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Saturday, June 11, 2016
There's Magic in the Air With Mexico City's Charming Organ Grinders. Here's Their Story ~
Organ Grinders have been been playing the streets of Mexico City for over a century.
As the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City continues to lead the country in terms of modernization and change, a small guild of street workers maintains a tradition that has seen comparatively little change in more than a century.
They are the organ grinders, about 250 men clad in their traditional beige uniforms and a black kepi — a cap with a flat circular top and a peak or visor — who walk the downtown streets of the city, earning an average of 200 pesos, or US $10, a day.
The organ grinders arrived in Mexico in the late 1800s from Europe; 130 years later they are still a common sight on the streets of the capital.
They originally played European waltzes, but their repertoire shifted to the tunes of the time during the Mexican Revolution. Songs like Adelita and Cielito Lindo became commonplace, along with other popular numbers such as Cuatro Milpas, El Charrasqueado, Gema, and Volver, volver.
The organ grinders’ uniforms themselves date back to the Revolution war. It is said that an organ grinder accompanied revolutionary general Pancho Villa’s troops, known as Los Dorados de Villa. The organ player wore the same uniform as the soldiers and years after the fight was over the organ grinders’ union decided to copy the uniform and preserve the memory.
Today, some have opted for wearing elegant dress suits. “We do not dismiss change, as long as it benefits the trade,” said Víctor Maya, 31, an organ grinder for 17 years.
Maya is one of those who have opted to carry the 40-kilogram organ on a small cart instead of carrying it on their backs.
“Only a few of us use the cart but it allows us to work differently. Before, I couldn’t work on all of Avenida Reforma, as the organ is very heavy and the effort wasn’t worth it. With the cart I can walk back and forth, and even if I don’t earn that much, at least I’m not tiring myself,” said Maya, who can now visit markets, tianguis or just street crossings.
“You lose the tradition if you use the cart,” said Pedro Chávez.
Another debate within the world of street organs is the musical content. A company in Chile has been producing pinned cylinders or barrels with modern tunes like those of the Beatles, but a large number of organ grinders think that the oldies they play form part of their identity.
Members of a legally recognized occupation since the 1950s, organ grinders want to be included in the upcoming discussion on the city’s new constitution, looking for a renewal of their legal status as street workers, along with benefits such as uniforms and an organ repair shop.
Source: Mexico News Daily / El Universal
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