Episode 402 – Trova, and The Museum of Yucatecan Song

One of our greatest delights during our 5 month stay in Mérida has been Martes de Trova (Trova Tuesdays), the free weekly concerts of the musical genre that is a much a characteristic of the Yucatan as mariachi is of the western states of Mexico.

Anytime after 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, the lineup outside the beautiful Olimpo Cultural Centre on the Plaza Grande begins to grow as trova fans wait for the auditorium doors to open. In December through mid March, the audience might be as much as 50% tourists and expats. By now, we’re among less than 10% of the crowd who are non-Mexicans.

We’re generally allowed in around 7:45. It’s general seating, and folks seem to have their preferred spots. We like to be about 1/3 of the way back, and dead centre if we can. At exactly 7:50, the first call is announced. At 7:55, it’s second call, and at precisely 8:00 p.m. the words we’re all waiting for: “Esta la tercera llamada. ¡Comenzamos!” (This is the third call. Let’s begin!)

Every week is hosted by the same emcee, an enthusiastic white-haired gentleman with a radio-announcer voice who welcomes us to the Olimpo “puntualmente a las ocho de la noche” (punctually at 8 in the evening) for an hour of Yucatecan Trova. He always talks a bit about the genre itself, mentions some of the most famous composers and lyricists whose songs have become part of the national fabric of Mexico, and introduces that evening’s trova band. While the performers are different each week, the program follows a strict protocol: half an hour of songs written by Yucatecans, followed by half an hour of trova from other regions of Mexico, as well as Cuba, and Latin America. At precisely 9 p.m. the concert is over. Curtain dropped. House lights on. No shouts of “¡otra!” (another!) acknowledged.

The most traditional grouping is simply three men, each with an acoustic guitar: a huge 4-string bass called a tololoche, a “normal” rhythm guitar (guitarra), and a smaller 6-string guitar tuned almost as high as a violin, which is used for the intricate finger-picked melodies. All the guitarists also sing, in flawless 3-part harmony.

The instruments displayed in the museum really demonstrate the relative size of the guitars used. The body of that bass is almost as big as mine! (Ted says we also share a common shape, which garnered him a smack on the shoulder)

We’ve also seen groups with an added percussionist, groups using an electric bass, groups where only 2 of the group members harmonize, and even a group that incorporated a saxophone!

Trova could arguably be said to have roots all the way back to European wandering minstrels and troubadours of the 11th century. In fact, a trova singer is called a “trovadore”. Yucatecan trova has a much closer relationship to Cuban guitar music though; Havana is less than 500 miles from Mérida, and in the late 19th century (1880-1910) when trova originated in Mexico, Cubans were being brought here to work on the henequen plantations.

Oil painting depicting Cirilo Baquero Preve and his “Group” (1889), displayed in the Museum of Yucatecan Song.

Photos from the turn of the 20th century, displayed in the museum.
Top: captioned “Mestizos with guitar and beer”.
Bottom: captioned simply “a group of trovadores”

It’s interesting that in Cuba, trova songs often tackled social issues, much like US/Canadian folk songs (think Pete Seeger using the Cuban trova Guantanamera as a peace movement anthem), whereas the theme of Yucatecan trova is a “manifestation of the Yucatecan soul”: the fortunate or unfortunate but ever-present love, whether for a person or one’s home.

Protest! It’s not possible that people just write songs as a business. Songs are a transcendent force. I don’t trade or play idly! Songs, my love, are a spell, they are the magic that reaches us all, someone has to do them; they must exist like the sun and hope! However, it is true that people, do not fully understand the issue; our world would be a great desert without music, without trills, without songs. (Monis Zorrilla)

Having enjoyed so many wonderful performances, I was thrilled when Ted discovered that we were only a few blocks from the Museo de la Canción Yucateca (Yucatecan Song Museum).

The museum’s courtyard holds a covered stage, where (we found out too late to attend one) every Wednesday a trova concert is held at 8 p.m., with tickets only 50 pesos per person, or about $4 CAD.

