What can I say? Part of what makes Latin America so charming is the way that music is infused into the culture. Whether you are strolling down an alley, meandering on the malecón, or sitting on the beach – music is never far away. The Mexican people live their lives with simplicity and joy and part of that means being more tapped into being and less into doing. And how better to pass the time than to create some sounds to fill the air.
One afternoon, I had the small downtown beach, Playa La Principal, all to myself. I am not sure why none of the locals came to enjoy it that day, but hey, who’s complaining? I set up my sheet under una palma de coco y un arbol de Armando, so I could read in the shade. I had already gotten a bit sunburned the last couple of days and wanted a bit of a reprieve from the sweltering heat. With the tourist season drawing to a close, I was enjoying the space and relative tranquility in Zihuatanejo. And I also felt a little bad for the people whose livelihood depended on tourists. Anyway, while I happily laid on my sheet daydreaming, I was approached by three mariachi musicians. They made eye contact with me and I could tell they were asking if I wanted them to play a song for me. They were all dressed the same – brown jeans, and beige shirts and Mexican hats, ornately decorated and smaller than sombreros. The years of sun had wrinkled their skin, and showed their age, yet they were energetically vibrant and perhaps wise as well. Two of the men carried guitars and the one who did the selling toted an accordion. He asked me what mood music I wanted to hear and I choose happy. I basked in the harmony of their voices and instruments while they swooned at me for a few minutes with a melody that could lift anyone’s spirits. Perhaps like drinking a fresh coconut, having a mariachi band play a song just for you is a quintessential Mexican experience. Do it!
The rest of the days also presented me with spontaneous and endearing musical experiences as well. For example, on my day at Playa Las Gatas a man who was a few lounge chairs down from me had hired a mariachi band for about 30 minutes, so the enjoyment was ongoing. The sound of the waves of Zihuatanejo Bay and the waves of music took turns sweeping over me, each one brought smiles my way. I spoke to Miguel (the man who set me up on the lounge chair at the restaurant where he worked) about the musicians. At times, it was hard for me to tell when people were working and when they were just being. These musicians were working, but since they looked so happy delivering music, it became obvious to me that their work and their passion are deeply intertwined. This could be said of the fisherman as well. Both the fishing and the music are a lot more than a way to make a living, they are their way OF living.
On my second visit to La Arena for lunch, I noticed a large group of people gathered under a gazebo of sorts. I asked the waiter if it was a party and he explained his boss’ grandpa was turning 81 and this was a celebration in his honor. Mexicans have big families and it was heartwarming to see close to 100 people gather for such an event. It was a far cry from my small family that lives all over the country (although we all have fun when we do meet up with each other). Well, the boss had hired a seven piece mariachi band to perform. They were there for probably well over an hour and it seemed as though they raised the spirits of the group and vice versa. It was apparent the citizens and the musicians feed off of each other. When I went in the back to see the iguanas feeding, I could tell even the energy of the animals was lifted with the music!
Walks down the canal and through the alleys in the Mexican neighborhoods, all had me interfacing with music. Sometimes I could not see it, but I could hear it emanating from a building. Or perhaps I did catch a glimpse and I saw what looked like a band set up, in a random warehouse or unnamed building, practicing just for the joy of it. On a couple of occasions I saw half a dozen men carrying horn instruments down the beach. They would stop periodically and set up shop, with a traveling impromptu concert being the gift to the beach goers.
Traveling reminds us to expand our senses and way of being. Different smells, sights, sounds, ways of thinking. When you are in Mexico, please take off your headphones and tune into the local music. Mexicans are passionate about it and it shows. And even better yet, they receive a lot of joy from sharing their passions with anyone who is lucky enough to listen.