The Ranchera and “Adelita”: A Story of the Mexican Revolution

The commemoration of the 5 de Mayo and its “Batalla de Puebla (Battle of Puebla) reminds us of the how some Mexican “rancheras” tell the story of the Mexican Revolution. Before I tell the story of how “La Adelita”, a particularly popular ranchera, is a good Mexican music representative of songs that tell the story of the Mexican Revolution, let’s put things in perspective.

The Battle of Puebla and “La Adelita” Timelines

The Battle of Puebla occurred on the “Cinco de Mayo” (May 5th) of 1862. Ranchera music realistically came later, towards the early 20th century, when the Mexican Revolution was taking place around the events of 1910. But the warfare similarities are evident, and the story of “Adelita” could well have happened at either war time, the Mexican Revolution circa 1910, the “Cinco de Mayo” Battle of Puebla on 1862, or even as far back as the Mexican Independence War circa 1810.

“La Adelita” tells the story of a woman that follows The Sergeant into battle because she’s in love with him. She is brave and beautiful, and was the kind of woman that would ride with her Sergeant in the train or horse with a rifle or pistol ready, and serving the troops. But she had the respect of the entire battalion, starting with the Sergeant, who would sing…

“If Adelita were to leave with another man, I would follow her over land and sea…over the sea by warship, over land in a military train. And if I die in battle, and they are going to bury my cadaver, Adelita, in God’s name, I pray that you will cry for me.” Believe me when I say that this sounds much better in Spanish!

In the video below “La Adelita” is performed by the late popular “nueva trova” Mexican singer “Amparo Ochoa”. The images of the video portray scenes from the Mexican Revolution, which try to represent the main theme of the song.

Nobody is sure if the “ranchera” “Adelita” was based on a real woman or not. One thing that we do know is that “Adelita” was not the only folk hero woman portrayed in “rancheras”. “La Valentine” and “Marietta” are two other women that also played a part of the Mexican Revolution folk legend through “rancheras”.

Where did “Rancheras” come from?

“Rancheras” started in around the time of the Mexican Revolution and where normally sang by a single person with a guitar. Like so many other Latin music genres that originated around this time, the served to tell stories to a population that mostly couldn’t read. Music became their main mean of mass communication, like a verbal newspaper.

"La Adelita" in a typical portrait.

Traditional “ranchera” themes were around love, patrotism, and nature. Later on they became associated with Mariachi bands, and taking from rural traditional folk music, “ranchera” developed as a symbol of a new national consciousness in reaction to the aristocratic tastes of the period. Some of the most popular exponents of “ranchera” are Antonio Aguilar, Flor Silvestre, Amalia Mendoza, Lucha Villa, Cuco Sanchez, Rocío Dúrcal, José Alfredo Jiménez, Lola Beltrán, Vicente Fernández, Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, and Javier Solís.

The roots of the word “ranchera” come from the word “rancho” because the songs originated on the ranches and in the countryside of rural Mexico. “Rancheras” are also performed by “norteño” or “banda” groups of nothern Mexico or southern U.S..

My favorite “ranchera” composers are the late Jose Alfredo Jimenez, who probably owns the biggest songbook in this genre even today, and the popular contemporary Mexican singer-songwriter Juan Gabriel.

The commemoration of the “Cinco de Mayo” and the Battle of Puebla remind us of that time in Mexican history. “La Adelita” is a classic that even though cannot be chronologically associated with the “Cinco de Mayo”, it can certainly illustrate the role brave Mexican women had in Mexican military history.

Cover art: by Aida Emart

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