Music and Memory: The Tlatelolco Refrain

  • Josh Kun


Ever since the 1968 student movements and the events surrounding the Tlatelolco massacre, Mexico City rock bands have openly engaged with the intersection of music and memory. Their songs offer audiences a medium through which to come to terms with the events of the past as a means of praising a broken world, to borrow the poet Adam Zagajewski’s phrase. Contemporary songs such as Saúl Hernández’s “Fuerte” are a twenty-first-century voicing of the ceaseless revolutionary spirit that John Gibler has called “Mexico unconquered,” a current of rebellion and social hunger for justice that runs in the veins of Mexican history. They are the latest additions to what we might think about as “the Mexico unconquered songbook”: musical critiques of impunity and state violence that are rooted in the weaponry of memory, refusing to focus solely on the present and instead making connections with the political past. What Octavio Paz described as a “swash of blood” that swept across “the international subculture of the young” during the events in Tlatelolco Plaza on October 2, 1968, now becomes a refrain of musical memory and political consciousness that extends across eras and generations. That famous phrase of Paz’s is a reminder that these most recent Mexican musical interventions, these most recent formations of a Mexican subculture of the young, maintain a historically tested relationship to blood, death, loss, and violence.