Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sones de Mexico

I was driving around doing errands on Thursday, and when I turned on the radio to NPR, I heard a song in a foreign language. Even though I didn't understand the words, the music was instantly recognizable to me, and to anyone else who's ever been in elementary school. It was "This Land is Your Land" in Spanish, and it sounded great.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I was listening to an interview by Tom Ashbrook, host of WBUR's On Point, with the members of a Chicago-based Mexican folk band called Sones de Mexico. Their album Esta Tierra Es Tuya, (This Land is Your Land) has been nominated for a Grammy award.

According to their Web site, the band was formed in 1994 to keep alive Mexican son music, which combines indigenous, African and Spanish traditions. They also borrow from Irish, country and western, jazz, rock 'n' roll and classical music. On Esta Tierra Es Tuya, the band does a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Four Sticks" and an arrangement of Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto."

In an interview with NPR's Weekend Edition, band member Juan Dies says "This Land Is Your Land" kept playing over and over in his head during the immigrant rights demonstration of the past few years, so he decided to do some research. Dies says he sees parallels between today's Mexican workers who come to the United States and the Dust Bowl migrants that Woody Guthrie was writing about.

"Woody Guthrie wrote this song in 1940, at a time when migrant workers from the Great Plains were being displaced by drought and the Dust Bowl," Dies says. "They were traveling and looking for opportunities, for a chance to work and feed their families."

Dies told NPR that he decided to translate Guthrie's classic into Spanish, while adding a few lyrics of his own: "In the world there are people who are poor / In the world there are people who are rich / And then there are the others, the travelers / who are seeking an opportunity."

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