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Four people with musical instruments
Cambalache. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Homegrown Plus: Cambalache’s Mexican American Son Jarocho from California

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Welcome back to Homegrown Plus! We’re continuing to place the 2021 series of Homegrown Plus online, after interrupting it to premiere the 2022 series right here on the blog. (Find the whole Homegrown Plus series here.) We’re continuing the series with Cambalache, who perform son jarocho music, one of the regional Mexican styles that has become very important to the Chicano community in California. Like other blogs in the Homegrown Plus series, this one includes a concert video and a video interview with the featured performer, plus links and connections to Library of Congress collections.

Four people with musical instruments
Cambalache. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Cambalache, named for a Spanish word that means “exchange,” is a Chicano-Jarocho group based in East Los Angeles. Founded in 2007 and led by César Castro (sonero, maestro and luthier from Veracruz, Mexico), Cambalache plays and promotes traditional son jarocho through performance, music workshops, and educational demonstrations. Son jarocho comes from Veracruz, Mexico, on the gulf coast, a cultural region shaped by Indigenous, African, and Spanish culture. In the spirit of the fandango, a traditional celebration of music and dance, Cambalache engages its audience through participatory performances. In 2010, Cambalache organized an important fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Karl in Veracruz, thus strengthening decades of social and cultural exchange of the Chicano-Jarocho network. Cambalache’s educational mission involves demonstrations from elementary school to universities, museums and music festivals. The music of Cambalache was featured on August 7, 2011 on NPR’s All Things Considered, whose host commented: “Son Jarocho has been popular in Los Angeles, going back to the 1950s with Ritchie Valens, then Los Lobos. Today, it’s a part of the regular soundtrack of Latino music in East L.A.” Castro and fellow Cambalache member Xochi Flores appeared in the 2014 Homegrown concert of Son Jarocho Master Musicians.

Four people with musical instruments
Cambalache. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Cambalache, vocablo que significa intercambio, es un grupo Chicano-Jarocho con base en el Este de Los Angeles; fundado en 2007 y lidereado por César Castro (maestro sonero y laudero jarocho de Veracruz, México). Cambalache promociona el son jarocho de estilo tradicional a través de conciertos, presentaciones y talleres didácticos. Esta música es popular en Veracruz y la costa del Golfo, una región cultural formada por la cultura indígena, africana y al igual que la cultural española. Con el espíritu del fandango, una celebración tradicional basada en la música y el baile, Cambalache invita al público a participar con ellos en sus presentaciones. En 2010, Cambalache organizó un concierto para recaudar fondos para las víctimas del huracán Karl en Veracruz, fortaleciendo asi décadas de intercambio socio-cultural entre los chicanos y jarochos. El objetivo educativo de Cambalache incluye variadas presentaciones que van desde escuelas primarias hasta universidades, museos y festivales de música, entre otras tantas más. Cambalache salió al aire en la Radio Pública Nacional (NPR) el 7 de agosto de 2011 en el programa “All Things Considered” en donde se escuchó una frase que dice: “El son jarocho ha sido popular en Los Angeles, recordemos los años 50 con Ritchie Valens, después Los Lobos. Hoy, esto es parte del repertorio latino de la música en el Este de Los Angeles.” César Castro y Xochi Flores de Cambalache se presentaron en el concierto Homegrown 2014, “Son Jarocho Master Musicians.”

Find the Cambalache concert video in the player below.

In the interview, we spoke about the history of Son Jarocho, the history of the band, and many of their projects as musicians and teachers. They told great stories from their teaching careers, including tense but rewarding moments during workshops they held in prisons. See the interview in the player below!

[Transcript of interview]

Four people with musical instruments
Cambalache. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Collection Connections and Links

Here you’ll find links relating to Cambalache and their music, as well as links to Library of Congress collection items connected to their songs and traditions.

You can find Cambalache on Facebook at this link.

According to our friend Dan Sheehy:

The son jarocho is a form of regional Mexican music that takes its name from jarochos,” people from the southern coastal plain of the Mexican Gulf state of Veracruz. The Mexican music called son emerged during the latter part of Mexico’s colonial period (1521–1810) and evolved to take on many regional sounds and identities. Recent decades of scholarship have revealed an early and profound influence of Mexico’s many early Afro-descendant peoples, especially in southern Veracruz.

