Ten Artists To Listen To On Cinco De Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is a remembrance of the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. It’s only a minor holiday in Mexico, with banks and federal offices remaining open. However, in the United States, the holiday is widely regarded as an opportunity to shine a light on the rich culture of Mexico. This can be problematic at times, as some choose a shallow interpretation of what constitutes Mexican culture. We hope to eschew that with this list of deeply impactful musicians with connections to Mexico.

Take a dive into the cultural richness of Mexico by listening to these 10 highly-influential Mexican musicians:

Chavela Vargas

Chavela Vargas

Objectively speaking, Chavela Vargas is a goddess. She dressed as a man, smoked cigars, carried pistols, and had an affair with Frida Kahlo. She is most famous for her rancheras (songs about women typically sung by drunk men) – she did not change the gender pronouns and sang them openly to women. She is known not only for her powerful voice and intense performances but also for her bombastic persona and unapologetic sexuality.
Listen

Selena

Selena

Selena was known as the queen of Tejana music and the Mexican Madonna. Her huge success and popularity spanned both English and Spanish speaking audiences, and blazed a trail for other Latin artists. As Rios de la Luz puts it, “Even with her tragic departure, she is still an icon. She radiates power and what it means to be a xingona (a badass)”. Plus Bidi Bidi Bom Bom has been stuck in our heads for at least twenty years.
Listen

Lila Downs

Lila Downs

Lila Downs uses her incredible three-octave voice to sing in English, Spanish, and the native Mixteco, Zapoteco, Maya and Náhatl languages while weaving together blues, jazz, soul, cumbia, rock, rap and klezmer music. She’s an amazing artist as well as a powerful social activist.
Listen

Holy Mountain

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain: Original Soundtrack

Jodorowsky was born in Chile to Jewish-Ukrainian parents and split his time between Paris and Mexico City. His movie The Holy Mountain, a “surreal masterpiece”, definitely freaks us out and so does the soundtrack. The soundtrack was released on vinyl with the following description: “The unreleased soundtrack to the most fantastic transcendental spiritual cinematic explosion of our time? The lost Don Cherry album? The missing Jazz Composers Orchestra album featuring Charlie Haden, Carla Bley and Frank Lowe? The Elephant’s Memory soundtrack follow-up to Midnight Cowboy? The lost soundtrack album secretly funded and A&R’d by John Lennon and Yoko Ono? The music to the film that George Harrison was sacked from because he didn’t want us to see his butthole?”
Listen

Rodrigo Y Gabriella

Rodrigo y Gabriella

You’ve heard of dueling pianos, but how about dueling guitars? Not that I would necessarily call Rodrigo y Gabriella’s intensely woven guitar melodies dueling, but their style does take inspiration from a marriage of the ragtime tradition (the historical version, not the modern top-40 regurgitation practiced in some American bars) and Spanish flamenco musicianship. Their covers of Metallica and Led Zeppelin are gems. Purely instrumental and fully engrossing, these two masters of guitar from Mexico City infuse latin culture into beautiful arrangements.
Listen

Carla Morrison

Carla Morrison

Carla Morrison has won two Latin Grammys and when she has concerts in Mexico, 60,000 fans sing along to her songs. The New Yorker describes her voice as “Patsy Cline plus Morrissey in Spanish” which is not a bad way to put it.
Listen

La Noche Del Los Hippies

La Noche Del Los Hippies Compilation

Like much of the world, Mexico had its own garage/surf and rock n’ roll scene in the 60’s, getting a little more trippy and psychedelic in the 70’s. If you’re interested in digging into that whole scene, take our recommendation and check out the Mexico-specific comp La Noche Del Los Hippies or Los Nuggetz – 60’s Punk, Pop and Psychedelic from Latin America.
Listen

Los Vinylators

Las Vinylators

Bringing it all back for a revival, the all-girl garage band Las Vinylators came out with this pretty excellent record a couple of years ago, although their whereabouts today are unknown.
Listen

Los João

Los João

Irony is still cool, right? Despite naming themselves after Brazilian musician João Gilberto (and featuring an image of waving gringos), Los João is in fact from Mexico, and their 1983 single Vamos A La Playa is a work of art and a passionate call to arms.
Listen

Murcof

Murcof

Murcof is an electronic musician and composer who combines “electronic minimalism with the orchestral drama of 20th century classical.” He was once a member of the Tijuana based Nortec Collective and he now lives in Spain.
Listen

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4 Comments
  • May 12,2019 at 1:28 am

    OOF! This list is decent. The Latina/o/x vinyl market is blowing up in the United States right now, especially in my hometown of Los Angeles, CA. This list covers some basically obvious/ legendary artists like Selena and Chavella, along with contemporary mainstreams like Carla Morrison and Lila Downs which every chipster basically listens to straight up and down.

    My basic critique is this: the history of recorded Latin music in the US/ Latin America is extremely expansive. To attempt creating a list that showcases noteworthy artists is definitely a tough undertaking, but all these lists always seem to fall very short. What would it look like if these lists demonstrated the real eclecticity, experimentation, and broad horizon of Latino Music of the 19th-21st century? Selena’s great, we all heard her growing up. But we got some other amazing heavy hitters that shouldn’t be lost in history, many of them which can be found in the oft neglected Latin music sections and beyond.

    Adonde esta Los Tres Diamantes, Augustine Ramirez, Enrique Guzman, Tierra, Chris Montez, Sabu, Manoela Torres, Generacion Suicida, Los Cinco Hermanos, Sordo, Los Condes, Destruye Y Huye, Attaque77, Olga Guillot, Malportado Kids, Aldo Monges. Check out my personal collection for reference as to what I’m kinda referring to! :D

  • May 9,2019 at 2:13 am

    C’mon! Where is Cafe Tacvba? The single most important band right now in Mexico.

  • May 10,2016 at 6:08 pm

    Nice list! First thing that came to mind was the El Topo soundtrack, glad to see Holy Mountain up there. I would also like to add another amazing soundtrack: Robert Rodriguez’ Desperado https://www.discogs.com/Various-Desperado-The-Soundtrack/master/176676 featuring great music from Los Lobos, Tito & Tarantula, Latin Playboys, and more.

  • May 6,2016 at 9:06 pm

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