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Dispatch New Mexico - Music ties cultures, regions together

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By Tom McDonald

“There is geometry in the humming of the strings. There is music in the spacing of the spheres.” — Pythagoras

Math, it’s been said, is the language of the universe. But when it comes to the human experience, music is the tie that binds.

Several years ago in a visit to El Paso, I decided to cross the border into Mexico. On the El Paso side, as I started walking across the bridge over the Rio Grande, Latin music filled the air, quietly fading into the background as I made my way across the border. Then, as I approached Ciudad Juárez, what did I hear playing on the other side? Rock and roll!

Music is like that. It crosses boundaries with the greatest of ease.

Musicologists tell us that music is found in every culture on earth, even in isolated tribal societies. Some suggest that its origins are from the sounds and rhythms in nature, with the first humans mimicking and expanding upon those sounds.

Music is one of the first and most natural forms of human expression.

For centuries, musical styles were specific to regions, cultures and peoples, but that’s not so true anymore. Sure, there are musical forms that remain close to their origins — check out a powwow sometime if you want to hear music that’s still firmly connected to its roots — but more and more often, music is international in its scope, sound and influence.

And it’s so very much a part of our lives, as my own life attests. As a child, my introduction to music was in church, singing hymns along with an old pipe organ. Then came that fateful night in 1964, when the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. My hair grew long as the British invaded and rock fused with folk. Even the twang of country music found its way into an outlaw country-rock sound, and that too influenced my musical tastes.

Then I fell in love with the blues, not in the Delta South where I’d spent years growing up, but in Nashville, Tenn., where I became friends with a band full of funky white boys who played what they loved in the backstreet bars far removed from Music Row.

As I grew from boy to man, I was deeply influenced by the music around me. As a teenager I listened to Black Sabbath and felt the darkness that surrounded their sound; in my innocence, John Denver showed me a softer world. And in my 20s, Kris Kristofferson’s lyrics spoke to me, and for me: “He’s a walking contradiction, / partly truth and partly fiction, / takin’ every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.” That was me back in the day.

Finally, I did make it back home, and Bruce Springsteen helped me get there. His “Born in the U.S.A.” album gave me a new perspective on my life and my generation.

I started thinking about the power of music recently while working to promote the Meadow City Music Festival in my hometown of Las Vegas. I immediately latched on to the musical diversity being pulled into the festival — bands that play rock, Latin, country and western, rockabilly, gospel and TexMex are all slated to take the stage either at the free concerts in Plaza Park or at the ticketed events just down the street.

The festival is a relatively new event for a town that enjoys its music mainly through its annual fiestas. This weekend’s Meadow City festival — which begins Friday and continues through Sunday — is a bit of a break from the traditional sounds of Norteño country, but it must be tapping into something people want, since it has grown each year since its inception three years ago. I’d say it’s the musical blending that’s bringing in the crowds, but if you attend you can figure that out for yourself. (Visit meadowcitymusicfest.com for details.)

Music is an inclusive experience; seldom can you find a genre that didn’t grow out of another. Blues, soul, rap, rock, country and techno are inextricably linked to one another, as are mariachi, salsa, tango and reggae — and their influences are worldwide.

Here in New Mexico, one of the most diverse states in the Union, our music reflects our identity. No one culture has shaped us, nor are we all the same. That’s at the heart of good music, where the sounds of the human experience always ring true.

Tom McDonald of Las Vegas is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and owner-operator of Gazette Media Services. He may be reached at tmcdonald@gazettemediaservices.com.