martes, 18 de noviembre de 2008

MEXICO: Keeping ancient traditions with The Concheros

In Mexico you can dance with the typical norteño and rancheras music. You can also drink a beer in a restaurant of Guadalajara listing to Mariachis. But if you go to the zocalo of Mexico City or in the downtown of Querétaro, you will enjoy the music, dances and dresses of the CONCHEROS.

The Concheros is the name used for the dancers and musicians that perform "La danza de los concheros" (the dance of the shellers ) or la "Danza de la Conquista" (The dance of the Conquest). The aztecs use to dance to the Mother Earth and to the Father Sun as well as to the harvest, fire, soul and fertily. The names of the dancers come from the guitar and mandolins that use the musicians, in which the resonance-box was changed by a shell of armadillo lizard.

The origin came from the Spanish Conquest years after the fall of the Aztec Empire in 1521. The missionaries prohibited the indigenous musical instruments, which considered a sacrilegious. In response they started to modify the stringed musical instruments with a shell of armadillo. With the past of time these modified instruments were played by aztecs and mestizos in the dances and they finally were named concheros ("shellers").

From ancient times the dance was formed for several circles of people. In the inner circle there were the important people, who make the choreographic movements, which were successively repeated for the exteriors as a wave. In the center of the circle there are still two types of drums the huehuetl and the teponaztli. They survive to the Spanish conquerors. Nowadays, the dance has been changed, adding Christian elements, but the instruments and the drums, with the actual indigenous names, are still used. It is thought that the name of concheros could have also come from the use of the ayoyotes (see bellow).

These days are possible to see Concheros mainly in Mexico City (aztecs) and Queretaro. They usually dance in the Sunday of the second week of September. They perform in the yards of Catholic Churchs. They wear colorful pre-colonial bright dresses with many feathers (e.g. pheasant, eagle, and ostrich) in the knees, waist, wrist and head.

The many folkloric groups of concheros that can be found in the north of Mexico and Mexico City help to preserve the ancient traditions of the Aztecs and Xiximecs.

Musical instruments used by the Concheros: Most of the instruments are named using the language of the ancient Aztecs: The Nahuatl, which is still used by more than one million people.

  • Idiophons:
    Teponaztli. Horizontal hollowed drum with a reed on the top in H-shape that is beat with two sticks. The luthiers usually engrave zoomorphic faces (e.g. jaguar).
    Ayotl. Tortoise shell
    Ayoyote or Coyolli . Rattle of seeds of the ayoyote tree. They make water-like sound (or like a rattlesnake) during the movement of the legs during the dances (Cascabeles in spanish)
    Ayacaxtli. Gourd shaker (Sonajas in spanish)

  • Membranophons
    Huehuetl. Vertical drum from a trunk tree usually engraved with symbolic characters. In the top there is animal skin as a membrane. In ancient times from jaguar. It uses to be beated with the hands. Although nowadays musicians use sticks with a wool ball in one side.

  • Aerophonos:
    Tlapitzalli. Wooden flute (Flauta de carrizo in spanish)
    Atecocolli: Sea-shell.

  • Cordophons
    Guitarra o vihuela conchera. A guitar with 5 or 6 double strings. The resonance box is an armadillo shell
    Mandolina conchera. As the italian mandolin with four pairs of strings. The resonance box is commonly an armadillo shell.

Most of the instruments listed are shown in the following pictures:

Below is shown a guitarra conchera made by Hermanos Enríquez. "Guitarras Chema". They have two workshorps: in Paracho and in the Ciutadela (Mexico City).

martes, 11 de noviembre de 2008

MUSIC of BURYATIA: The mongol roots

Buryatia is located in East-South of Siberia and it is part of the Russian Federation. In the south border there is Mongolia and China. Population is about 1 million of inhabitants. They speak buriat, althouth russian is more commonly used. In fact, 69% of population is russian and 24% is buriat. The remaing habitans are from other ethnic groups of the Russian Federation. Buriats live mainly in Chitá, Ulan-Udé and as well as in Irkustk and Mongolia.

Buriat people use to be maninly nomads and hunters, but they were colonized by Russia in the XVII Century. In the beginning of XIX century they were forced to settle down in russian-style villages, which serioulsy damaged the buriat ancient traditions. The religion of Russian people is orthodox. However, buriat are Buddhist. There is also shamanism in some areas. The datsan of Ivolginsk is the largest of Buryatia (see picture below).

The main cities in Buryatia are Ulan-Udé and Chitá. They are connected by the transsiberian railway. Ulan-Udé is a relatively nice city, quite, with a nice downtown to stroll. On the way, it is possibe to see beautiful small siberian villages and the Baikal lake. The landscape is mainly steppes and taiga.

Since the origen of buriat are related with mongolians, the music its very close to the music of Mongolia. Kalmyks, buriat and khalkhas came also from mongolian ancestors. Specially the two former ethnic groups share in comon strong similarities in the music and names of the musical instruments. During the Soviet era, buriat instruments were almost extingued. Balalaikas, dombras and russian musical instruments were common. However, in the 90s "buriat" musical instruments were revitalized, but they usually come from Mongolia, and sometimes China. Even, burial musicians use to go to Mongolia to buy them since they are cheaper than in Russia. Nowadays it is also difficult to find luthiers of "buriat" musical instruments in Buryatia.

The main instruments typically buriat are the khur (bowed-two string fiddle) and kuchir (bowed 4-string fiddle, resembling the chinese erhu). Other instrument are sometimes borrowed from other republics. Here there is a list of the traditional instruments played in Buryatia:

    Khur. Thanks to Dmitry Ayurov

  • Aerophones: limba (flute), bishkur (double reed troumpet played in buddhist temples) amd shebshur (trumpet made of birch-bark to lure the deers).

