Latin - Mexican Folk Art Craft

MUSICAL CULTURE IN THE TIMES OF THE CONQUEST OF MEXICO

               

 MUSICAL CULTURE IN THE INDIGENE AMBITS OF LA NUEVA ESPAÑA 

The great cultural and social rupture that the religious and cultural conquest of the Mesoamerican indigene societies meant the beginning of one of the most impressive undertakings of transculturation. In it, European and indigene music stood face to face, complemented one another and transformed to give life to a musical culture which wealth was not known until now.

Frails, missionaries, Christianized indigenes, bishops, colonizers, artists and civil authorities weaved in the social structure of the Nueva España this musical culture, creator of powerful values and discourses. 

Without a doubt the evangelization of the Mesoamerican indigenes was one of the most transcendent processes in Mexican history.

Frails, missionaries and the colonizers, assisted by the Indian caciques created townships and cities where cultural education of the indigenes would be possible; with this, their submission was reinforced and a conquest deeper than the one with weapons was carried out.

The religious conquest and colonization of indigene societies was the beginning of the project for the creation of the Reino de la Nueva España.

The utopist separation between a republic of Indians and a republic of Spaniards driven by the crown, did not take effect as a principle of ethnic segregation but it deeply marked the social and cultural scene of the rising society of Nueva España.

With the creation of Indian townships, frails and vice regal authorities incorporated the indigenes to occidental civilization since a new social, cultural and politic organization was founded. The evangelization methods made music one of their most efficient Tools, as it is described in the frails chronicles Christian rites and prayers where transmitted trough songs, trough instrumental music and above all trough parties and celebration.  
 
               

 Transmission and Creation of a New Musical Culture. 

With European frails came to Nueva España a very rich musical tradition. The Franciscan Pedro de Gante, in his instruction centers for Indians, he thought them the first bases of faith and European culture with music, singing.

Nevertheless, the frails created choruses and musical chapels for Indians for the convent liturgies and other religious festivities.

Frails and colonizers also spread the work of the most important composers of the time: Josquin de Prez, Thomas de Crequillon, Orlando di Lasso, Cristobal de Morales, musicians who established the esthetic and poetic paradigms of cult music and the XVI century sonorities.

These musical teachings, according to the frails chronicles, fructified among the naturals. In the midst of the XVI century, Motolinia tells that the naturals played during mass and sang the hours of Our Lady and that, in spite of  their thin voices they learned to sing in a manner that they became masters of this art. Performing without any mistakes, they also became great composers (especially Christmas carols), even a natural from Tlaxcala composed in polyphonic chant “a complete mass, approved by the good singers of Castilla that have seen it” (Motolinia 1996, pp 55 and 169-170).

The musical methods of evangelization landed in fertile soil. We are aware of the importance that music and dancing had in the ritual practices of prehispanic religiosity. An intense musical activity, barely compressible for Europeans who were aware of it, was carried out in the festivities of the prehispanic religious indigene calendar. In the Florentine codices: “when this was like that, when the party is settled, there is dancing, there is singing, there is singing, there is dancing. The singing spreads like the beat of the waves of the ocean.”

At times, this musical conquest labor has been described as a lineal process, without surprises and almost spontaneous.

It should not have been like this. This beat of the waves of the ocean was hardly understandable for the religious mendicants of evangelization. However, they made a titanic effort with their indigenous collaborations in the translation of sound languages to incorporate the rich tradition of singing and dancing to the evangelization undertaking.

And in reality this mutual misunderstanding many times turned into a confrontation, as it is natural if we think of the cultural abysses existent between the occidental and the indigene civilization.

We know that the Mesoamerican indigenes did not count with something comparable to the occidental notion of music.

It is also believed, by the references of the frails and colonizers as by the study of the musical prehispanic instruments and certain modern indigene music that the sonorities that the naturals integrated to the word and the dance were very different from the ones Europeans were used to listen, therefore, they judge them as strident or out of tune and above al monotone.

Gante perceived that all the worshiping towards their gods consisted in singing and dancing before them, which is why he composed solemn words in náhuatl about faith and the incarnation of Christ and gave them to the naturals so they learned them.

He also painted libreas with catholic emblems for them to wear.

Therefore in Christmas Eve around 1527 nobles and macehuales sang and danced all night the miracle of Bethlehem in a way that, according to fray Pedro, even the angels could hear it from the sky. 

               

 Consolidation of Indo-Christian Music in the XVII Century

Towards the end of the XVI century the Nueva España changed substantially. The apparition of the creoles, the demographic crisis of the Indian townships, the intense social, economic and politic processes which the virreinato went trough ended up defining the presence of the Indo-Christian societies in the life of the Nueva España. And its role played in the new discourses and values in this society was still very active; festivities and representations, as religious as profane, they kept elements from the indigene ambits of Nueva España.

There was not a festivity where there was no mitote of the Indians, for to the Spaniards indigene music were games and inventions, exotic spectacles that cheered up everybody and that could be incorporated to the game elements of the festivities of the Nueva España. This way the Indo-Christian music culture found licit spaces for its development in the center of the Nueva España in the XVI and XVII century, interacting with the catholic cult, their songs and chants with liturgies introduced by the frails.

Out of this multiplicity of festive practices there exist illustrative references in the sources of the time. Like the famous “dance of Moctezuma”, since the XVII century the figure of the last mexica emperor became very popular in festivities, specially because of a dance known as el mitote de Moctezuma. In 1600, the cacique Juan Cano Moctezuma organized a representation in which Hernando de Alvarado Tezozomoc represented the mexica emperor.

The scene, performed before the viceroy count of Monterrey and other authorities of the vireinato intended to show the ceremony and court of the last mexica emperor. 

With representations as the dance of Moctezuma the indigenes gave to the Creole discourse one of the elements that would be central in the reivindication of political and social pretensions of the novohispanos. Besides its presence in the festivities of the virreinato became the most visible practice that the naturals preserved to bear their dignity and reaffirm and project their ethnic identities and their political aspirations. 

In an eminently oral civilization, as the novohispana music was understood as a code, but it was much more than an ornament and transcended its aesthetic dimensions; it constituted the fine structure of the unwritten identity codes, in which all the social stratums found a comforting message.

Music is the sound refuge of sensibilities and devotions of the multifaceted and complex vice regal society. Therefore, if we intend to understand the discourses sprung out of this ancient music we could not elude its dimensions or the social and cultural contexts where they developed.