To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we are happy to announce the newest addition to the growing group of AFC story maps. Tonada del País: The American Folklife Center’s Juan B. Rael Collection was co-produced with 2021 Folklife Intern Camille Acosta and John Fenn.
Drawing on the AFC’s online Juan B. Rael Collection, Tonada del País explores the 1940 Hispano music recording trip of scholar and linguist Juan B. Rael across the Northern Rio Grande region of Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado. To truly capture the tonada del país, or the ‘tune of the region,’ he recorded alabados (religious hymns), songs from folk dramas and weddings, and dance tunes in Alamosa, Manassa, and Antonito, Colorado, as well as in Cerro and his hometown of Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico. “Tonada del país” was a phrase Rael had come across in reading earlier, written compilations of Hispano hymns, possibly denoting that they enjoyed “great popularity among the people and were perhaps gathered from them.”
In total, he made 146 audio recordings on thirty-six acetate discs, adding up to roughly eight hours of wide-ranging music. As some of the recordings equipment Rael used was loaned by the Library of Congress Archive of American Folk-Song, the precursor of today’s AFC archives, the collection contains correspondence between him and Library staff of the time, including Alan Lomax.
The Tonada del País story map also draws on photographs from the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division. Although Rael did not take any photographs during his fieldwork, there were U.S. Farm Security Administration and Historic American Buildings Survey photographers working in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado and the Taos Valley of Northern New Mexico in the years before, during, and after his 1940 trip. The photographs shed important light on what the region and its towns looked like at the time, offering glimpses into the culture and livelihoods of Hispano residents.
As for the music, Tonada del País spotlights a selection of songs and uses an interactive map to show where Rael recorded them. For instance, “El Tecolotito,” or “The Little Owl,” was recorded in the town of Antonito, Colorado on August 4, 1940. It was performed by Ricardo Archuleta, a resident of Cerro, New Mexico, and who was 70 years-old at the time. The song reflects the Indigenous roots of Hispano culture; as scholar Enrique Lamadrid explains, the song brings together Indita ballads and Matachines dance traditions: “‘El Tecolotito’ is an intercultural love song about a little owl who flies back and forth between Indian and Hispano villages.”
Other selected recordings are from Rael’s hometown of Arroyo Hondo, where he was born in 1900. “Varsoviana (Varceliana)” is a waltz he recorded on July 30, 1940, as performed by violinists Nieves Anaya and his daughter, Ernestina, both living in Arroyo Hondo at the time.
The story map ends on a contemporary note, bringing the importance of Rael’s fieldwork to the present through the efforts of the New Mexico-based musical group, Lone Piñon. In 2018, the group performed in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium, as part of the AFC’s Homegrown Concert Series. And in early 2020, they kicked-off the (now-postponed) Live! In The Archive performance series in the Center’s reading room, during their visit to research New Mexico-based music collections in the archives, as part of the AFC Parsons Fund Award. During the concert, Lone Piñon’s Jordan Wax and Tanya Nuñez treated the audience to “Varsoviana,” as based on Rael’s recording, which you can watch by clicking here.