obtain a record by "Los Panchos", the classic Trio. On several albums they play and sing with Edie Gorme, which makes them even nicer to listen to. Her wonderful voice is well known in Mexico: I understand she also records in English.
The best place to hear Trios, however, would be in a restaurant or on the street. Trios are the perfect wandering musicians, "Músicos Ambulantes" as we call them. In almost any decent Mexican restaurant, you will see small groups of musicians enter the dining area and stroll between the tables, hoping that you will pay them to sing for you. You, of course, are hoping that someone else will pay them, so you can hear them for free. Being an ambulante is not an easy life. In restaurants of the definitely lower class, or more "country-Northern" type--a carnitas joint called "Rincón Norteño", for instance--the musicians might be playing Norteño or ranchero songs like "La Puerta Negra" or "Tristes Recuerdos". There might be a drummer or bass player along with the guitarist and accordian player. Or in certain places the ambulantes will be mariachis, a big bunch of chavos in identical satin "cowboy" suits with violins, trumpets, and a huge, thumping guitarrón. But most likely, and certainly in classier places, you will just see two or three men, perhaps dressed in black suits and white shirts, walking through teasing you with delicate instrumental runs from their guitars. They stop by your table with a question in their eyes, or perhaps one man will lean in to ask if you want a song, the other instruments throbbing out interlacing lines of sheer romantic charm. If you agree, they will serenade you, singing harmonies above the gliding, dancing Spanish melodies of their strings.
The IDEAL conditions for listening to Trios, of course, is with a woman with whom you are in love, or better yet, a woman that you wish to be in love with you. Perhaps the little girl has already come through the restaurant selling roses, and you have bought a single red one for your hopeful enamorada. Now, for mere money, you can wrap her in beauty, in romance, in an endorsement of entertwining and harmonious togetherness. You would be a fool not to, she would be heartless to resist.
If you have chosen your restaurant for the evening unfortunately, and no musicians came by to stoke the fires of love, don't give up. You can still take a taxi to Playa Norte and listen to masters of this musical form while sitting on the rail by the sea. This area was once an entertainment zone, but time has moved on and left a great many empty clubs, caberets, restaurants and bordellos. But in its time, this was a neighborhood saturated with music, and several Trios still maintain their "offices" here. These are old men, veterans of musical delights, who are too set in their patterns to change just because all the people moved up north to the Zona Dorada. They still have little storefronts with metal garage doors in front, painted with fading signs saying, "Trio Tropical" or "Trio Los Isleños". In the evening they cross the street and sit on the seawall, waiting for the people to come back and here them play. Some of these old gentlemen can no longer sing, but they can still play. And the people do come back. Couples walk down from the Paseo Claussen, having watched the stars and waves under all those sexy bronze statues, and sit on the beach, listening to love songs. Taxis pull up, men in the back seat beckoning the Trio to come up and play in the window to help melt the hearts on the seat beside them. In the United States, you have drive-up dining, ordering food to eat in your cars. I have never understood this concept, and most Mexicans would think it perverted. Here, on the other hand, you can order drive-up music and romance.
On more than one occasion I have seen a drunk, or a crowd of drunks, standing on the Malecón in Playa Norte, listening to a Trio, holding out a cellular phone to capture the sound for somebody on the other end of the line. Probably an irritated wife, but it could be anybody: a boss awakened at 2:00 AM for a serenade, a sick buddy who couldn't get out drinking with them, a girl reluctant to drop everything and go meet a drunken Romeo on the sidewalk.
But however you listen to a Trio, the result is the same. You glide around on slippery phrases that converge into streams of shining sound that cascade down to a deep, dark, moonswept sea of romance and beauty. If you can't grab a cab down to Playa Norte right now, go order a CD of Los Panchos and La Edie singing "Vareda Tropical". Or better yet, call up a beautiful woman and tell her you are flying her to Mazatlan, taking her out to a fine restaurant, buying her an armful of the deepest red roses, and plying her with gorgeous songs. See what it gets you.
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