Cinco Songs

By: Marcelo Báez

At this point in your life you should already know that, with the exception of Puebla, most of Mexico doesn’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo. It’s all about drinking and very little about the glorious Battle of Puebla—but hey, any flimsy excuse to party, right? I’m down with that. Plus, you didn’t come here to read some preachy history lesson.

Let’s say you’re throwing a Cinco party and you really want to impress your friends. Cool. But you’re only going to embarrass yourself if you cue up “La Macarena”—or something equally ridiculous—on Spotify. You can serve them whatever drinks you want, but you should at least get the music right. So if you want your party to seem somewhat legit, help yourself to this small list of classic rancheras.

ONE. “Amor Aventurero” by Juan Gabriel.

Juan Gabriel finally recorded a studio version of this song a couple of years ago after performing it live for years—and it’s the perfect song to kick off a Cinco de Mayo party. Why? Because it’s upbeat, but also because it’s a witty song about being respectfully promiscuous.

Damn. This party just started and you’re already thinking about getting laid.

TWO. “Bala Perdida” by Lola Beltrán.

Because she performed for the likes of Charles de Gaulle and John F. Kennedy, and because she appeared in many films from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, Lola Beltrán secured her status as Mexico’s premier ranchera singer since before many of us were even born. In “Bala Perdida,” Lola’s voice sounds young, strong and raw. The recording itself also has a hint of analog saturation and it sounds particularly good when Beltrán hits the high notes.

THREE. “Veracruz” by Javier Solis.

The classiest man in the ranchera business, Javier Solis had one of the best—if not the bestvoices out of all his colleagues. And along with Jorge Negrete and Pedro Infante, he was one of the revered “Three Mexican Roosters,” all of whom died tragically young. “Sombras” and “Payaso” are some of his biggest hits, but this cover of Agustin Lara’s “Veracruz” stands out because of being slightly tropical.

FOUR. “Zandunga” by Chavela Vargas.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to proclaim Chavela Vargas to be the coolest person ever. It’s just that back in the ’50s not a lot of women smoked Cuban cigars, carried guns, were openly lesbian and hung out with Frida Kahlo. “Zandunga” showcases amazing guitar work which, coupled with Chavela’s amazing voice, makes one powerful song. And although it sounds like “La Chamana” is singing a heartbreaking anthem, the lyrics are actually pretty funny.

FIVE. “En el Último Trago” by José Alfredo Jiménez.

Without a doubt, José Alfredo Jiménez is the genre’s most popular composer but, oddly, his own recordings are not as well known. I often play the original “Media Vuelta” in my DJ sets and always catch drunkards (I play it late) missing their cues because they’re only familiar with Luis Miguel’s version. “En el Último Trago” is one of my favorite songs because it’s a dignified borracho tune: “The years have taught me nothing / I always make the same mistakes,” says the immortal chorus. It’s a phrase you’re going to repeat to yourself over and over when you’re hungover at work the day after your party.

Marcelo Baéz is a writer, DJ, and musician based in NYC. When he's not producing "Rico Suave" parties, he releases music under P3CULIAR.