HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA — Have songs, will travel. Have museum, will travel. Have both, and you have the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibition about a staple of Mexican music, the corrido, or ballad. Corridos Sin Fronteras (Ballads Without Borders) celebrates 200 years of the corrido tradition in the New World.
Available in both Spanish and English versions, this Flash 5 site documents the corrido through broadsides, photographs, posters, musical instruments, and especially, music vintage and modern recordings. Navigation options frame the content at all times, and selected exhibits open into their own windows, so you never lose track of your location within the site.
The main body of the exhibition is divided into three sectionsLearn, Listen, and Write. Learn introduces the art of the corrido though a series of QuickTime videos, then uses an interactive timeline to follow the development of the corrido from the Spanish Conquest to the present day. (And if you're expecting the ballads to be limited to tales of 19th-century heroes and bandits, be prepared! The site also offers songs about both World Wars, Prohibition, Vietnam, illegal immigration, and drug smuggling, and even the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.)
All of the timeline's entries open new windows with detailed information, and most examples also provide "singalong" versions of corridos related to the chosen subject. These full-length audio files are also accompanied by bilingual lyrics (synchronized to the music, no less), creating an especially useful feature for English-only types like myself who want to hear the song in its original language, but would still like to know what's going on.
"Listen" offers more ballads in the singalong format, divided into four historic periods. Each period also includes a featured corrido, with historical information and images that bring additional context to the ballad. "Write" introduces some current corridos writers, and invites visitors to try their own hand at song writing, first, familiarizing themselves with a template melody, then substituting their own lyrics for the originals, and, finally, performing their new masterpiece. There is the option to print out the lyrics for your own personal cancionero, or songbook. (Attempting to print out my own song crashed my browser, but that may have simply been the website exercising good taste.)
A series of resource links at the bottom of the browser lists the physical exhibition's road schedule to recommended books, albums and websites, and a glossary.
The artwork is nicely atypical for a website, looking more like the broadsheets and posters in the exhibition than anything born of the Internet. And while most of the site loads with admirable speed given the rich content, some QuickTime movie clips will have dial-up users drumming their fingers. (The audio-visual presentation of the "Corrido de Bataan," about the Bataan Death March, could have you waiting for more than 25 minutes.)
Fortunately, estimated download times are given for all the larger files, so surfers will have fair warningand there's always the option of starting a QuickTime download, and then poking around other parts of the site while you wait. In the case of the corridos audio files, text-only copies of the lyrics are also available for those in a hurry.
Corridos Sin Fronteras can be found at http://www.corridos.org/
And while we're on the subject of multilingual exposure via the Web, the YiddishRadioProject is currently running a 26-week online audio festival showcasing classic recordings from the 1930s to 1950sthe golden age of Yiddish radio in America.
Originally launched in March as a 10-part NPR series, the Yiddish Radio Project has been sharing dozens of programs from a collection of more than 500 hours of recordings gathered from attics, flea markets, and garbage bins, and not heard since their original broadcast. In this second phase, YRP will be posting a "new" recording in RealAudio format every Tuesday until November 26. (Links to previous programs are kept active, so you won't miss anything if you jump in a little late.) Your Yiddish is a little rusty? Not a problem, as non-English broadcasts will be making use of the "Yid-O Matic," to "simulcast" English text in the RealPlayer window while streaming the audio feed.
Upcoming broadcasts include radio dramas, a game show, the Jewish Philosopher (radio's first advice columnist), and "That Lady Wouldn't Do Nothing for Me: A case before Rabbi Rubin's mediation court." (Step aside, Judge Judy.) The original series is still available onsite as well, with more recordings, essays, photographs, and "various ephemera from a forgotten radio universe."