Puerto Escondido native Alejandra Robles will entertain an audience in Puerto Escondido next month during the Fiestas de Noviembre, fresh from a presentation last weekend at the Festival Internacional Cervantino in Guanajuato.
“I’m very happy,” the Afro-Mexican singer told the newspaper El Economista in an interview before her show. “It took me a lot of work to win the stage [at El Cervantino]. I’m going to introduce the coast, where I’m from. I am going to present traditional pieces from Guerrero, from Oaxaca, some from Veracruz and others I have composed . . . Between each song I tell a little about being Black, how I have lived it and about how important [African descendants] have been in the building of this country.”
“I have tried for some time to play at Cervantino. I knocked on the door many times, because I am a very stubborn person. If they refuse several times, I know they are going to say yes to me the sixth or seventh time. And I think that at least six times I had requested to be included in the Cervantino,” she continued.
That dream came true on Saturday when she performed at the Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel, on the outskirts of Guanajuato city, accompanied by a band of 12 musicians.
“It hasn’t been easy for me, I don’t come from a family with money or influence, my dad was my first producer. He was the first one to tell me that I needed an album, that I couldn’t go asking for work at festivals without a production. And then he paid for it,” Robles recalled.
Her drive led her to a concert at the symbolic heart of the country, the Zócalo at México City, on September 15.
“Having recently performed at the Zócalo confirms it, it is the result of perseverance and faith. I tell those who listen to me not to lose faith in their dreams, to keep believing and to keep doing, within their possibilities, the best they can, because we are all able to create.”
All the pieces that Robles performed on the Cervantino stage have a relationship with being Black, she told El Economista.
One of the songs was La Sanmarqueña, a chilena, a traditional genre shared by Oaxaca and Guerrero. “It is one of the most representative chilenas in Guerrero, where Afro-descendants are recognized and celebrated.”
La malagueña curreña, she continued, is “a piece by Don Ismael Añorve . . . known in Oaxaca and Guerrero as ‘the queen of the chilenas‘. There is no song more beautiful than this one. Even during the Guelaguetza, here in Oaxaca, when the coast [dance group] opens, it starts with this gem of a song.”
Afro-Latino influences were showcased by the Colombian piece Paloma morena, “which talks about the morena women. It is festive and cheerful currulao, an Afro-Colombian rhythm. I have adopted it and I have adapted it to the chilena rhythm.”
La llorona, an unmissable song for Black and coastal communities in Oaxaca, was also part of her repertoire. “The powerful verse with which it begins caught my attention: ‘Everyone calls me el negro [the black one], llorona / Negro but affectionate / I am like green chile, llorona / spicy but tasty’. It starts by alluding to the color of the skin and that seems to me extremely precious and powerful for what I’ve been doing.”
Songs written by Robles herself were also included, like El señor de las jícaras, inspired by Don Luis, a master craftsman who is dedicated to carving jícara gourds in Pinotepa Nacional. “He told me his life story, how he left his community without knowing how to speak Spanish and went to study fine arts in Guadalajara, and how tremendously difficult it was because of the discrimination he experienced, but he never let himself be defeated, he got ahead, and now he is one of the most important artists we have in Oaxaca.”
The Black community has always been part of Mexican history, but it is only recently that it has been given official recognition by the federal government.
The 2020 general population census was the first one to allow citizens to identify as Afro-Mexicans or Afro-descendants, showing that 2.57 million people recognized themselves as part of the Afro community, or about 2% of the national population.
“This is and will be extremely significant,” Robles said. “This has to have some effect, such as putting a stop to lagging culture, health and education [services]. Afro-descendants are one of the most forgotten groups in the country, even more so than indigenous groups.”
And it’s not just small Black communities in regions of states like Oaxaca or Guerrero, she continued. “Mexico City has the largest population of Afro-descendants in the country, but they are not seen or recognized as such. That’s why it was so important for me to perform at the Zócalo.”
After performing for audiences in Mexico City and the Cervantino, Robles will return home for the Fiestas de Noviembre when she performs a free concert at the Agencia Municipal on November 10 at 6:30 p.m.
With reports by El Economista