When tribal (“tree-BALL”) ﬁrst started bubbling out of Mexico City around 2005, they called it “tribal pre-Hispanic,” after Ricardo Reyna’s “La Danza Azteca”—the ﬁrst tune to pull pre-Colombian samples into tribal house. This is what “tribal” now refers to: not tribal house, but Tribes—Aztec and “African,” which the music evokes via clip-clopping drum grooves and twee pre-Hispanic melodies. In Mexico City’s massive Zócalo plaza, which forms the new sound’s mythic home, Indians play ﬂutes and drums in Aztec costumes, spicing the city’s unhealthy air with their burnt frankincense. The nearby pirate marketplace of Tepito stocks countless low-bitrate tribal CD-Rs. Rewind 500 years, before the Spanish arrived: Zócalo was the center of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec island-metropolis that happened to be one of the world’s largest cities. Workers building a subway line in the 1970s found leftover pyramids. Tepito has been an active market since Aztec days, too. “In Mexico,” writes novelist Carlos Fuentes, “all times are living, all pasts are present.” Tribal guarachero agrees, churning out futuristic bangers fed on hearty servings of ancient music.
The genre morphed into “tribal guarachero” when D.F. innovators like DJ Mouse started pulling in elements of cumbia and Afro-Cuban traditions. Tribal and reggaeton have always shared crowds, although reggaeton has been steadily stealing heat (and producers) from Mexico City’s tribal scene. No worries: Mexican youth subculture mutates and spreads faster than the speed of ﬂ ogs. Tribal’s sound has reached Oaxaca, Veracruz, Guerrero, and beyond—but it’s in the north Mexico outpost of Monterrey where tribal guarachero is growing up fast.
Every Sunday afternoon, roughly 4000 teens gather at the ArcoIris club in downtown Monterrey. Standing outside the venue’s nondescript doorways, it’s impossible to guess what’s happening inside. Twin brothers in clown makeup sit on the curb, too poor to enter. Admission costs about $3 for boys, $2 for girls. Baldhead cholos with their eyebrows shaved off walk by wearing near-identical brown button-up shirts and oversized khaki shorts, their white socks pulled high. A woman in a Saint Judas T-shirt sells loose cigarettes, amaranth bars, and tiny plastic-wrapped studs so the kids can customize their piercings before entering. The boys pay more attention (and money) to their hairdos and clothes than the girls, who gravitate towards halter-tops and hot pants—sexy/functional for the sticky, 100-degree heat.
The teen tribes all find meaning in this new music. There are also los Texas, Monterrey’s take on the cholo style; los fachas, emos with a punky edge; reggaetoneros and more. The most wildstyle are los Colombianos, hood fashion visionaries who gel their hair into extravagant spiked sideburns with big patches shaved away, dressing baggy and colorful, with suspenders, high-perched baseball caps, and Virgin de Guadalupe accessories. The “Colombians” exude gangsta Catholic manga vibes from a decidedly street perspective.
Inside Arco, Rincon’s DJ partner Sheeqo spins first, with Harry Potter projected behind him and the club’s co-ed dance squad in front. You can’t see the stage from entire wings of the club, but the party rages there, too. Wildy unmodulated, post-pubescent sexuality and hyperkinetic adolescent energy reach new peaks with the tribal beats. There is no norm. A boy who can’t be more than nine grinds with a girl nearly twice his size and age. The dancers’ cages are open to all: they ﬁ ll with a fearless range of body types, and it’s all being documented via cellphone pics. Many kids don’t have computers or regular internet access, but everybody here sweats Fotolog, and its social network of floggers from all over the world. “It’s the easiest way to get known in Monterrey,” says Rincon. The Sunday parties provide extra incentive to upload photos of their looks and lives as a mad acceleration of fashion paralleling the evolving music.