Latin Roots: Canto Cardenche, The Sound Of Sorrow : World Cafe The a cappella style has a sense of urgency, like a physiological necessity for those who sing it.

Latin Roots: Canto Cardenche, The Sound Of Sorrow

Listen To Latin Roots On World Cafe

  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Los Cardencheros De Sapioriz, a group that keeps the canto cardenche tradition alive. courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption
courtesy of the artist

A naked person walks into a fancy gala. In a world of overproduced, painstakingly packaged and perfectly polished music, that's what it's like to hear Canto Cardenche — a completely a cappella style of Mexican music — for the first time. It's one of the most stunning, honest and unpretentious forms of music I have ever encountered: The singer truly could not care less what you think about his song. For those who sing it, Canto Cardenche is simply a physiological necessity; the need to expel pain through song.

Indeed, the word "Cardenche" comes from a cactus plant whose thorn is even more painful upon removal than it is when it penetrates the body. But in spite of the pain, it can't remain stuck in there; it must come out, just as the Canto Cardenche has to come out.

Canto Cardenche is still practiced in the Mexican state of Durango.


Often sung in vocal groups of three, and accompanied by alcohol, it's a style that has always been passed from generation to generation in rural areas. It's also in danger of extinction. It is currently kept alive in the small northern Mexican town of Sapioriz, Durango, and by artists such as Lila Downs and Juan Pablo Villa, who recognize its simple beauty.

Lila Downs paid homage to the Canto Cardenche classic "La Espina Del Cardenche" in her album La Cantina.


One of my favorite reinterpretations of Canto Cardenche is by Venezuelan DJ Algodon Egipcio. His rendition of "La Espina Del Cardenche" adds instrumentation to the traditionally a cappella music, but it's minimal and ethereal. Rather than sounding like a music track under vocals, it simply sounds like a man floating in the clouds, singing his heart out. `

As part of the Norte Sonoro Project — an initiative to explore the music of northern Mexico — DJ Algodon Egipcio (Venezuela) created this beautiful take on "La Espina Del Cardenche."