By Jeremy Ray Jewell
Dueto Dos Rosas’s tunes can be classified as rancheras or corridos, but their style has a very particular historical resonance.
Sisters Emily and Sheyla Rosas of Santa Cruz, California are in love with Mexican country music, la canción campirana, and they are very proud of their indigenous Oaxacan roots. Together they form Dueto Dos Rosas, and they are drawing a lot of attention to themselves. The self-taught musicians have only five songs commercially available on streaming music platforms to date, but their YouTube footprint is already humongous. There, over the past five years, they have released over a hundred videos of performing traditional Mexican songs. Each of their videos attracts hundreds of thousands of views, and their comment sections are filled with requests. Clearly, the young Rosas sisters have struck a chord.
Their tunes can be classified as rancheras or corridos, but their style has a very particular historical resonance. Their repertoire of songs, the style of their performances, and to an extent even their image, pays homage to a moment in Mexican folk music which began in the late 1940s with Dueto América and Dueto Las Palomas, the two sibling duos from Aguascalientes made up of David, Carolina, and Elvira González. Indeed, of the five songs currently available via streaming from the Rosas sisters, at least one is based on a song first recorded by the Gonzálezes (“A la Luz de una Vela” first recorded by Dueto la Palomas in 1967), another one popularized by them (“Tres Suspiros” by Dueto América ), and a third (“Anda Paloma y Dile”) popularized by Las Jilguerillas, a younger group from Michoacán which the González siblings had been instrumental in putting together in 1955. Yet another of the Rosas’ songs (“El Diablo en una Botella”), was recorded by another stylistically similar duo active in the ’50s-’60s in Coahuila called Dueto Rio Bravo.
Significantly, the siblings González were playing both numbers familiar in their time and also reviving forgotten ones. Likewise, the Rosas are recording both the old and the new(er). Their rendition of the ancient melancholic Oaxacan love song “La Llorona” resonates with a depth of history that is matched by their interpretation of “El Diablo en una Botella”, a corrido with a tremendous breadth of modern renditions. Like the Gonzálezes, they are playing to a crowd which both desires the contemporary favorites and the viejitas pero bonitas (“oldies but goodies”). Although possibly accidental, their rendition of the Texan ranchera “Tres Suspiros” is an interesting variation on the Dueto América version. The Rosas seem to reintroduce some of the rhythms that were used in the title’s earliest recordings. (To hear the contrast, compare the Dueto América version to an early Texas conjunto style recording.)
The time frame inaugurated by the Gonzálezes and their counterparts marked a subtle shift in Mexican vernacular music. The ’40s marked an end to Cardenismo. Anticlericalism, military rule, and socialism “a la mexicana” were all on the way out, as was the once powerful intellectual push toward modernismo vernáculo (vernacular modernism) in culture. The ranchera aesthetic, which encompassed both the musical and cinematic arts, was being pulled from its moorings in post-revolutionary ideology. It was in need of a popular revitalization, what historian William Gradante called “folklorization.” It needed to become of the pueblo once more, not merely a didactic instrument.
What makes Dueto Dos Rosas’ evocation of this period so attractive? I would argue that a similar cultural disconnect is occurring now between the Mexican folk tradition and the Mexican people. As in the ’40s, a space needs to be filled, a revitalizing bridge built between past and present. In the ’80s, esteemed musicians such as Vicente Fernández, Juan Gabriel, and José José, gained international success by creating a nationalistic ranchera image. The inevitable reaction against that profitable generalization meant a shift away from the national and back toward the regional (and thus closer to the people). And that response has reinvigorated Mexican music. Yet that regionalism has also fallen victim to opportunistic commercialism, the despoliation spurred in large part by the creation of the U.S. radio format “Regional Mexican.” The conditions are just right for an effort to reach back to an earlier time, to counter over-produced precision with minimalist purity, and to recover the essence of a (trans)national tradition. Consciously or not, Dueto Dos Rosas represents such an effort.
That effort to return to regional roots is analogous to the canción ranchera of the Revolution: by tapping into aspects of rural, peasant life that reach beyond the insular, the ranchera helped spawn the new, revolutionary Mexican people. That aesthetic trajectory projects a political future by going back to the musical past, which tells the would-be revolutionary where she has been — so that she knows where she should be going. This folkloric approach is the core of the Dueto Dos Rosas’s popular appeal. They reject the flamboyance and over-production of the current regional trends in Mexican music. Instead, they revive a shared past in which, in the words of novelist Luis Alberto Urrea, “all Mexicans still dreamed the same dream. They dreamed of being Mexican. There was no greater mystery.” It is that mystery which the music of Dueto Dos Rosas dreams of.
Jeremy Ray Jewell hails from Jacksonville, Florida. He has an MA in History of Ideas from Birkbeck College, University of London, and a BA in Philosophy from the University of Massachusetts Boston. His website is www.jeremyrayjewell.com, and he sometimes maintains a blog entitled That’s Not Southern Gothic.