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.
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)
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.
Tlapitzalli. Wooden flute (Flauta de carrizo in spanish)
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).