The sounds of Mexico City are distinctive and varied, but there’s one that stands out above the rest, and can strike at any time: the shrieking announcement of a scrap metal dealer’s presence.
Piercing and irritating, we can say with some confidence the sound is known to all twenty-one million residents of the metropolitan area.
Twenty-three-year-old Maria del Mar Terrón, who is the voice of the original track, says she is both adored and despised for it, made when she was just ten.
The scrap metal announcement has entered Mexican popular culture, featured in disco tracks, TV shows, and popular jokes – even one involving U.S. President Donald Trump.
The instant association of distinct noises with goods and services is widespread in Mexican society.
In the capital, a ringing bell means the garbage men, a hollow-woodblock means coffee and cake, while organ grinders are ever present.
Jorge Uribe, a chronicler of Mexico City history, explained the cultural nuance. “Even before European conquest, this city has always been a commercial hub. So when the Aztec culture blended with the Spanish, who were heavily influenced by Arabic culture, it became more-so than ever.”
“How these sounds became decided upon we cannot say,” he continued, “but they will certainly remain, because they are practical. Informing the street of your presence with a single, unmistakable noise will always be more efficient than knocking on every door.”
The sounds of Mexico City’s streets are an inseparable aspect of the local culture, whose future depends not on the advance of technology, but on the demand for the goods and services they represent.