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Whether your throwing a costumed Halloween bash or trying to set up your neighborhood’s hottest stop for trick-or-treaters, determining the proper playlist is always a challenge. While some houses opt for staple slasher soundtracks and scary sounds pastiches, neither of these are ideal for a party, and we can only listen to “Monster Mash” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” so many times. Thankfully, All Hallows’ Eve isn’t the only holiday observed on Oct. 31; we also have Mexico’s Día de Muertos, aka Day of the Dead.
A long-standing celebration of life and loved ones who have died, Día de Muertos includes traditions such as building alters, and gifts of sugar skulls and marigolds, all typically placed at their graves. Despite their disparate origins, there are a number of similarities between Halloween and Day of the Dead — skeletons, sweets, and honoring the afterlife, among a few others — but one thing Halloween could benefit by adopting from its Mexican counterpart is the music created in the holiday’s spirit. Below are a few of our favorite tracks recorded by artists across Mexico, as well as a couple from other Latin countries, that are sure to deliver the ghoulish grooves your Halloween festivities need.
This track combines two legends. First is Oaxaca born and raised singer-songwriter and three-time Grammy winner Lila Downs. Second is the tale of “The Weeping Woman,” aka La Llorona. Prominent throughout all Hispanic culture, the myth most traditionally goes that a beautiful named Maria drowned her own children in a river after her husband left her for a younger woman. Overtaken with guilt and sadness, she drowns herself. Stuck between the realms of the living and the spirits, the ghost of Maria is doomed to wander the Earth forever, weeping wherever she goes in search of her children. As some versions claim, La Llorona kidnaps children and drowns them in an attempt to replace her own.
Lila Downs’ version of “La Llorona” comes from the soundtrack of Frida, the 2002 film depicting the life of renowned surrealist Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.
For those unfamiliar with Cumbia, it is a dance-oriented style of music that originated in Colombia. In its first form, it was a courtship ritual practiced by African slaves along the Caribbean coast of eastern Colombia. It is similar to salsa, and it incorporates guitars, accordions, bass guitar, and percussion. If any Cumbia is perfect for Halloween, it’s certainly Satan’s Cumbia.
Based in Mexico City, Paté de Fuá’s 2009 track hits a majority of the Halloween keywords: bats, ghosts, moon, tomb, etc. From the boney thuds of the xylophone and the wails of the musical saw, to the band’s costumes and graveyard setup in their music video, “El Fantasma Enamorado” is delightfully creepy.
Lyrics like “I’m not afraid of death because she’s a part of me / She was born with me and with me she’ll go one day / Here’s to celebrating life!” is what Día de Muertos is all about. Keep an eye out for zombie Donald Trump, who most definitely must stay on his side of the fence.
Haunted by some ghostly female apparition, Mexico City’s Mexico Institute of Sound’s “Bewitched Song” delivers a slow-building, dark, metallic beat that is guaranteed to get people on their feet.
Shh, be quiet. The dead are among us.
Veracruz, México’s Tlen Hucani tells of witches on brooms, wondering how many creatures she has “sucked,” and we even get a mention of a pumpkin (calabaza).
A tale of death, Mexico City’s San Pascualito Rey keeps thing as eerie as they are cool on “Te Voy A Dormir.”
Argentinan trio Misterio deliver deep-toned surf rock, only occasionally whispering “vampirella” in-between riffs and random yells.
Easily one of the most festive tunes on this list, Panamanian collective The Exciters features some subtly sinister cackles and horns on “Ese Muerto No Lo Cargo Yo.”