Sheehy also tells us that, starting in the 1930s, Son Jarocho music was represented in films, recordings, cabaret shows, ballet folklórico presentations, and international tours. The music got even more popular in Mexico during the presidency of Veracruz native Miguel Alemán (1946–1952), who used the music in his campaigns and appearances. North of the border, by the 1970s, son jarocho became established in Mexican American communities as well, and has become particularly part of Chicano identity.

To find out more about fandangos, the convivial events at which son jarocho music is often played, read a guest blog post at this link by Russell Rodríguez and Quetzal Flores.

Here are some notes on Cambalache’s selections:

“El Siquisirí:” is a very popular son from the traditional repertoire, and is often played as the first song in a performance or a fandango. The title is a nonlexical (or “nonsense”) word that can’t be translated. It’s not the first time César and Xochi have sung this song for our series. They opened the 2014 Son Jarocho Master Musicians concert with another version! That concert also featured Artemio Posadas, Luis Sarmiento, Dolores Garcia, and Ana Siria Urzua. Find the Son Jarocho Master Musicians concert video at this link.

“El Buscapié” has spiritual overtones, and addresses both divine and demonic forces. According to Antonio García de León, this son was condemned by the Catholic church because it was perceived to be connected to indigenous and afro-mestizo healers, who were seen by the church as witches. James Daria points out that it “comprises a corpus of verses related to divinity (“a lo divino”) and the devil (“al diablo”), and according to various contemporary musicians, it is still a son used to invite or ward off evil spirits or energies.”

“El Aguanieve”: Agua is Spanish for “water” and nieve means “snow,” but Cambalache’s teacher Artemio Posadas feels the title refers to mist or dew, more characteristic of the weather in Mexico. In addition to his appearance with “Son Jarocho Masters,” Posadas appeared in the Homegrown Concert Series as an NEA National Heritage Fellow. Find the Artemio Posadas concert at this link.

“El Colás,” according to Dan Sheehy, is an early son jarocho known to exist in the early nineteenth century, “El Colás” is among the most popular songs in the repertoire, and is among the minority of sones jarochos that are played in duple meter. It takes its name from a nickname for Nicolás, a person mentioned in the lyrics of virtually all renditions.

“El Pájaro Cu” is a member of a large genre of songs in which a man asks a bird (in this case a “coo bird,”) to carry messages to his true love. Songs on this theme exist in Spanish and other European languages going back to the middle ages. Los Cenzontles played another version of this song in their 2019 Homegrown concert. Find the video at the link!

This isn’t the first time we’ve featured the donkey’s jawbone in the Homegrown Concert series! Our friends Sones de Mexico Ensemble played one during their concert in 2015. Find the video at this link.

“La Bamba” was already a popular son in the early 19th century . By the mid-twentieth century, it was common to hear it not only in son jarocho bands, but in baile folklórico shows, brass-band arrangements, and other contexts. In 1958, looking for a Spanish-language song to make into a rock and roll number, Ritchie Valens picked “La Bamba.” The movie La Bamba featured Los Lobos as a son jarocho band playing a traditional version of the song and inspiring Valens, played by Lou Diamond Phillips. La Bamba has been played at virtually all previous son jarocho concerts in the homegrown series. Find videos of them all at this link.

“El Cascabel” is possibly the most popular son in a minor key. The meaning of cascabel is ambiguous: it can mean either a bell or a rattle, including a rattlesnake’s rattle. This song is known widely throughout Mexico and beyond…far beyond; a Mariachi version of “El Cascabel” was one of the songs sent into space on the Voyager Spacecraft’s Golden Record, thanks to a collaboration between Carl Sagan and Alan Lomax. Find out more about the Golden records at this link in Folklife Today.


As always, thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. The idea of the Homegrown Plus series is to gather concert videos, video interviews with the musicians, and connections to Library of Congress collections together in one place for our subscribers. (Find the whole Homegrown Plus series here!)

For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress.

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