"In my opinion, the blues goes beyond being a mere structure, or a musical genre; it is an essence. An essence that is in the heart of the human being; so, in the experiences, the blues is present."
Roberto Rivelino: The Poetic Blues
Roberto Rivelino, originally from Mexico City, with more than 12 years of residence in San Luis Potosí, he is undoubtedly one of the obligatory references of blues in Mexico. Emanating from the blues workshop of José Cruz (founder of the band Real de Catorce), he has participated in different representative projects of blues in Mexico: “Juan Hernández y su banda de Blues” and “Monroy Blues”. Founder of the musical group “Los Blueserables” he gives the blues a special touch, because he considers Mexican folk music is analogous to blues. Roberto is harmonist, guitarist, vocalist of Los Blueserables and songwriter. In his proposal, he takes the blues as a fundamental element for the musical and poetic construction of the songs covering it with cultural features that surround it. The lyrics of his songs, in Spanish, talk about everyday aspects, personal experiences, his point of view of the social environment and other issues that happen in the individual's inner world. In addition to his work in the artistic field, he has also developed in the academic field. He graduated with the degree of Doctor of Hispanic Literature from the Colegio de San Luis and his specific research works the approach between the music and literature.
Notably are for example these works: “El jazz y el estridentismo” ("Jazz and stridentism"), “Lírica tradicional infantil de México, letra y música” ("Traditional children's lyric, lyrics and music"), “El diablo en la música, el son mexicano y el blues” ("The devil in music, the mexican folk music and the Blues"), “Lirica popular improvisada, estudio de dos casos: el son huasteco y el blues” ("Lyric of poetic improvisation, study of two cases: the Son Huasteco (Mexican folk music) and the blues"), among others. In 2015, the program of the Artistic Creation and Development (PECDA) benefited the band Los Blueserables. Consequently, the band went on a tour through different cities in the state of San Luis Potosí. Moreover, Roberto achieved a scholarship by the National Fund for Culture and Arts (FONCA) in 2019, in the area of cultural studies about the folk poetry in the Son Huasteco. In different cultural and institutional centers, he has given different talks about the history of harmonica, musical improvisation and Mexican popular lyric. The magazine “Cultura Blues” has highlighted him in different years (from 2012 to 2016) as one of the leading blues harmonists in Mexico.
How has the Blues influenced your views of the world?
It seems to me that the blues has influenced a good part of my way of seeing things. The blues is the shadow and the light at the same time, the pain and the relief, the illness and the cure. It synthesizes a good part of the complexity of the human condition. We all have our blues in some way; beyond that, if we like music, blues is something that lives inside human beings. In that sense, I consider that the blues is a spiritual legacy that was born in the 20th century.
How do you describe Los Blueserables sound and songbook?
Although our main influences are in the American blues, the proposal of our band the Blueserables is not based on imitation. But on using the essential elements of blues, this means: expressiveness, spontaneity and improvisation, to give "bluesy" treatment (bluesy ) to other musical rhythms and genres of our musical heritage, both Latin American and Anglo-American, with which we grew up: the son, the "Latin", the rock, the tango, the danzón, etc. The lyrics of our songs talk in Spanish with a poetic treatment about everyday aspects, personal experiences, points of view about the social environment and other concerns that occur in the inner world of the individual.
"In the Mexican case, the phenomenon is interesting. Although here the blues is not a question that implies some ethnic issue, it is necessary to say that it is a musical genre, which crosses diverse social sectors. It is not a music that has great diffusion or that is very well known, but on the contrary, it has a scarce public, but also diverse." (Photo: Roberto Rivelino & Los Blueserables)
What characterize your music philosophy?
In my opinion, the blues goes beyond being a mere structure, or a musical genre; it is an essence. An essence that is in the heart of the human being; so, in the experiences, the blues is present. This is the reason, why the band is called “Blueserable”, because by inventing the word "blueserable" (a fusion between the noun in English and the Latin suffix) evokes everything that is susceptible to becoming blues: music, experiences, the feelings, musical rhythms, etc. In other words, the blues is an essence in the human being and can be identified in music and poetry.
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
Once we played in a garden. The afternoon was beautiful, but the clouds became dark and thunder began to sound. Quickly we turn off the equipment and we take it to another side, but the rain came immediately. We didn’t have time, the water fell on us and the instruments and equipment, everything got wet: guitars, drums, guitar effects, guitar’s combos, etc., everything. We went to home sad and worried; we dry things and wait. One week later, we test devices and instruments, everything was fine.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
What I miss is poetry. In the blues, in its origin, the poetic text was predominant; the lyric was substantial, we could say that the blues was mainly poetry, words; much of the expression was in the poetry, which was being sung. Currently, it is more committed to musical virtuosity than to a deep and elaborate poetics. What I fear is that commercial music fill all the windows, and that alternative projects are destined to clandestinity.
Make an account of the case of the blues in Mexico. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?
I think it was when the blues began to write and sing in Spanish and this has happened in the last two decades. They begin to have groups that compose their songs and make fusions between the Mexican music and the blues, although some bands do this for some time now it is diversifying more.
"It seems to me that the blues has influenced a good part of my way of seeing things. The blues is the shadow and the light at the same time, the pain and the relief, the illness and the cure. It synthesizes a good part of the complexity of the human condition. We all have our blues in some way; beyond that, if we like music, blues is something that lives inside human beings. In that sense, I consider that the blues is a spiritual legacy that was born in the 20th century." (Photo: Roberto Rivelino)
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from United States and UK to Mexico?
