The Sounds of Sonora


A great soundtrack marries music with imagery, forming a symbiosis between song and sight. And let’s face it, although some have tried, films just don’t work as well without them. The same can be said of a journey through Sonora.

A tour through this northern Mexican state isn’t just about sightseeing: it is about ‘soundseeing’; it is about opening your ears, as well as your eyes to the hum of its deserts, the throng of its villages, the pulse of its people. Most soundtracks are written for films, to complement their movements, accentuate their subtleties: in Sonora, it is almost as if the landscape is written for the music.

A soundtrack to Sonora begins in silence, in a stillness only a desert of such beauty can evoke. But with each passing hour, much like the landscape, it begins to transform. And then, almost unnoticeably, it reaches a crescendo, bursting into life as you enter into one of its vibrant townships. On this occasion, it is the village of Alamos that sets the tone.

Upon arrival into Alamos, there is time to reflect upon its prettiness. And then, the lull is broken by bread. In Alamos, as in all of Sonora, almost every meal eaten out is accompanied by live music. Whether through a lone pianist sitting in a corner, or a ‘mobile’ mariachi-esque duo/trio, music will present itself somehow to the diner.

But the real reason we are here is to experience the annual international Festival Cultural Alfonso Ortiz Tirado.

When an entire town is taken over by a music festival; when in every direction you turn, there awaits a musician, ready to serenade you with a melody, you know you’re in for something special.

And so it is here. The Festival Ortiz Tirado literally spews out on to the town’s streets, uncontainable in its vivacity. On the El Callejon del Templo (main stage), there’s the Latin-pop of ‘Puerto Rican Power’, infused with traditional sounds and rhythms. Inside the Palacio Municipal, listeners are taken, via Noche de la Universidad de Sonora, to Vienna and beyond by four gifted opera students performing the works of Mozart, Strauss, Schumann and Schubert. And in between, music fans are treated to over a hundred performances on stages strewn across the entire town.

But perhaps the most enjoyable part of the festival is found on its cobbled streets and alleys. On one corner, we find ourselves literally standing between two ‘acts’ that alternate performances for anyone who will stop and listen (and of course, many do). Then, on the next night we follow a large ensemble that lead a procession through the streets of the village, with wine-laden donkey in tow. Dancing is not optional.

As visitors, we are told Mexicans are often late for their own funerals – although this clearly does not apply to Mexican music. It is rhythmic, it is regular, and it is never late.

The Festival Ortiz Tirado is a celebration unlike any other, where song and dance flow freely, both metaphorically and literally (the $300 price tag of Coachella, or the $250 tag of Bonnaroo definitely don’t apply here). 

And when the credits to this carnival start to roll, be sure to see them out, with eyes, and ears, open. 

I write this in silence. But in my head I still hear the sounds of percussion, of horns and of so, so many guitars. I still hear the sounds of Sonora.
Source = e-Travel Blackboard: Mark Harada
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