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Ranchera Singer at the Heart of Mexican Culture - 2002-06-16

In Mexico, one of the main pillars of the culture is a musical form known as ranchera. Although it derives from country folk songs, it is popular even in urban areas and a Mexican dreams of singing rancheras for the public at large. VOA's Greg Flakus went to San Luis Potosi, Mexico to meet one such singer.

His name is Miguel Angel Grageda and he is at the very heart of Mexican culture, dressing in the style of Mexican cowboys, known as charro, and singing rancheras.

Although Miguel Angel Grageda grew up in Mexico City and has lived for the past several years in San Luis Potosi, he remains in touch with Mexico's rural culture. He says ranchera, which can be literally translated as ranch music, has broad appeal.n He says that as a ranchera singer he is a medium to express what people feel, whether they live in the country or the city.

The charro tradition reflects the way of life on the large ranches, called haciendas, that thrived in Mexico in the 18th and 19th centuries. Ranchera music has roots in that tradition as well, but it really became imbedded in Mexican culture in the 1940's and 1950's with the movies made by such famous actor/singers as Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete. The ranchera singer is often manly, or macho, but at the same time sensitive and easily brought to tears by longing for love.

Although Mexico is now a mostly urban nation, many people still relate to the figure of the ranchera singer with his big hat, called a sombrero, and his elegant suede outfit trimmed with buttons and buckles of shiny silver. The ranchera music contains many references to the rural traditions as well as pride in Mexico itself.

In his new album, Miguel Angel Grageda sings about pride in his country and even has one song about an immigrant who goes north to work in the United States, but decides to return because his country needs him.

Miguel Angel Grageda says the words of these songs are an important element in their success. He says the words of the songs are very simple and are words used by the people themselves, therefore they can relate to the ideas expressed very quickly and easily.

In Mexico, as elsewhere in the world, working to break into the big time in show business takes a lot of time and a lot of work. Miguel Angel Grageda is getting some air play on Mexican radio, but his album has still not been picked up by a major distributor and he makes most of his money touring.

His wife, Veronica, says having a performer for a husband can be taxing on family life, but there are benefits. She says that her only real rival is her husband's artistic life. She says it is hard for her and the three children at home when he away on the road, but that when he is around, there is always music in the air.

Even his son, 16-year-old Tonio, who plays in a hard rock band, says he like ranchera. He says that just because he plays rock does not mean that he cannot relate to ranchera. He says this music reflects his roots and expresses his pride in being Mexican. He says the fact that his father sings it makes it even better.

Miguel Angel Grageda is working for success as a performer, but he is also helping to maintain a Mexican tradition.