This is very interesting. In Mexico, like the American blues, English blues has a great predominance. All groups of Mexican blues are forced to include in their repertoire some English blues. Generations grew up listening to English blues with great intensity and conviction. I think that the English blues is an example of what should be done with the blues. They took the blues as their own and gave it its touch, its style, its authentic and sincere expression. The English blues is born with its own birth certificate, with its own, authentic style, to the degree of positioning itself as an influential blues in the world. On the other hand, they were the main promoters of the American blues; they contributed in an important way to the great masters of blues known in the world.
In my opinion, the Mexican blues must do that, what the English did with their blues: make a blues with their style, with the cultural elements with which they grew up, that endowed the blues with a personality according to themselves, to its environment, its sensitivity, its time and social, cultural and political circumstances. Beyond repeating or "cover" the American and English blues, the Mexican blues must find their own voice (which I think several groups have achieved and are an example of it and others that are in the search, we place ourselves in this group), print your stamp, create your style.
What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?
The blues community in Mexico is compact, it is not big, and most of us almost know each other. Personally, I get along with everyone and I admire everyone's work. The best friends I have personally are in the circle of blues. There I have met excellent people. However, I regret that there is not a circuit as such. Although we know each other, there has not yet been a platform or circuit that benefits the blues and its members, although we are friends, each one sees for himself, as a kind of survival.
Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of local folk music and traditional forms? (Photo: Roberto Rivelino)
This question is extremely interesting and has a lot to do with the work I have been doing in recent years. Precisely I obtained the degree of doctor in Literature with a comparative study between the son huasteco and the country blues as far as the poetic improvisation talks about. I try to answer in a concise and brief way:
In the social aspect, we can say that both manifestations are rural, rural, and vernacular. In this sense, it is very important to highlight it. The huapangueros (as the musicians are called who play huasteco or son jarocho) travelled in a ride from one place to another, playing mainly in private parties or in some restaurant or tourist spots. The same thing happened with the singer blues, it was an itinerant life, in which he spent traveling from one town to another, playing and entertaining particular parties. Another characteristic is that, although in Mexico, they were huapangueros and in the US they were blueseingers, not only they played that music, but they had to master a popular repertoire from traditional pieces to songs broadcast by the media. Many blues singers did not play exclusively blues, but they also had to know traditional English ballads to songs spread by the mass media. Subsequently began to give the specialization of blues.
One of the formal aspects that keep similarity is the harmonic construction, but that is very general and common in popular music: harmonic structures based on I, IV and V. In its beginnings, the instrumental endowment in the huasteco son consisted of a duet: violin and guitar; in the blues, the same thing happened: a violin or harmonica and a guitar. The essential point of comparison, that I make in my research, is in the literary aspect, this is where the poetic and strophic construction is based.
According to researchers, in the rural blues, the refrain was not predominant and that this was an influence of the blues reproduced in the mass media, that composed by specialized composers Tin Pan Alley. In the same way, one of the main strophic features that predominate in the huasteco son is the absence of the chorus in the same way as the rural blues. Therefore, we are talking about open and polythematic poetic structures; that is, they do not deal with a specific topic, but several. The heart of each one of them, as much of the poetry of the rural blues as of the son huasteco, lies in the copla or the blues stanza. This has the characteristic of being autonomous; that is, it has its own meaning independent of the rest of the other couplets. They can present different topics and common themes. The poetry of the son huasteco and the country blues are based on an open poetic structure. This means, they did not have a fixed letter, since it could vary according to the performance, so poetic improvisation was not only obligatory but necessary because there was no fixed text that determined the duration and length of the execution; so a blues could last half an hour, since people were dancing to the music. This is another characteristic in common; the blues without dance was not considered real blues and the same happens with the son huasteco. Therefore, the blues and the son must be flexible in their durability and therefore the poetic structure was open, it was necessary to improvise verses and for this reason, different methods were used: the variation of couplets, the invention in the moment. Both the huapanguero and the blues singer had to be carriers of a large stock of coplas or stanza that they could manipulate in each performance, either to vary, to invent or to exchange. Roberto Rivelino / Photo by Josué Souberbielle
The phenomenon of authorship was very similar. Several Blue Singers are awarded the composition of certain texts or blueses that somehow belonged to a comunity; in the same way, it happened with some huapangueros in Mexico. The influence of the media was decisive for the configuration of both genders, although I think that the influence of the media in the blues was greater. Another determining factor was the emigration to the big cities suffered by the blues, this goes hand in hand with what I just explained. Although, in the huasteco son there was also a great influence of the "sones" of the authors, it will be necessary to emphasize that the son huasteco remained vernacular, kept very close to its origin, it stayed in the field.
What do you learn about yourself from the blues culture?
Sincerity, sincerity with oneself. The blues is a way to communicate with one's own emotions, without judging them, without criticizing them, without censoring them, as such, natural.
What is the impact of the Blues music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?
In the Mexican case, the phenomenon is interesting. Although here the blues is not a question that implies some ethnic issue, it is necessary to say that it is a musical genre, which crosses diverse social sectors. It is not a music that has great diffusion or that is very well known, but on the contrary, it has a scarce public, but also diverse. One can find that there are people who listen to blues and who live in the most popular areas of a city even in the slightly more prosperous areas. I believe that in Mexico it is not a question of class, social sector, ethnic group, but of sensitivity.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
Only one day, or 24 hours? I select the last. I would like come back in 1930 in Down Town at Saturday 5 o’clock and visit a juke join, be there all night and the next day (Sunday) got to the church. A narrator’s radio of the Mississippi said: If you want know what happen with the black music, you must go to the church.
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