The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1981, Volume 27, Number 4


Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor

Hispanic Folkmusic of New Mexico and the Southwest; a Self-Portrait of a People. By John Donald Robb. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980. Bibliography. Illustrations. Definitions. Index. 891 pages. $35.00.

Reviewed by José R. Villarino, Associate Professor of Mexican-American Studies, San Diego State University, co-author of Gramática Cantada (1974), author of Pedagogía, Música y Cultura (1981).

In the tradition of Vicente Mendoza’s El Romance Espanol y El Corrido Mexicano and Americo Paredes’ A Texas Mexican Cancionero, John Donald Robb has made a solid contribution to the study of Spanish language folkmusic. This collection of 700 songs infused with tradition and custom has managed to capture the rich culture and folklore of New Mexico and the border states. This book fills a vacuum that has existed in the folkmusic of the Southwest because a complete written presentation of the New Mexican “Spanish” tradition has been lacking. Furthermore, the book provides the Chicano population with a firm understanding of the wealth, beauty, and creativity of its ancestry. It will be a useful source of inspiration, a means of identification, and a resource that can help Chicanos reflect upon their roots. Non-Chicanos also now have a resource, never before available, with which to study the subtleties of Mexican-American culture. Through this book they will be able to better understand the many complexities and facets of the Hispanic experience.

A feature that makes this work unique is the manner in which it has been conceived. The text is bilingual and most songs have musical notations and references which make the Spanish, Mexican, Chicano and Indian cultures, as they are expressed through song, come together as a unit.

Another attractive feature is the photographs that appear throughout the book; they serve as vivid proof of the reality of the events which are presented in the folkmusic. Hispanic culture has been influenced by religion throughout its history. This collection shows how religious and secular music are complementary. Strong nuclear and extended family ties helped in the development of songs recording the many facets of daily life: secular and religious for living occasions and alabados for tragic events such as velorios y entierros (wakes and funerals).

Hispanic Folkmusic is a valuable tool for teachers and professors at the junior college and university level. It will be useful as a textbook or reference for classes in Chicano Folklore, Mexican and Chicano Music, Advanced Spanish, as well as History and Anthropology.

This edition could have been improved by adding simple and brief explanations of the musical selections and by a more complete description of the historical context of the songs. The author also should have discussed contemporary trends in Chicano Folklore to give added dimension to his collection.

In conclusion, John Donald Robb’s Hispanic Folkmusic of New Mexico and the Southwest is the most complete synthesis of Hispanic folkmusic in print today. The fruits of his labor will bring happiness and joy to students and “aficionados” alike.