The museum is not really set up as a tourist site, given that the staff speak no English and the exhibits (with the exception of a couple of videos which have English subtitles available) have only Spanish signage. It’s less a museum per se than a tribute and memorial to Yucatecan composers, poet/lyricists, and performers. It is filled with oil portraits, musical instruments, and memorabilia.

Outside the theatre, we were greeted by three life sized bronze sculptures bearing names we’d heard many times on Trova Tuesdays: Augusto “Guty” Cardenas, Ricardo Palmerin Pavia (the composer of La Peregrina), and Jose “Pepe” Dominguez.

Inside, there were displays highlighting those composers, plus many more familiar names, many from the “golden age” of trova, from the 1930s and 40’s: José Peon Contreras, after whom Mérida’s historic symphony hall/opera house is named; Emilio Pádron Lopez; Monís Zorrilla.

The mementos of Ricardo Palmerin Pavia included record covers, posters, and the poem La Peregrina beside a 1923 photo of Alma Reed, the fiancée of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, for whom the poem and music were commissioned.

In more recent years, Armando Manzanero was a huge personality here in his home country, and a composer who gained worldwide recognition.

Manzanero’s Weltmeister accordion, displayed below one of his famous quotes: We must not give up, but attack and fight against all odds in search of success, taking as our engine that heart that God put in our chests…

The popular song anglicized as “It’s Impossible” (Andy Williams, Elvis, and Shirley Bassey all had hits with it) was written by Armando Manzanero in 1968, titled “Somos Novios” (We’re A Couple).

A similar phenomenon was Pablo Beltrán Ruiz and Luis Demetrio’s 1953 “¿Quién será?“, which became known in the rest of North America with English lyrics as “Sway” and was a huge hit for Dean Martin in the 1950’s and more recently for Michael Bublé in 2003.

I especially enjoyed the many glass plaques, mounted on the courtyard walls, with trova lyrics on them. One displayed a song we’ve heard many times: A Yucatán, by Luis Espinoza Alcala. Every time we’ve heard this song performed, the entire audience has sung along!

Loosely translated:

Chorus: Because of your abundant deer and beautiful pheasants, Montejo called you Yucatán

To sing of my land, which is the land of troubadours, you have to carry in your soul the perfume of its flowers, you have to be intertwined with its history and its lineage, and fill your eyes with the greenery of its landscape.


To sing of my land, the land of beautiful women, you have to have seen the brightness of its stars at night, and then in love, with a chaste kiss, try the honey from the lips of a beautiful Yucatecan.

There were not a lot of female composers, but one whole room was filled with portraits of famous female Yucatecan trova singers. The stained glass window in that room depicted Saint Cecilia, patron saint of musicians.

I’ll close this with the lyrics for my absolute favourite trova:

Te Amaré Toda la Vida

Songwriters: Cosme Enrique & Navarro Novelo

Te amaré toda la vida
Todos los años, los meses y los días
Todas las horas y todos los instantes
Mientras pueda latir mi corazón

Tendrás las flores
De mi amor en primavera
En el verano aumentará el calor
Con mi pasión
En el otoño cuando las hojas caigan
Tendrá tu vida una nueva ilusión
Y en el invierno, tendrás el fuego de mi corazón

Te amaré toda la vida


I will love you all my life.
Every year, month and day
Every hour and every moment
As long as my heart can beat

You'll have the flowers
Of my love in spring
In the summer the heat will increase
With my passion
In the fall when the leaves fall
Your life will have a new hope
And in the winter, you will have the fire of my heart.

I will love you all my life

You can enjoy many of the trova (and other) performances we’ve loved on Ted’s YouTube channel: https://youtube.com/@EBrooks54


  1. Hello-  You’ve sure extended the world cruise.  I enjoy your posts immensely.  You refer to Ted’s YouTube channel but I don’t find anything under a search for @EBrooks54.  Would you please help?ThanksPat MoenViking World Cruise 2021-2022patmoen@aol.com

    Sent from the all new AOL app for iOS


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