What The Hell Was That, Sounds Of Mexico City Edition
Cities are notoriously noisy chaotic places. They’re filled with the soundtrack of people going about their daily lives, pets jockeying for attention, the sounds of commerce and industry…now imagine these sounds in a Mexican city of more than 20 million people.
Welcome to Mexico City.
All cities are noisy. But Mexico City takes it to another decibel. The capital is full of sounds that could be rich, beautiful, and also as annoying AF. After all, it’s the most populous city in North America — and quite likely the loudest.
Here are some of the most Mexican sounds of CDMX:
Some sounds have become iconic, such as the voice blasted from the recycling trucks that slowly circle the city, seeking mattresses, appliances, and other household items too bulky for the garbage truck. The truck drivers used to signal their presence themselves via loudspeakers until one of them thought to record his daughter making the announcement.
The recording spread and is now heard across the country and in some Mexican immigrant neighborhoods in the United States. The young girl’s whiny plea for “colchones, tambores, refrigeradores” was even remixed into an electronic dance song that has become a hit at parties.
Even the way Chilangos (people from CDMX) take out their trash is noisy AF.
Take the high-pitched hand bell that rings incessantly each day, signaling that the garbage truck has arrived in the neighborhood and it’s time to haul out the trash. In many Mexico City neighborhoods, this is the most common daily sound – so common, many use it as their daily alarm clock because the guys are so punctual. They arrive on your street with the clanging of a cowbell and possibly some yelling and it’s your responsibility to get your garbage out to them before they haul off.
And natural gas…now that’s a scream I won’t soon forget.
There is the guttural cry of “gaaaaasssss” from the man who sells canisters of fuel. Most buildings in Mexico City don’t have a pipe connection to a central gas line so we all have gas tanks on our rooftops (super safe, I know!) Thankfully, guys come in their trucks often enough with the downright eerily scream of “gaaaaaaaaass” to sell you refills for your gas tanks.
Or the flute whistle of the knife sharpener, passing with his pushcart.
You’ll hear him before you see him and you’ll need to gritar down at him to get him to stop. But are you sure that’s the knifeman and not a cute sounding bird?
There’s the deafening steam scream of the camote man.
The blood-curdling loud hiss that announces the arrival of the camote man, who sells hot sweet potatoes sprinkled with cinnamon and drizzled with condensed milk, is many people’s favorite sound to hate.
He doesn’t yell words at you. His pushcart literally screams and hisses at you. Loudly. For elongated periods of time. To the point where you flinch and cover your ears if you’re too close because he must have blown both of his at a cumbia concert. His cart is decked out with a wood-burning stove that generates the steam to cook some of the best tasting roasted sweet potatoes and bananas you’ll ever have. And they come covered in la lechera with a side of “omg my poor ears!”
And the borderline creepy organilleros.
Think of a jack-in-the-box. The one old-school kids used to crank and could never quite tell when a frighteningly happy clown on a spring would pop out. Remember that tune? The creepy music that was meant to be cheerful, but was always put into a minor key and inserted into scary movie trailers? The organillero is a real-life version of all of this.
It didn’t always use to be, though. Back in the 1890s, when it first made its appearance in the city, men would play charming melodies, even accompanied by monkeys at times, as people strolled along on a Sunday afternoon, requesting popular tunes (since radio didn’t exist yet) and tipping an extra ten pesos into the hat of the monkey.
Nowadays? Not so much. Doing some research, it appears that the instruments are easily damaged due to rain. And with the abundant amount of rain that this city sees, it’s no wonder that almost everyone you hear is out of tune. Most of the people still cranking them can’t afford to fix them and have no other way to make money. Though annoying, it is pretty sad. The next time you’re in a plaza or a hear one in the street, think of the 75-pound instrument on their back (yeah, these things are heavy) and consider having some sympathy.
Plus, there’s a constant reminder to buy tamales.
Any man who knows me knows that food is a pretty easy way to win me over. (Buy me a wheel of cheese over flowers any day.) So naturally, you’d think the tamale man would have a masa-wrapped key to my heart. Right?
Wrong. I’ve never slept with the tamale man, but he’s woken me up at least three times a week since I’ve lived here. He’s also constantly outside blasting his recording a la Say Anything.
Another automated recording, the tamales Oaxaquenos sellers pedal through Mexico City’s streets starting at dusk and long into the night selling warm Oaxacan tamales wrapped in sweating banana leaves and hot atole from giant Gatorade coolers. Mostly young men, the tamal guys always seem a little lonely to me as they pedal through the streets to this nasal theme song.
And we can’t forget how much Chilangos love honking their car horns.
This is the worst one. A city of more than 20 million people means way too many cars for one place, and with a traffic system worse than any Hot Wheels track I built as a kid, people have no idea what else to do besides honk. All. The. Time. And always for longer than just a few seconds. They also just love mimicking a honk when someone else does it.
Beyond those sounds, Mexico City is also characterized by the constant hum of music — the cumbias that thump from taxis, the street performers strumming acoustic covers of 1970s rock and the mariachis roaming the streets, looking for the next table of sentimental drunks to serenade. It can cause conflict — after all, not every person wants to hear the reggaeton hit “Despacito” played on repeat at the store beneath their apartment.
Chilangos are sometimes said to sing their Spanish.
Unlike in the Caribbean, where Spanish is spoken in rapid fire and the ends of phrases are sometimes skipped altogether, words here are lovingly drawn out, the vowels accentuated, each sentence teeming with life.
The city sings too. Unless you’re in a rotten mood, in which case it sometimes seems to scream.