How to pick a single sound that represents Mexico City? There are a few candidates. Some visitors might nominate the frantic, non stop tooting of the car horn. Drivers do, for sure, overuse that particular feature of their motor cars, but I’ve been to Cairo where the horn is sounded every five seconds as a matter of routine. Citizens of DF are positively restrained in comparison.
Then there are the cries of ‘Tamales Oaxaqueños’, either verbally or through a loudspeaker, as mobile food vendors stroll the streets in the evenings. Or the high pitched whistles of the sweet potato sellers. But these don’t get my nomination either.
For me, the signature sound of Mexico City has to be the soulful, woeful wails being squeezed out of the ancient German made Harmonipans by organ grinders around the city. The Centro Historico is a good place to find them….you can almost always hear one wherever you are. But you’ll find plenty of them outside of the touristy areas too.
It’s a dying art I’m told. I can believe it. Whilst some blame the youth of today for not wanting to take up this most honourable of trades, once subsidised by the ruling PRI party, I blame the organs themselves. They are horribly out of tune, and unlikely to ever get it back. If you didn’t know where the sound was coming from, you’d assume someone had given a very stoned hippy a child’s recorder.
The music is most definitely best heard from a distance. It is a very distinctive sound though, and I’d be sorry to see it disappear from the streets of DF. What these guys need are a skilled tuner and some new songs programmed in. I can think of a few which might work. Strawberry Fields would go down a bomb in this Beatles mad city. The Alabama Song by the Doors is another candidate. Any other suggestions?