Museo Urbano Presents Border Music

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

UTEP’s Museo Urbano is continuing its tradition of taking lessons about the region’s history out onto the streets with its newest idea that not only invites the public to listen, but play along in the process.

The first in a series of quarterly events, “A World of Border Music” will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 15 at Café Mayapan, 2000 Texas Ave. The event is open to the public and admission is free.Musicians in turn-of-the-century El Paso. Photo courtesy of UTEP Library Special Collections.Musicians in turn-of-the-century El Paso. Photo courtesy of UTEP Library Special Collections.

Museo Urbano is an ongoing project directed by the UTEP Department of History. Since its establishment in May 2011, Museo Urbano has educated and inspired hundreds of visitors to exhibits at its original location (500 S. Oregon St.) and temporary installations around South El Paso in collaboration with other community partners. It also offers a self-guided walking tour featuring locations important to the history of the Mexican Revolution.

On June 15 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., attendees can learn more about the Mexican genre of music known as son jarocho — the most famous example of which is possibly Ritchie Valens’ rocked-up version of “La Bamba” — during a workshop presented by Leo Martinez. The Silva Magnet High School String Quartet, whose repertoire includes music that was performed and enjoyed in the El Paso-Juárez region during the turn of the 20th century, will perform at 4:30 p.m., followed by a presentation by history lecturer and African-American Studies Assistant Director Selfa Chew, Ph.D., titled “The African Roots of Fronterizo Music” at 5 p.m.

In her talk, Chew will introduce the topic of the African diaspora and its influence in the music of Mexico while Fronteras No Mas gives a musical demonstration of the themes of the evening with its eclectic fusion of son jarocho, son montuno, cumbia and other Afro-Latin musical genres that have influenced the music of the border.

Musicians in turn-of-the-century El Paso. Photo courtesy of UTEP Library Special Collections.Musicians in turn-of-the-century El Paso. Photo courtesy of UTEP Library Special Collections.The event closes with a jam/open mic session scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Patrons are encouraged to bring their own instruments and poetry. Dancers and other performers are also encouraged to participate.

“We strongly believe that history and culture are beautiful partners,” said Yolanda Chávez Leyva, Ph.D., chair of UTEP’s Department of History, giving credit for this latest Museo Urbano effort to Chew and Museo Urbano Co-Director David Romo.

“In many ways the event is a continuation of what the Museo Urbano has been doing from the start: exploring little-known aspects of our history on the border,” Romo said. “The story of the African roots of Mexican and fronterizo music is one of those fascinating stories that certainly needs to be further explored.”

Romo’s popular book, Ringside Seat to a Revolution: An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juárez: 1893-1923, offers a focus on the music of El Paso and Juárez in the early 20th century.

“I've continued to pore through musical scores in the local historical archives to try to recover some music from that era and make it accessible to a general public,” Romo said. “That's one of the most important things we are trying to do as part of UTEP's borderlands public history project – to reach a broader audience beyond the University walls. Music, with its capacity to bring people from all walks of life together, is a great way of doing that.”

Romo added, “We hope to continue the ‘World of Border Music’ as a regular series of participatory events that explore little-known aspects of our community's culture and history.”

Such an event is also a fitting way to celebrate recent recognition for Museo Urbano. In February, the National Council on Public History presented Museo Urbano with its 2013 Outstanding Public History Project Award. In May, Texas State Representative Mary Gonzalez authored a House Resolution honoring Museo Urbano that was adopted by the state House of Representatives.

In part, the resolution read: “Founded on the values of respect, reciprocity, responsibility, and the advancement of social justice, the Museo Urbano is a vital cultural resource, and it is indeed deserving of special recognition for its outstanding contributions to the El Paso community,” providing an appreciation and recognition for the Museo’s work that extends well beyond the city where it operates.