Recently I caught some students logging on to Pandora at the computer lab, turning the volume so low on the speakers that they had to hunch down to hear. The music of choice these days turned out to be Mexican corridos, or lyric ballads that relate the exploits of heroes and bandits sung in simple, rhyming sequence. I was surprised to see that they had chosen these over Lil’ Wayne or Justin Bieber, and soon found myself promising them that I would play some good corridos for them in some academic context that I hadn’t quite formulated yet.
While the modern corrido has its roots in the Mexican Revolution , the genre itself is as old as gunpowder and the guitar and it refuses to die after each generation. These days, however, these popular songs have come to be associated more with narco-traffickers and AK-47s than with peasant with Mausers fighting for land, and by consequence teaching about them has become more pressing, if anything to reconnectc the students to the themes of social justice and reprisal against oppression that the earlier corridos exalted.
Thankfully the folks at The Smithsonian have put together a nice online exhibition called Corridos Sin Fronteras, presented in both Spanish and English, highlighting the history of the corrido and offering many examples and resources to hold a unit of study for a few days. The project is not exactly new, having been launched quite a number of years ago, but the online universe has not yet outgrown this site, as its content is still eye-opening and engaging for students and teachers.
Students can click on the Learn tab and explore the roots of the corrido and track its evolution over time. They can click around in one of the best interactive time lines I’ve seen, and come to link to a map (surprisingly) in reference to “Lost Territory”–a refreshing counterpoint to the whole 1848 land grab than what you would normally expect from an institution as American as the Smithsonian.
Teachers can download lesson plans, PDF’s and song lyrics to sing along to their decent selection of themes. From here you can go many other places, YouTube videos if allowed, Arhoolie recordings (of which I am a fan) and have students translate other corridos into English, or sing them as part of the Spanish portion of your day, if you are in a bilingual classroom.
Most impressive is the Write your own feature, which really makes the site one of the best in terms of providing a triangular linkage between the digital, the cultural, and the educational world. A student is given a template, a theme and an accompanying audio track, and they have to come up with the rhyming lyrics. Its a music, language (Spanish OR English) and history lesson all in one.
On the downside you need Flash, so no iPod access here. But you can’t fault these people. they have put together something memorable.
Another great site is the Kennedy Center’s Arts Edge site which has printable material useful for those who teach in a bilingual environment in the upper elementary t0 high school age group.
The Kennedy Center provides more of a lesson plan model, and has assessments that accompany their featured lessons, which include other related themes that may interest you, like the style of the corrido, and the song Guantanamera, all which fall under the world music, folk label.