The following is a guest post authored by Russell Rodríguez and Quetzal Flores of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts. Rodríguez and Flores will visit the Library with three master musicians, three apprentices, and several guest musicians, on September 11, 2014, for the concert Son Jarocho Master Musicians (video, 1 hour).
During the golden era of film, radio, and recordings in Mexico (1936 – 1958), the son jarocho, a traditional folk music form of Southern Veracruz, became highly popular. Musicians such as Lino Carrillo and Andres Huesca presented sones (regional folksongs) such as “La Bamba” and “La Guacamaya,” and compositions like “El Huateque” and “Canto a Veracruz” to the popular imagination of Greater Mexico. A result of popularizing this traditional form was that it became commercialized, commodified, and standardized. The ensemble became characterized as solely utilizing harp, jarana (small rhythm guitar), a requinto (a 4 string melodic guitar), and a nylon string guitar. The song structure equally became standard: introduction, verse, interlude, verse, harp solo, requinto solo, verse, and outro.
Realizing this form was traditionally much more diverse, a few young enthusiasts — Gilberto Gutiérrez, Juan Pascoe, and Angel Gutiérrez — went to the rural areas of Southern Veracruz to find older musicians and dancers. They learned about the tradition and the social gathering, the fandango, in which this music/dance/poetry was practiced. Upon meeting various elders, the two Gutiérrezes and Pascoe formed an ensemble, El Grupo Mono Blanco (The White Monkey Group), with master jarana player and poet Arcadio Hidalgo. Later, another elder and master requinto player, Andres Vega, joined the group. The ensemble traveled extensively providing a different perspective of the son jarocho, reintroducing sones and instruments that were not commonly known, and revitalizing the practice of the fandango. A successful effort of the group was to return to the communities in Southern Veracruz and challenge the youth and the children of the elders to learn the tradition, to confirm its continuity.
The work of Mono Blanco spread, and in 1989 their interpretation of the son jarocho reached Northern California. Instrumental to bringing the group north were Willie Ludwig, a Bay Area Latin jazz and salsa musician, and Artemio Posadas, a master musician of Mexican folk forms and one of the artists in the September 11 concert at the Library of Congress. This visit immediately spurred a series of fandangos within the Mexicano and Chicano communities in the area. Many other visits soon followed and quickly a conduit for different types of dialogues began to foment around the son jarocho between Mexicans living in Mexico and the United States and Chicanos and Chicanas. By the late 1990s people throughout California were learning to play the instruments, to dance, and create verses in the son jarocho form to participate in the fandango gatherings. A variety of different groups from Southern Veracruz also began to organize presentations in California, coordinating with musicians and community organizers from California.
Prior to Mono Blanco’s first visit, the standardized version of the son jarocho was recognized in the Latino communities in the United States via the performances of Mexican ballet folkloricos, and musical groups like Los Lobos. These groups were well committed to interpreting the form as close as they could to the ensembles or recordings from which they were learning. With the interaction of Mono Blanco, however, there was a different engagement with this tradition, because the fandango gathering was central to the interaction. The fandango event does not solely promote musical practice, but rather a space of convivencia (convivial sharing) — the sharing of food, drink and conversation. The fandango thus takes on the sentiments foundational to the community that hosts the event. For example, in some communities the fandango and the son jarocho become integrated with creating an alternative academe in low income areas, where school systems are dysfunctional. The fandango provides a different system of learning and knowledge that may be more tangible for youth, making evident their learning potential, especially for those who have been tracked as low achievers. In other communities, specific public issues such as immigration reform or the access to space emerge as discussions at fandangos or are incorporated as topics of verses being sung. There are also fandangos in California in which the space becomes an intertextual venue for other art forms, in which visual artists will exhibit their work on the walls, on easels, or as projected images during the fandango; or someone that does spoken word performances may recite a piece between songs, opening up the fandango as a democratic space of participation.
In the mid-1990s, inspired by the work of the Zapatista movement, a group of Chicanos and Chicanas in Los Angeles nurtured a movement of music, art and culture. Many of the musical groups, like Ollin and Quetzal, incorporated son jarocho in developing hybrid sounds. In 2000, many of these musicians began reaching out to fandango communities in Veracruz to engage in dialogue and develop a network that would cross physical and mental borders. Loosley known as Fandango Sin Fronteras (Fandango Without Borders), this network helped to expand the practice of the fandango along the west coast as far north as Seattle, WA. Various community-based projects stemmed from this network, including El Centro Cultural de Mexico en Santa Ana’s work with the Immokalee workers in Florida; Producciones Cimmaron’s organizing of El Encuentro de Leoneros in Chacalapa, Veracruz; and the Seattle Fandango Project. Another significant event is the Fandango Fronterizo, an annual gathering which occurs at the Tijuana/San Diego border, which clearly demonstrates how the fandango practice imagines beyond colonial paradigms. Two tarimas (dance platforms) central to the fandango are placed together on each side of the border fence while musicians gather under common knowledge of the fandango, singing verses, dancing together, and playing to and for one another across the border as if, for that moment, to erase it.
Son Jarocho Master Musicians: César Castro, Artemio Posadas & Luis Sarimientos, Homegrown concert at the Library of Congress, September 11, 2014.