Sones de México to perform at Overture Center on March 6
Sweet sounds of México
By Jonathan Gramling

      Mention the term Mexican music and for most of us raised in the United States,
the sights and sounds of a mariachi band probably come to mind, a group of men
wearing sombreros and impeccably tailored suits playing guitars and brass
instruments with the leader yelling out a grito during a fast paced number. Juan
Dies, one of the founders of Sones de México, loves a good mariachi group. But he
also fears that people’s understanding of Mexican music begins and ends there,
depriving people of the experience of enjoying the multitude of musical traditions
that emanate from Mexican culture.
       “There is indigenous music and there are many native groups with different
languages,” Dies said during a phone interview with The Hues. “There are the
Mayan descendants, the Aztec descendants, the Yaqui and the different tribes that
have their own music and language. The message that we like to carry with us, if
anything, is that Mexico has a very diverse culture and there are many musical
styles.”
      Dies co-founded Sones de México, in part, to keep the sones — the Mexican
term for sounds — from his native Mexico alive in Chicago and surrounding
areas. Founded in 1994, the six members of the group play 70 instruments in performing music representative of the many regional styles of
music that have evolved in Mexico over centuries. While Sones is best known for their vibrant performances, they keep the music alive by
spending a lot of their time working in the community.
      A few years after forming the group, we incorporated as an educational non-profit organization and we’ve been teaching music and dance
programs related to the style of music for different schools and cultural centers around the country,” Dies said. Beginning March 3, Sones will
be in Madison for several days working with different community groups and schools before they perform at the Overture Center March 6 as
the highlight of Overture’s International Festival.
      The beauty of Sones’ educational style is that they enjoy the challenge and opportunity to adapt what they are doing to local interests and
resources. “If a particular school or cultural center, for instance, has a violin class, we then try to do something that will fit that violin class
and teach a Mexican fiddle workshop,” Dies said. “There is also a local group called Son Mudanza in Madison that performs one of the styles
of son from the state of Vera Cruz. They are going to be acting as a local host artist. So we are going to be doing one reception in conjunction
with them. So we will actually play together.”
      Sones will also be participating in a lecture and panel discussion sponsored by the UW’s Latin American Studies program.
Just how far will Sones go to accommodate? They enjoy any challenge. “One of the music teachers from one of the schools that we are going
to plays the oboe,” Dies said. “And he asked if he could play with us one number. I don’t think that we have ever played with an oboe player.
But we are looking into the repertoire of Mexican music to find something where the oboe might fit. We’ll send him some music and try to play
something together with him. So that keeps it fresh.”
      The music of Sones is for everyone, Dies emphasized. One doesn’t have to be Mexican or Latino to enjoy the rhythms and sounds that
Sones serves up during their concerts. And they have been known to perform covers of music from other musical styles.
      “We have a Mexican folk cover of a Johann Sebastian Bach piece that we do with Mexican instruments and we show how the common
elements that exist between baroque music and Mexican folk music,” Dies explained. “It’s not a coincidence. When Europeans arrived in
Mexico in the 16th century, baroque was the music of the church. It’s the music that was used to convert the natives and the folk music that
emerged from that has a lot of baroque elements. A classical audience might be entertained by that. Our last album was based on Woody
Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land.’ We sing it as a Mexican Norteño song. We also did a cover of Led Zeppelin, but we did it with Aztec drums.
The idea was that the same power that Jimmy Page was getting from his amps, we were getting from these Aztec drums, that driving rhythm.
We did a cover of Buck Owens. They really aren’t novelty songs. They are attempts to connect with our audience and bring people into the
fold.”
      And while Sones appeals to diverse audiences, its music also holds significance for people with special connections to Mexico. “In our
audiences, there are people of Mexican descent who were born in the U.S. who might feel that their parents did not cultivate the culture in
them, maybe in an attempt to fit in or become assimilated,” Dies said. “Maybe they feel they were lacking that exposure and they seek out a
connection and some of them come to Sones de Mexico and they become our fans. They read our liner notes and want to know more. There
are also people coming from Mexico who are very familiar with these styles of music and they just miss it. They like to listen to Sones de
Mexico as sort of a nostalgia thing or to stay in touch. Other people might feel national pride or a patriotic sense by listening to our music.
There are people who are interested in world music who are not necessarily Mexican, but like to explore music from different parts of the
world and they like our music. Maybe someone who spent some time in Mexico in the Peace Corps or maybe one of their children did an
exchange program in Mexico and they had a very good experience and they like to remember that connection.”
      So what can one expect from a Sones de Mexico concert? A couple of hours of diverse Mexican music. “We will begin with an Aztec
ceremonial dance,” Dies said. “Then we will begin a parade of musical styles. The band will put down one set of instruments and grab another
set of them and play a different song. We’ll play something with fiddles and strings and then we’ll go with a marimba and percussion. Then we
have a song with just a flute and a drum. Then a clarinet joins in. There is a lot of variety. We don’t necessarily make a lecture out of the
concert. You really have to read the program or attend one of the educational programs to understand everything that is going on.”
Come April, Sones will be releasing their fifth CD called ‘Fiesta Mexicana: Mexican Songs and Stories for Niños and Niñas and Their Papas
and Mamas.’ It is a double CD of children’s songs recorded in Spanish and English. “When kids listen to the records, they play them over and
over again,” Dies said. “The idea is they can play the one with the language they are most familiar with and then once they get the hang of it,
they could play the other one and pretty much understand what we are saying.”
      Sones de Mexico will be performing Saturday, March 6 at 4 p.m. in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater. General admission tickets are
$12. For ticket information, call 258-4141 or visit their website at
www.overturecenter.com.
Sones de México, formed in Chicago in 1994, will spend
several days in Madison presenting at educational
workshops and forums.