The 10 Most Over-Played Songs at a Mexican Wedding, California Edition
A couple of weeks ago, I was in Houston to do a book signing for my book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. Afterward, I went with friends and fans to enjoy some awesome Tex-Mex at El Real Tex-Mex, and among those who attended were two colleagues/pals from our sister paper, the Houston Press: John Nova Lomax (who's descended from the great Lomax family of American folk-music scholars) and badass writer-photographer Marco Torres.
Get reporters in the same room, and we'll eventually talk shop. John talked about some cover stories he was working on; Marco said he was going to do a listicle of the 10 most over-played songs at a Mexican wedding.
"Awesome!" I said. "Is 'Arriba Pichátaro' on the list?"
"Never heard of it," Marco said.
Then I remembered--I was in Texas, and I'm from California.
See, gabachos: Mexicans in the United States come from different parts of Mexico. Don't believe me? Just turn on the radio. While Southern California is chockablock with banda sinaloense, Chalino Sanchez wannabes, rancheras, sierreño, sonidero, and conjunto norteño (and the mashing of them all), the Texas airwaves play a different style--and I'm not referring to Tex-Mex groups. There, grupero, tribal, and northern Mexico-style cumbias rule, the provenance of northern Mexico, where most of the Lone Star State's Mexis originate (and if you go to New York, it's sonidero, and pasito duranguense in Chicago--but that's another listicle). The Mexicans of Southern California, on the other hand, mostly come from central Mexico (Jalisco, Sinaloa, Zacatecas, Mexico City) and the south, with very few folks from Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, and the like.
As a result, weddings in the two states are going to sound different. I've never been to a Texas Mexi wedding, but having been to a lifetime of Southern California ones, I know the most overplayed ones. So I told Marco I'd do my list after his,
10. "El Rey"
Mariachi rules all Mexican weddings in the United States, because those pinche Jaliscans have successfully brainwashed the world into believe it's the most Mexican of all song forms. As if! But those of us who aren't from the Texas of Mexico relegate the mariachi to the dinner portion of a reception, the better to ignore it or request songs. By this point, of course, the cousins are already into their eighth Bud, with a couple of tequila shots thrown in, so one of them will request this Vicente Fernández lament-boast so they can all hold each other and sway and cry the memorable refrain in unison--no homo!
9. "Capullo y Sorullo"
More so than American weddings, Mexicans hire a live band to provide the main musical entertainment. But they'll also hire a DJ to spin in between tandas (sets), and a sympathetic DJ will always rely on cumbias (the shuffling genre of Colombia that has long been popular in Mexico) in order to allow those who can't dance to banda or conjunto (i.e., the token gabachos, chinitos, pochos in the crowd), and the undisputed champ of the genre is La Sonora Dinamita, the legendary Colombian group that probably has more hits per ratio than any group in history not named the Beatles and who produced the most danceable music EVER. I could've picked any Sonora song here, really, but the nod goes to "Capullo y Sorullo," a fine overview of their trademarks: a jaunty rhythm, a coy female voice, banter between her and a sotto male singer, and playful lyrics, this time about tale of a black man wondering why one of his children is black but the eight others black. Dig the video that has nothing at all to do with the song's content!
8. "Sopa de Caracol"
Fuck Zumba: get America dancing to punta, the frenetic genre from Honduras, and our obesity problem is over. But the genre only produced two true crossover hits for Mexico: "Esa Chica Me Vacila" ("That Girl Teases Me," a hit for Banda Vallarta Show in the quebradita days of the 1990s; it was a remake of the punta smash "Ella Me Vacila" by Grupo Kazzabe, which was a remake of a Nicaraguan song, which was a remake of whatever they play in Panama, which was a Spanish version of a 1991 Trinidadian soca smash called "She's a Teaser"--phew!), and this one ("Conch Soup," referring to a beloved Honduran dish--and I'm not talking about sea snail soup), a huge hit for Banda Blanca. It's easy to see why it's so popular at weddings: danceable, with a break where everyone can chant together at the break and swing their hips. However, no way in hell did punta's dance style (as seen in this video, it's sex standing up) cross over: the last time a sexy dance made it into Mexican wedding halls was the Lambada, and moms still talk about how the devil infiltrated Mexican culture ever since.