These shows really must go on (the UN insists on it)


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The Independent US

You can eat all the tacos and drink all the Margaritas you want, but dinner isn't authentically Mexican until at least three Spanish-speaking men have appeared at the side of your table, singing in unison and strumming guitars.

So says the United Nations, or at least its cultural heritage agency Unesco, which has named mariachi music as one of 19 new additions to its "intangible cultural heritage list" of the world's most important regional traditions.

The genre of music, which can also involve violins, trumpets, and extravagant moustaches, was commended by the selection committee for helping teach "values of respect" to modern Mexicans through their nation's history and indigenous roots.

Among other "living practices" which won a place on the list – which recognises traditions that help bind communities together, but are in danger of being lost – are Chinese shadow puppetry and the preparation of Keskek, a Turkish meat stew.

This being the UN, the decision on what should be defined as an item of "intangible cultural heritage" worthy protection was decided by a panel of 24 delegates, at a two-day conference held in Bali over the weekend. Delegates considered the merits of roughly a hundred traditions nominated for the list, which was established in 2008, and now contains 250 entries.

Among practices which made the cut were "Equitation in the French tradition", a school of formal horse-riding that, according to its listing, "celebrates the harmonious relations between humans and horses".

From Asia, new additions included Taekkyeon, a martial art, Hezhen Yimakan, a form of Chinese storytelling, and Jultagi, a type of tightrope walking which has been practised in Korea on public holidays for several centuries.

African cultural practices that are deemed in need of UN protection meanwhile include performances by the Secret Society of Koredugaw, a group of clown-like elders who, according to its nomination, perform a "rite of wisdom" at festivals in Mali.

To enthusiasts, a Unesco listing represents a serious coup. "I'm deeply moved," was the response of Ibrahim Ahmad, a former separatist rebel from the Indonesian province of Aceh, to news that his region's tradition of Saman dancing had been added to the list.

"What an honour," he told the Associated Press, adding that the practice can help heal the wounds of the recently-ended, decades-long civil war. "This dance brings together a variety of dynamic movements without any collision, it's truly a symbol of unity." Indonesia has pledged $10m in government funding to safeguard the dancing.