To listen to audio on Rock Paper Scissors you'll need to Get the Flash Player

Sample Track 1:
"Huapango (Remix)" from Sones de México
Sample Track 2:
"Live on a Prairie Home Companion" from Sones de México Ensemble
Layer 2
Sones de México Ensemble, 13 B'ak'tun View Additional Info

Happy Ending: Sones de México Ensemble Celebrates Sonic Renewal and the Real Meaning of the Mayan Calendar with 13 B’ak’tun

Live December performance and new recording of groundbreaking original piece by innovative Mexican roots explorers

It’s not the end of the world, but a turn of the wheel. December 21, 2012 marks the beginning of a new era according to the Mayan calendar, that mathematically elegant achievement that has been misread by doomsayers worldwide, and means the end of one of the cycles of the Mayan calendar, the b’ak’tun (approximately 394 solar years).

This turning point will spark celebrations in Mayan communities throughout the Americas, and has inspired a new concert program and composition by Sones de México Ensemble. The Chicago-based, deeply rooted yet powerfully creative ensemble draws on traditional Mexican and Mayan rhythms and percussion instruments—along with hints of serialism and prog rock—to mark the end of 13 B’ak’tun, and a new start for us all.

Sones shines a radical light on the spirit, sounds, and intriguingly complex numerical relationships evoked by the start of this next, long era by Mayan count. With a new composition—fourteen parts long, to honor each b’ak’tun since the creation—and a dynamic stage show, the group promises to reveal the beauty and revelry of this momentous, misunderstood event.

The celebration begins in Chicago on December 1, 2012, at Mayne Stage, when Sones will premiere 13 B’ak’tun and present a wide ranging variety of other carefully executed, high energy pieces to welcome the new Mayan era. (For tickets and info, see or call Ticketweb at 866.468-3401).

{full story below}

Sones de México has frequently turned over new leaves in its nearly two decades together. The group has covered Woody Guthrie and Led Zeppelin using traditional Mexican instruments. It has worked closely with Chinese artists as part of Yoyo Ma’s Silk Road Project (“Caravan”), joined Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion, and taught algebra to public school children through a clever method that uses traditional Mexican music composition.

Yet 13 B’ak’tun and the composition as its heart are a bold move for the ensemble. Beginning with 13 counts of silence to honor zero and the creation, the piece, composed by Dies and developed in collaboration with the group, uses a different time signature for each section, one that corresponds to the section’s number (thus, 2 B’ak’tun is in 2/4 time).

In addition to exploring odd meters and unusual time signatures, the piece weaves traditional forms and instruments, like reed flutes, Mayan marimbas, the gorgeously resonant Mayan bubalek (gourd water drum) into a structure built with the fascinating complexity of a contemporary classical work and the rollicking rhythmic panache of a good prog rock song.

“Originally I created the framework with the 14 sections with the different time signatures,” explains the band’s co-founder, composer, and bass player Juan Dies. “Some members of the group have recently experienced a loss or other important changes in their lives that I feel have contributed to some distancing among us. I wanted this song to be part of a healing process, a renewal, just like a snake shedding its old skin to emerge transformed at the other end. Early in the process, I called for ideas from my band mates, and at first, these were a little disjointed, pulling in different directions, but then they began to align themselves. For example, our music director Victor Pichardo recommended that I create a unifying theme to bring it all together, and I wrote a 13-note pentatonic theme.” This pentatonic theme unites the diverse sections; it works forwards, backwards or upside down, returning and retreating, changing and reversing much like the intricate numerical relationships and unique intersections of the Mayan calendar’s many interlocking cycles.

The piece, like the group’s work in general, offers a chance to reflect on the cultures and streams that have flowed together to form Mexico’s musical heritage: the sounds of diverse indigenous groups, African forms and beats, European harmonic ideas and instruments that have converged and interacted to spark Mexico’s many genres and styles.

“This last b’ak’tun, a period representing the last four centuries or so, has seen conquest, revolution, voluntary an involuntary migration from around the world, everything from the fall of the Mayan and Aztec empires, the rise of a nation, globalization and the influence of Hollywood,” muses Dies, “and it has all impacted Mexican music. This composition and this new concert program give us a chance to consider that, to look back and reflect and to open new roads to travel the road ahead.”

Highlighting the uniqueness and intellectual depth of Mexico’s traditions, while bringing them into delightfully new contexts, comes naturally to Sones. As part of the new program, the group will explore using robotic lighting, black lights, haze, fluorescence and other stage effects to accent the transitional, eerie, yet joyful vibe of this watershed moment. Thoughtful use of dance, percussion preludes—including a new Aztec drum overture written by band member Zacbe Pichardo for this occasion,“Origenes Ancestrales” (Ancestral Origins); jazz standards (a danzón arrangement of “Green Dolphin Street”); Western symphonic music (a vibrant folk arrangement of J. P. Moncayo’s “Huapango” by Victor Pichardo); and the full palette of indigenous Mexican sounds will bring the real significance of the b’ak’tun to life.

“The b’ak’tun journey for us has sprung from a need to renovate, to reinvent ourselves, after years of working together, of achieving some success and meeting some challenges as a team,” Dies notes. “We wanted to do something new and exciting, and really offer the audience something entertaining and engaging. So we are adding a compelling visual experience to the musical dimension that we are known for. This is a big experiment for us, part of the bigger experimental streak we’ve always had, along with our love for the tradition of Mexican son.”

Additional Info
Happy Ending: Sones de México Ensemble Celebrates Sonic Renewal ...
Final Feliz: Con 13 B’ak’tun Sones de México Ensemble Celebra un ...

Top of Press Release