Back in January I had this amazing post prepared, in my mind, but before I actually got to write it down and publish it I was distracted and completely forgot about it, until this post by @likedeeler reminded me.
While I was doing my fast on a hillside property in La Boquilla, a tiny bay not far from here, but even more remote than Mazunte, I heard the sound of a funeral. It had to be one, I figured, since the music came from the next hill, where the cemetery was located. At first it was the cheerful rhythm that seemed a bit out of place, but that is in fact not atypical for here. Death is celebrated with the same vibrancy as life, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, it was the tune I recognized that gave me a double take: In Germany they would not be allowed to play this!
The Story of a Nazi Anthem
Die Fahne Hoch, or better known as the “Horst Wessel Song”, was the official anthem of the Nazi Party, usually played right after the first verse of the national anthem “Deutschland Deutschland Über Alles” which is why both were banned after the war. According to Nazi propaganda, it was Horst Wessel himself who wrote the song for the brown-shirted SA, before being murdered by a communist. Seizing the occasion for effective propaganda, the Nazis turned him into a martyr, playing his song over and over again, even after the SA had been dissolved by the black-shirted SS.
Horst Wessel image source
But how did this song make it into the repertoire of funeral songs of this tiny Mexican village? Did they even know what they were playing? (Raising the question: Did I even know what they were playing?) So I just felt compelled to do some research on it. Of course, I could have made my way down the mountain, then up the other one to the cemetery, pestering the mourners with questions about banned Nazi songs they were allegedly playing. (No way!) So instead, I turned to the Internet for answers.
Tracing the Origin of Music
While propaganda minister Göbbels insisted that both the lyrics AND the melody were written by Horst Wessel himself, anyone who has ever tried coming up with a song knows that it’s much more difficult to compose a brand new tune than write new words to an existing song. As it turns out, this was the case for the melody of the Horst Wessel song too, which can be traced back to Napoleonic France. It was composed by Étienne Méhul for his opera Joseph, performed originally in 1807. Score! I didn’t even have to venture too far from Wikipedia to discover this piece of information, and in its light everything made perfect sense.
Étienne Méhul image source
Finding its Way to Mexico
Many elements of music that’s popular in Mexico, go back to the 19th century. Especially during the second empire, when the conservatives decided it would be good to have an emperor again, and invited Maximilian of Habsburg to sit on the Mexican throne… for a few years at least. During this time he brought military brass bands, which took roots and became what is known today as Banda Music. Together with the instruments came a repertoire of songs, that were popular in Europe at that time, including the one by Étienne.
Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico image source
So in the end the seemingly scandalous funeral song had a very simple explanation: it was as much (or as little) Mexican, as it was Nazi. It was just a song, created by a French composer (the first one they called a romantic), which some took to Mexico and eventually played at funerals, while others in Germany used it for propaganda purposes. What I would be interested in now, is seeing a performance of the play Joseph.
Please Visit my Previous Posts in my Music Monday Series:
Somebody Tell Me - first trial & live performance [HU] [SP] [EN]
Somebody Tell Me - Translating a Hungarian Song Into [EN] and [SP]
In Country: Folks Songs of Americans in the Vietnam War
Images Conjured up by Tom Waits' Music
Polynesian Salt Water Music
Folk Songs from Your Home Village - Hungarian Regional Sound Archives
Party Tunes from the Wild East - The "Russendisko" Experience
Gloomy Sunday - The Hungarian Suicide Song
Memorable Weirdness - What Do You Want A Japanese To Do Again?
Songs of the Mexican Revolution: La Adelita
Accordion-Rock You May Not Know (But Really Should) - Los Tabascos
Beyond the Boundries of Styles and Genres - King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
No Prophets in Their Own Land - Rodrigo y Gabriela
The First Hip-Hop I Actually Liked - Things Fall Apart by The Roots
The Harder Sound of the Middle Ages - Corvus Corax
Party Like There's No Tomorrow, Cry Like Everything Is Lost - Hungarian Gypsy Music
Classic Canadiana: Stan Rogers
Floating Into the Night by Julee Cruise
Obligatory Line-Dance at Mexican Parties - El Payaso de Rodeo
The Sound of the Hungarian Zither