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What are Pirekuas de Michoacan?

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

What does Mexican music sound like? Well, it all depends on where in Mexico the music comes from. In this lesson, we'll learn about the pirekua music of Michoacán and see who plays it.

Pirekua

Americans are sometimes surprised to visit Mexico only to find that people are listening to much more than what's sometimes oversimplified as ''Mexican music.'' While Mexico does have a few genres that are national standards, regional musical styles are also very important throughout the country. One place where we can certainly see this is in the western coastal state of central Mexico called Michoacán.

Location of Michoacan in Mexico
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Perhaps while enjoying Michoacán's famous ice cream culture, visitors may also get a taste of a unique regional folk music called pirekua. It's a Mexican musical genre distinct to Michoacán, and as diverse and inventive as the state it belongs to.

History & Development

Pirekua is unique to Michoacán, but why? This music styling was developed by the P'urhépecha peoples, an Amerindian culture of this region. The P'urhépecha have lived in this part of Mexico for centuries, fighting against the Aztec Empire and maintaining rich copper mines. Over the centuries, the P'urhépecha were exposed to Spanish colonial influences, as well as those from immigrants traveling to Mexico from across Central America and the Caribbean. Historically, there has been a lot of pressure on Mexico's Amerindian cultures to assimilate, and each society found its own way to resist and maintain their identity.

For the roughly 165 P'urhépecha communities that still exist today, one of the hallmarks of their resistance and commitment to their identity was music. Pirekua emerged as an important form of social interaction and engagement between communities, as ideas, emotions, and common experiences were put to music. While there are general trends to pirekua, every community also has its own distinct traditions and interpretations, helping them preserve a sense of who they are.

Flag of the Purepecha
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Themes of Pirekua

So, what does pirekua sound like? The easy answer is that it can really sound like anything. Pirekua is a highly inventive genre, influenced by other Mexican folk music, as well as African and European musical traditions. The inventiveness of the genre is, in one way, one of the best ways that often marginalized Amerindian communities can maintain their traditions: it allows old songs to be constantly revived and reworked with new styles. Pirekua singers, called pirériechas, are highly respected for their creativity and ability to both maintain and rework traditional melodies and lyrics.

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