Thursday, September 30, 2004
Last Sunday I went to see the biggest selling New Mexican musical acts perform. One of the acts, Sparx, has sold over a million albums, and the other, Lorenzo Antonio (their chief songwriter and mentor, as well as a performer in his own right) isn’t far behind.
4000 people came out on Sunday night to the amphitheatre at Sandia casino on the edge of Albuquerque. And yet half the people in the state have never heard of them.
Welcome to the world of New Mexico music. For anglos like me, it’s something of a closed community, but Buendia has been here long enough and is interested enough to go exploring. We were possibly the only completely anglo couple there (’anglo’ here is a catch all phrase meaning non-Spanish or Indian. There’s a joke about a kid up in Las Vegas, New Mexico coming home after his first day at school. ‘How was it?’ asks his mum. ‘Fine,’ he says. ‘I knew almost everyone in class. There’s only one anglo in the class, and he’s black.’)
First up was Lorenzo Antonio – a baby-faced cross between Ricky Martin and Daniel O’Donnell. The grannies love him (as do the gay guys ahead of us in the queue), and he’s got a great voice and gives 110% on everything. Some of the songs are Latin-tinged pop with good hooks, while others are covers of classic ballads. He sings mostly in Spanish, backed by a tight band.
He’s smiley and at ease, as befits someone who was a child performer. After a while, he takes a break, and his sisters hit the stage.
They’re the New Mexican Spice Girls, and are huge in Mexico, too. Dressed in skimpy 80s-inspired glittery clothes, their dance routines are slick and there’s enough difference between the sisters for everyone to have their favourite, from the pre-teen girls, through the red-blooded men to the grannies.
There’s the cute little one, the one with the best voice, the friendly outgoing one, and the sexy one (with the shortest skirt and crop top). Actually, they’re a lot better than the Spice Girls because they can all sing and they’re all pretty. The songs are pretty simple ditties, but they range from salsa syncopation, through rock and roll classics (in English) to power ballads. But it’s hard not to like them, and when ten mariachi musicians come on stage, the crowd goes wild.
We detour into classic Mexican and New Mexican songs – like B’Witched going trad in the middle of a show – and then Lorenzo Antonio rejoins them, this time in a smart black suit, to wring every drop of emotion from some full-on tearjerkers.
By the time the finale comes round, we’ve had the mariachis, eight little girls in huge Spanish dresses, a flamenco couple, a cowboy doing lasso tricks, juggling stilt walkers and jitterbugging duos all on stage.
It was a great night, and it’s good to see the Spanish side of local culture is still strong enough that it can fill a huge auditorium. There was nothing dry or curatorial about this – the old standards and the new songs were mixed side by side, and everyone (except me) was singing along in Spanish.
I’m beginning to see that the Spanish language part of life here is much more vibrant than the Irish language side of life in Ireland (as befits a place where Spanish has been spoken since 1610, and which only became a US state in the 1920s). From the fiestas to Sparx, it’s something that everyone born here (and those coming here withe some Spanish, like Buendia) can draw on.