Ethnomusicology review for "Viva Mi Tierra Caliente"

Review by Russell Rodríguez

Viva Mi Tierra Caliente directed and edited by Pacho Lane.
55 minutes.
Produced by the Unidad de Hipermedios, Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Morelos.
Distributed by Ethnoscope Film & Video,
P.O. Box 92353, Rochester, NY 14692
(585) 442-5474.

Pacho Lane’s Documentary, Viva mi Tierra Caliente, sets a fine example of recognizing Mexican folk virtuosos by celebrating the life and musical contribution that Juan Reynoso Portillo has made to the cultural fabric of Mexico and the influence he is exerting on the fiddle communities throughout the Americas. A master violinist of the calentano style, Reynoso gained attention with the release of the recording entitled Juan Reynoso, Paganini of the Mexican Hotlands, produced by Eduardo Lleneras (CO105 Corason, 1993).

Filmed in Reynoso’s homeland in the state of Guerrero, the picturesque video provides an essence of context through the wonderful camera work of Pacho Lane and Fidel Avilez Vazquez, who capture the vernacular life and stunning scenery of the countryside hills and waterways. The state of Guerrero is located along the Southern Pacific coast of Mexico, but la tierra caliente, the “hot land”, is the inland “calentano” region that encompasses sections of Michoacan, Guerrero, and Mexico. It is here that the calentano musical ensemble and style endure.

Related to other types of string ensembles, such as the mariachi, conjunto de arpa grande, conjunto huasteco and conjunto arribeño, the calentano ensemble utilizes a western violin and guitar and is unique because of its inclusion of the tamborito, a small two-headed drum that coordinates, signals and inspires dancers to contribute to the percussive element of the son or gusto. A matrix of poetry, music, and dance, the sones and gustos are mestizo cultural expressions that have developed out of a type of social dance event of the past and continue as a nostalgic traditional statement at social events today. In addition to the gustos and sones, the film elucidates tha calentano music to include various musical genres that can be found throughout Mexico, like marches, pasodobles, polkas, and waltzes, even tango.

The documentary provides little background information on the music of this region of Mexico. There is neither a narrator in the video nor an accompanying booklet; however, some of the interviews offer a sense of who Don Juan is and what he has achieved. Further, the producers and translators prove very competent when dealing with subtitles. Nevertheless I came to conclude that the video is geared towards an English-speaking audience by the mere fact that there are no Spanish subtitles when English is spoken.

The real strength of the film is found in the musical interludes Don Juan, whether performing with his sons or with the other viejos or old men (a term of respect and endearment). In the scenes, the filmmakers illuminate the saborand matiz, the flavor and nuance, of these musicians and of this musical style. Another noteworthy moment is a wonderful conversation shared between Don Juan and his son Neyo, demonstrating the passing of musical and social knowledge, history, and how memory is utilized to keep the musical tradition alive.

The familial manners of transmission practiced within the Reynoso family are juxtaposed with footage os a conference in Mexico City, funded by the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico and the Escuela Nacional de Musica, directed by U.S. citizen Lindajoy Fenley, the coordinator and founder of the Dos Tradiciones festival. This contrast evokes very important questions around the notion of transmission, institutionalization, appropiation, and authority. For instance, the documentary reveals that those at the master class rely more on audio and video recordings and written music to learn the music, somewhat displacing the practice of memory as a learning tool. This practice brings up the question of who maintains authority and privilege over the recordings and transcriptions.

Viva Mi Tierra Caliente also shows that in the context of the conference and the Dos Tradiciones festival, people other than the calentanos are investing in and practicing this musical tradition, illuminating the emergence of an interesting phenomenon, in which people with diverse racial, class, and gender backgrounds, and with different motivations and intentions intersect as in this case, around a musical tradition and a single musician. These differences are evident in the video through comparisons between the musical performances of the calentano musicians and the visiting musicians.

This well-produced film has much to offer those interested in the study of musical tradition, style, and folk manners of transmission and practice. It also evokes various anthropological, sociological, and cultural study discourses around the institutionalization and appropriation of traditional music, similar to those discussions around the film/concert tour Buena Vista Social Club and Paul Simon’s work with African musicians. I recommend this film to those studying Mexican regional music, and it will be of great use to those interested in the musical expressions of la tierra caliente.

Russell Rodríguez

University of California, Santa Cruz.

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