Founded in 1994 to keep the tradition of Mexican “son”—a large family of regional music styles including huapango, gusto, chilenas, son jarocho and more—alive in its many forms, the Chicago-based Grammy Award and Latin Grammy Award-nominated Sones de México Ensemble attempts to recreate the atmosphere of a traditional Mexican fandango or dance fiesta where colorful, joyous and upbeat sones are played and danced until sunrise, in its live performances. Performing as part of Steppenwolf Theatre’s Traffic series which this season concentrates on what it means to be an American with a distinctively Chicago focus, the ensemble has developed and popularized many of its own arrangements of Mexican traditional tunes and has experimented cross-culturally with symphonic, Irish, folk, country and western, jazz and rock music. The group’s cross-cultural view of music links son to the diverse ethnic roots of Mexico’s mestizo culture of Native American, Spanish and the often-overlooked influence of black music in Mexico. The group’s most recent album, “Esta Tierra Es Tuya” (“This Land is Your Land”) out on its own label features the popular Woody Guthrie folksong that he wrote as an inclusive wartime response to what Guthrie thought was Irving Berlin’s more elitist “God Bless America,” by singing the verses in Spanish and then the traditional English with a decidedly Latin folk flavor, a powerful statement is made about the current state of what it means to be Hispanic in America in general and Chicago in particular. No less fascinating is the group’s mariachi take on Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto which works remarkably well as spicy hot dance music. (Dennis Polkow)
Friday, May 16, Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, (312)335-1650. 7:30pm. $15-$25.