  • Cordophones: chanza (three-stringed lute with an oval body; the neck is fretless). The name likely degenerated from the russian dombra, the morin khuur, a mongolian two-stringed horse-head fiddle. yatagan (mongolian zither), which seems that has been adopted from the neighbour country. Iochín (percussion instrument with many strings).

  • Idiophones: khomus (metal jew's harp).

  • Membranophes: barely are played

The pictures of the instruments were taken in the Etnographic Museum of Talsty

Most of the traditional groups in Buryatia perform traditional buriat and mongolian music. When I was in Ulan-Udé I met the morin huur player Dmitry Ayurov, musical director of the group Bayar. The other members of the group are Kermen Kalyaeva (iochin), Viktor Zhalsanov (throat singing), Valentina Namdykova (yataga), Dashima (vocals) and Bulat Tsybikov (ikh khuur). Also I met the singer Irina But, who sings classical music. Dmitry and I visited together a luthier, that for my surprise was specializated in spanish guitars and balalaikas, but I could not see any "buriat" instrument. Where was the old khur??. The group Bayar has a strong influence in mongol music with nice arrangements. They released a CD entitled "Buryat-Mongolanian music". It was is dedicated to Dimitry's father. I recommended it.!!

Other traditional group is Namgar, which leader is Namgar Lhasaranova, based in Moscow. She sings with musicians from Mongolia and Buratia. Their CD can entitled "Hatar" ("Round Dance") (2003 - SKMR008) can be found in the russian label Sketis It is also possible to find it the american online shop CDroots or Tuva Trader the CD there are buryat dance tunes njeriejen and joohor, ""ring-songs" and old traditional mongolian songs. The instruments that can be heard are morin huur, chanza, yataga, limba (flute) and khomus (jew's harps) with electronic arrangements. As the mongols in this CD there is throat-singing by the mongol Altangerel Khishigtogtokh.

A nice dance folk group is Badma Seseg. They have performed in Catalonia (Spain) in several cities. They sing buriat and mongol songs using traditional instruments. They perform circular dances, use wonderful silk dresses with nice ornaments, show shaman rituals , and sing songs of Oyrat tribes and nordic minorities Evenk, Chukchi, Koryak. Another dance group from Ulan Udé is Selenga composed for about 20 people. They used to tour in Europe.


1. Trista Newyear. The life of Baldan Chitovich Gomboev: Using personal narratives to aproach buriat post-soviet muscic. Anthropology of East Europe Review.

2. The Chorches. Comment: Many siberian minorities has been deeply studied by the antropologist Carmen Arnau She published several books and articles about minorities from Yakutia and Buriatia.

Other international CDs easy to obtain on-line:

1. Battuvshin. Youn Camel Rider. Global Village, 1999 (CD)

2. Uragsha. Instrumental & Vocal Music from Buryatia. Global Village, 2000 (CD)

3. Badma Khanda Ensemble. Mongolian Music from Buryatia. ARC Music, 2008 (CD)

Dimitry, the author, Irina But and an student from Vladivostok

Landscape near Dastan Ivolginsk

viernes, 7 de noviembre de 2008


Naxi music is not well known in western countries. Naxi musicians are not prone to travel (expensive travel tickets, difficulties in obtaining the Visa, old musicians..). In addition, very few CDs has been published in western countries. One of the first published CDs was "Naxi Music from Lijiang" released by Nimbus Records in 1997. Three years later the same company released "Buddhist Music Of Tianijn/Naxi Music From Lijiang". These two CDs are still available in the UK or for download in
Naxi ancient music comes from Xian ancient music. It has taken different musical styles from the Tang (618-907) and Song dynasties (960-1279), as well as some Tibetan influences, leading to a caractherist unique style. In the performances the musicians usually play three styles: 1) Baisha music, from Kublei Khan of the Yuan dynasty, 2) Dongjing Music and 3) Huangjing music.

Naxi minorites live in Yunnan (China) and they speak its own language that comes from the Yi branch of the Tibeto-Burman family. They has preserved its own identity, customs, Dongba script...and music. During the Mao times and Cultural Revolution Naxi music was not played. In the 80' it flourished again.

If you want to listen to live NAXI music you have to visit the remote south-western city of Lijiang. It is a beautiful old Town with narrow streets and nice houses. Most of the still alive musicians masters live there. Several times a week there are performances in the theatre. It plays a large orchestra of more than 20 old musiciens. Most of them are of advanced age. However, nowdays new young musicians start to play and learn the ancient music tradition throught the old musician masters. These young musicians usully play in the orchestra.

They play similar musical instruments than Han people, sometimes using different names. An exclusive instrument of this minority is the 4-strings lute named sugudu. It is made of red sandalwood or walnut wood, with a straight neck, a small groove, a round body like half of a guard, and has a leather or wood surface and four strings. They usually play erhus, pypas, drums, and other interesting instruments such as bamboo flutes, kouxian (a string played by the mouth), the yak-horn bugle, the white sea-shell trumpet, and mangluo (a gong).

Although, without taking in account the almost diary show in the theatre of Lijinag is quite difficult to come acrross with naxi performances. However, in small towns is possible to find groups of usually 4-5 musicians playing for tourists (most of them are chinese tourists).

References: 1. Helen Rees. Echoes of History: Naxi Music in Modern. Oxford University Press, USA, 2000.

The author with a naxi musician


This blogg has been created to introduce less know world artits, world musical instruments and