Ann Arbor may be a small town in Mexican American terms, but tonight an ensemble from Chicago, Grupo Explosión, takes the stage. These musicians are terrific. They do a little of everything, says the woman in a stars-and-stripes scarf who takes my money — salsa, merengue, cumbia. This is a big group for such a small room, and its members switch off among the instruments that give each of these national dances its particular flavor. (Salsa is Cuban and Puerto Rican, cumbia is Colombian, and merengue is from the Dominican Republic, but all find a place in Mexican American music these days.) The group also plays pieces that sound a bit like old American rock 'n' roll, and during the breaks a DJ spins the old-style polkas and rancheras that still dominate the dance halls of northern Mexico. What with all the musical mixture, I think there's some overlap in the crowd between Mexican Night and the Heidelberg's other Latin dance night, on Fridays.
So go to listen — the range of Mexican and Mexican American music these days is an exciting thing and a reflection of the incredible variety of influences at work in the culture from which they spring. Go to dance. Go to talk — it's a friendly crowd. And go just for the sake of being curious, because before too long there may well be half a dozen Mexican dance nights in our until now Latin-deprived county.
[Originally published in August, 2002.]