Yugoslavia Had a Mexican Music Genre Called ‘Yu-Mex’ — Charro Suits and Ranchera Instruments Included
While you might have heard of Tex-Mex before, Yu-Mex might not be on your radar.
An amalgam of Yugoslavia and Mexico, “Yu-Mex” was a Regional Mexican-inspired music tradition that was popular in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the 1950s and 60s. Crazily enough, the Eastern European genre was so inspired by Mexican culture, that it included Ranchera-style instrumentation, charro outfits, and even Spanish singing.
For many years, Yu-Mex was a little-known relic of a country that no longer exists. As you might know, Yugoslavia broke up into the six constituent republics Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Serbia from 1991 to 2006.
However, before Yugoslavia broke apart, it was a socialist country hell-bent on avoiding both American and Soviet media at all costs. Incredibly enough, this led to the birth of Yu-Mex.
Slovenian writer Dr. Miha Mazzini is largely credited with reviving interest in Yu-Mex. Describing Mexican music’s influence on Yugoslavia, Dr. Mazzini told The World: “Young people started forming music bands and singing in a Mexican style. There were even tailors sewing Mexican customs.”
“All of a sudden, this Mexican movement was born,” he said.
Here’s everything you might not know about the fascinating Yu-Mex genre.
Yu-Mex was a popular Mexican-inspired music tradition in mid-century Yugoslavia
As explained by Dr. Mazzini on his own website, you can find vintage Yu-Mex vinyl records in flea markets across former Yugoslav countries. These records hail from the time of Yugoslavia’s Former President Josip Broz Tito, who ruled over the communist government from the mid-1940s until his death in 1980.
In fact, Tito’s regime might be the reason Yu-Mex rose to popularity in the first place. Yugoslavia broke with the Soviet Union in 1948, which left the former country in a sort of no-man’s-land. The communist government was against importing any capitalist American media to its citizens — but it could no longer bring in Russian influences, either.
Dr. Mazzini described to The World: “This rupture left the country in a very difficult position, in the middle between the Eastern bloc and the West.”
“This caused problems,” he explained. “One of them being what to show in cinemas. We could not import ‘capitalist’ movies from Hollywood. But we could not buy Soviet films anymore.” The solution? Import Mexican movies, of course.
By the 1950s, droves of Mexican Golden Age movies came flooding into Yugoslavia. These films started a trend in the country, with people eventually listening to Mexican music as well. Later, Yugoslav musicians began wearing sombreros and charro outfits as they sang Regional Mexican-inspired hits. Some even sang iconic cover songs, such as Yu-Mex singer Nikola Karovic’s epic version of “Malagueña Salerosa.”
Mexican movie “Un Día de Vida” became a cinema classic in Yugoslavia
As per The World, Yugoslavia leaders imported Mexican movies for two reasons. The films were cheaper to import than those of other countries, and they felt that content about the Mexican Revolution fit in with their socialist ideals.
Later, the Mexican 1950 romance-drama movie, “Un Día de Vida,” captured the hearts of Yugoslavs. Set during the Mexican Revolution, it was a huge hit in the country. Ironically enough, though, as per BBC, the film was nowhere near as popular in Mexico.
Today, the only original copy of “Un Día de Vida” resides in Belgrade, Serbia. Even more, the film featured the iconic Mexican song “Las Mañanitas,” which was popularized in Yugoslavia as well. University of California professor Robert Irwin explained to BBC, “In Yugoslav culture, they interpreted it in another way because of the movie’s scene, and they started singing it in Serbo-Croatian.”
According to Irwin, “Las Mañanitas” became a noteworthy song in Yugoslavia to sing on Mother’s Day. The more you know.
Speaking about the film, Dr. Mazzini explained to The World, “For Yugoslavia, at that time, this was ‘the’ film. For many people of that generation it is perhaps the best movie ever done.”
And while Mexican cinema continued to become more and more popular in Yugoslavia in the 1950s, it also led to the rise of the Yu-Mex genre. Suddenly, the country had Yugoslav musicians singing Mexican music, including Milić Ljubomir, Slavko Perović, Trio Paloma, and Ana Milosavljević.
Yu-Mex music brings on the same nostalgia as some beloved Mexican classics
For one, here is a fire track by Trio Paloma… prepare to be pretty shook:
BBC spoke to Yu-Mex icon Slavko Perovic, who explained to the outlet his love of Mexican music. “My heart fills with pride that I sang that music,” he described. “For me, it is one of the most beautiful repertoires that exist.”
As per the outlet, Perovic sold more than one million albums during his heyday — when Yugoslavia had a population of 16 million people. Sometimes, he would sing in Spanish, too: “Spanish is phenomenal for singing… It sounds so good!”
Here is “Oci Pune Suza,” which seems like one of Perovic’s most famous tracks:
Perovic explained to BBC, “Every country has its own thing. But Mexico… when I hear those melodies, I get goosebumps.”
“Everything comes out of passionate heart,” the singer said about Mexican Regional music, showing his respect for the genre. He also asserted that Mexicans and Serbians are more alike than they may think. “Mexicans are very similar to Serbians. When they laugh, they laugh for real, and when they cry, they really cry.”
We don’t know about you, but we’re adding some Yu-Mex songs to our playlists:
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