History of the Ranchera
La Ranchera is a very popular musical style in Mexico and has close links with the famous mariachis that animate Mexican holidays.
With guitars, trumpets, violins, vihuelas, harps and harmonicas, the Rancheros will sing stories about the Mexican Revolution, peasant and everyday life, or love tragedies.
Among the biggest representatives of the Ranchera are Alejandro Fernández, Javier Solís, Pedro Infante, Lola Beltrán, Ana Gabriel and Lucha Reyes.
Origins of the Ranchera
The origins of the Ranchera date back to the 19th century but it is the Mexican Revolution with its heroes like Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata that will allow this musical style to spread quickly in Mexico and Latin America.
The word “Ranchera” derives from the “rancho” which is in Mexico a particular agricultural exploitation inspired by the Andalusian farms, in Spain. The 1910 Revolution will mark a significant change in Mexican politics and society. Ranchera music is then a popular reaction to the aristocratic models that dominated Mexican society until then.
La Ranchera draws its inspiration from the spirit of Mexican folk dances whose festive character (as is the case with the Huapango precursor to Bamba) combines with a narrative argument of a lyrical or epic nature. It will also incorporate elements of Waltz, Bolero and Polka.
During the Revolution the chronicles sung in the form of “Corridos” proliferate and will be at the base of many Rancheras whose main feature is the prolonged interpretation of the final note of each sentence in a high tone and which will fall dramatically at the moment of finishing the stanza of the song. The singer’s voice is then accompanied ideally by the guitars and trumpets of mariachis formations.
Evolution of the Ranchera
The most famous Ranchera in the world is certainly “Cielito Lindo”, which was composed in 1882 by Quirino Mendoza y Cortés, a song that will be performed with great success by many artists such as Mariachi Vargas, Pedro Infante. , Vicente Fernández or Ana Gabriel.
The golden age of the Ranchera, in the 1940s and 1950s, is marked by singers like Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante and Javier Solís thanks to the recording of records and films that will begin to penetrate the markets in Latin America , in the United States and then in Europe.
José Alfredo Jiménez will play a very important role in Ranchera music in the 1950s. Author of very popular songs like “El Rey”, “The media vuelta” or “If our dejan”, José Alfredo Jiménez is often considered as the best composer of Ranchera of all time, the legend to follow for many artists.
The themes of José Alfredo Jiménez’s songs are often based on the sorrows that lead men to take refuge in a glass (and even several) of tequila. Many of his songs are also dedicated to his girlfriends like his wife Paloma and for whom he wrote “Tu recuerdo y yo”, “Paloma querida” or “Que suerte la mía”, songs later taken by the singer and actor Mexican Jorge Negrete.
Paloma is not the only woman to have inspired José Alfredo Jiménez since this one will compose also “Amanecí in tus brazos” for Lucha Villa, “El rey” for Alicia Juárez, “If our dejan” for Columba Domínguez, or “Ella” for “Cristina Fernández”.
The women have inspired the Ranchera singers, but they have also marked this musical genre as performers as is the case of Lola Beltrán who sang and played in many films in the 1950s and 1960s. Jiménez is considered the King of the Ranchera, for many Mexicans Lola Beltrán is the Queen, she who sang in front of such important personalities as the King of Spain Juan Carlos I, General de Gaulle, Queen Elizabeth II d England, Leonid Brezhnev, Tito, Emperor Haile Selassie, Prince of Monaco, Dwight D. Eisenhower or John F. Kennedy.
Among the best-known songs of Lola Beltrán are “Grítenme Piedras del Campo”, “Los laureles”, “Huapango Torero”, “Cucurrucucú Paloma”, “Paloma negra”, “Mi ciudad”, “La noche de mi mal” , “Cualquier modo”, “Pelea de gallos”, “La piedra”, “Gracias” or “Alma de acero”.
In the 1960s, Vicente Fernández gave a boost to Ranchera music, which was beginning to lose its market following the invasion of musical styles from Cuba and the Caribbean. In 1966, he recorded his first successes with “Perdóname”, “Cantina del Barrio” and “Tu Camino y El Mío”. But it is by interpreting “Volver, volver” in 1972 that Vicente Fernández will be known at the world level, his song being taken by other international artists.
From his beginnings and until the present years, Vicente Fernández will continue his career brilliantly in Mexico, Colombia and the United States, beating impressive audience records when on February 14, 2009, 220,000 spectators gathered at the Place du Zocalo de Mexico.
It was not until June 30, 2012 that Vicente Fernández announced his retirement by starting an international tour in Colombia to bid farewell, leaving room for other artists who continue to sing like Juan Gabriel and the Spanish singer Rocío Dúrcal, or more recent singers like Pedro Fernández, Pepe Aguilar or his own son Alejandro Fernández.
The list of Ranchera’s singers is endless because all Mexican artists have more or less to adhere to this style of music to seduce a popular public that considers it as part of its cultural heritage.
It is therefore not surprising to see Bolero singers like Luis Miguel performing Rancheras, or Pop singers like Paulina Rubio whose one of his best-known songs in Mexico is “El Ultimo Adiós”.
Another well-known Mexican singer, Thalia has also adapted some Ranchera-style songs such as “Amor a la mexicana” or “Un alma sentaciada”.
Dancing the Ranchera
La Ranchera is a 3/4 dance rather folkloric and the Europeans are therefore unaccustomed to this dance step marked with much vigor, a bit like the Spanish zapateo.
We make a vigorous first step to the left with the left foot, then the right foot will go in the same direction with a little less vivacity, and we finish the movement by bringing the left foot on the right side before starting again in the contrary.
The person with whom we dance will perform mirror movements and the two dancers will be able to embellish this basic dance step by turning from time to time on themselves.
To see how the Mexican Ranchera is dancing, take a look at the dancers’ movements in the video below where we will see a folk band perform a demonstration.