All the Mexico travel books say that Mérida is the city of concerts, concerts, concerts, all of them free, all of them outdoor, all of them great! My friend Sara has reminded us on numerous occasions that her travel guide says under Mérida, “Bring your dancing shoes!” This is what many of my program-mates and I came determined to find. So it’s no surprise that much of our time thus far has been spent searching out the music scene.
I wouldn’t say that finding good music has been difficult, exactly, but I will say that it’s been a process, and an adventure-filled one at that. J
Attempt #1: It was our first full weekend in Mérida, and a group of us IFSA students were determined to find a club with live music. A quirky but likeable classmate was kind enough to suggest we go to the Mambo Café in el centro (downtown), and when my 60-something year-old host parents seconded the recommendation, my friends and I were convinced that it would be great. I collapsed in my bed from exhaustion at around 9 p.m. and didn’t ever make it to the club (haha shwoops), but the next day when I asked my friend what they had thought of it, they weren’t overly enthusiastic. The club featured a decent live salsa band but the crowd was mostly very dressed-up couples in their mid-thirties and older. Not quite what we were looking for. The night was deemed mediocre.
Attempt #2: Just a few days later we saw an ad for a contemporary dance troupe’s (free!) performance at the beautiful Teatro Armando Manzanero in el centro and jumped at the chance to go. On our way to the theater we passed a band performing in the main plaza, covering the popular Brazilian song “Ai Se Eu Te Pego”, and we were tempted to stay and listen, but no! We wanted to see some contemporary dance! So we continued to the teatro, and this is when my nostalgic Chicana ideas about Mexico were smashed. I expected to find some variation of folkloric dancers and mariachi music; in fact I was confronted by drearily-dressed dancers walking slowly around the stage to stereotypically Asian-sounding background music, occasionally interrupted by a pair of more quick-moving dancers dressed all in white and Celine Dion-sounding English songs.
I left confused, amused.
Attempt #3: I was woken up at 2:30 a.m. on a weeknight by unidentified neighbors singing loudly (but very well!) with guitar accompaniment. Got up to go to the bathroom, went back to sleep.
Attempt #4: It was the second weekend and we decided to try the clubs again. This time Maryclaire scoured the Internet for reviews until she found a club called “Noosfera” that was in an area of the city approved by her host mother. We ended up having a great time because we had great company, but the DJ mostly played music from the U.S. (Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful,” etc.) and there was very little dancing.
By far the best part of this night was learning the term “fresa” from Maryclaire’s host sister. Wikipedia explains it this way: “A slang term often used in Mexico to describe a cultural stereotype of superficial youngsters who many come from a high class and educated family. Fresas are mostly stereotyped as frivolous, self-centered and pretty much unintelligent; mostly as zombies who swirl through life solely thinking about “frivolous matters”. This club was definitely the fresa-iest place I’ve ever been.
Attempt #5: The following weekend we decided to go see the Yucatan Symphony Orchestra perform. It was a Friday night, and we got into el centro, bought our tickets (45 pesos! Less than 4 USD), and walked around the corner from the theater to a small outdoor café to drinks lemonades and cokes before the concert started. We were seated right near the singer performing at the café, and he was FANTASTIC. The weather was perfect, I finally was listening to good music, I was with good friends – I was having a moment.
We went into the orchestra concert, which was in the Teatro Peón Contreras (gorgeous), and I was reminded how much I love orchestra music. My enjoyment was doubled by the fact that the concert was a tribute to a composer from Jalisco (my family’s state!). I decided that the Yucatan Symphony is what all the travel books are talking about when they rave about the music scene in Mérida. It should be noted that my friends and I were the youngest people in the audience, haha, but that was fine by us.
After this we went to a house party with other students from UADY, which was probably one of da funnest house parties I’ve ever been to, and at which we heard everything from techno to banda to pop from someone’s iPod.
This night gets a 10 out of 10!!
Attempt #6: On Sunday afternoons, old people dance to live salsa music at the Plaza Santa Lucía. It is lovely to watch. Can’t wait until I’m an old person so I can join in on the fun!
Attempt #7: “Café Peña K’aay T’aan – Jóvenes Nuevos Valores (GRATIS)” the advertisement said. We arrived at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday night to the outdoor patio of the Casa de la Cultura Mayab, a local cultural center, expecting to find some really hip young kids playing some hip young music. I’m still not sure whether the ad intentionally misled us or if we just misinterpreted it, but regardless, what we found instead was a middle-aged woman singing salsa-sounding songs, accompanied by men ranging in age from 15 to 75 playing drums, guitar, piano, and bass. They were very good! The audience was mostly older people, and at this point my friends and I finally came to terms with the fact that we like old people and we like the things that old people like. I enjoyed it!
That’s what I’ve heard so far! Oh, and two hugely famous banda groups, K Paz de la Sierra and Banda Limón, are performing at the Grito (Independence day festivities) this weekend in Mérida, and my norteña self is way excited! Mérida really is filled with music, although I think that the travel guides should qualify that statement by adding that it is in a bit of an offbeat way. I think this suits me perfectly though!