We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Tlacuatzin Son Huasteco, a trio playing one of the traditional music styles of eastern Mexico, known as son huasteco or huapango music. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!
Son huasteco music is built around two variants of the guitar, the jarana and the quinta huapanguera, as well as the violin and the voice. Son huasteco singing employs a distinctive falsetto style. Improvisation plays a strong role in this music, with each group adding their own lyrics and arrangements to a standard repertoire of songs. The result is acoustic string-band music that is both traditional and contemporary, with direct emotional appeal.
Tlacuatzin Son Huasteco uses their music to showcase the festive spirit of the people, the essence of the countryside. Drawing on the teachings of traditional master musicians and the energy of newer generations, the band has won the hearts of audiences in Europe and North America, at national and international festivals, and at public squares and community gatherings in rural Mexico. They carry with them the traditions of son huasteco music, of Carnival, and of the Xantolo or “Day of the Dead.” Named after the indigenous word for a small opossum native to their region of Mexico, Tlacuatzin espouses traditional Mexican values, including love for the land, multiculturalism, and respect for the diversity of human beings.
The musicians of Tlacuatzin are uniquely accomplished culture bearers and have played an important role in the resurgence of son huasteco in their hometowns in Veracruz and San Luis Potosí. Now in their 30s, the members of Tlacuatzin have striven to bring music of their elder masters to younger audiences, and frequently appear in concert with their teachers. Eloy Zúñiga is also known as “El Zurdo” (“The Lefty”) because he plays the small huasteco guitar called the jarana left-handed. Son of the well known songwriter Cecilia Guinea, he is a trained classical guitarist, and plays other ethnic and regional guitars as well. He was the leader of the Mexican folk-jazz fusion group La Manta. Yuyutlztin “Yuyu” Pérez Apango is an anthropologist and researcher of traditional healing rituals when not on stage with the group. She sings and plays the quinta huapanguera, a large guitar from the Huasteca region. She is a leading female performer in a genre dominated until recently by men. Manolo Zavala, the group’s prodigiously talented violinist, is also a fine singer. When he became interested in this music, he had trouble finding older masters willing to teach him. For that reason he dedicates himself to teaching violin and leading informal sessions when not playing with the group.
For their Homegrown concert video, the Tlacuatzin members arranged for a live appearance at a beloved local restaurant that had been closed during the pandemic, bringing together an audience of their friends, fans, and community members. Everything from the set to their clothes was specially designed and curated for the video by the group and their producer, Armando Herbertz. After our production meetings, we couldn’t wait to see the video ourselves, and now we can’t wait for you to see it. So without further ado, watch it in the player below!
We first became aware of Tlacuatzin Son Huasteco last year, when I was researching a series of blogs on the legend of La Llorona. At that time, I came across the amazing video of a traditional son huasteco song about La Llorona, created by Tlacuatzin Son Huasteco with their producer Armando Herbertz. (I’ll place a link in the Collection Connections below!) I was very moved by the video, and soon recommended it to all my colleagues on the Homegrown team. (I was also very taken with the group’s name, which is the name of a small species of opossum; as regular blog readers know, I have an occasional blog series about opossums!) I began to listen to the group’s albums and to seek out their other videos online. Because we found their music and videos so compelling, the team decided to try to get the band for this year’s Homegrown series, and our producer Thea Austen made it happen!
I was also very happy to have the opportunity to interview Eloy and Armo for our interview series. In the interview we spoke about the traditions of son huasteco music, including the instruments, the importance of improvisation, the falsetto singing style, and the traditional social event called a huapango and the role it plays in the music. We also talked about the band’s career and how they came to carry the torch of son huasteco. Because Armo was with us, we spoke a good deal about how the band presents the music visually, both in this concert and in their inspiring video of “La Llorona.”
Because my understanding of Spanish is good, but my speech is halting, and because the same applies to their English, I asked questions in English, which they answered in Spanish. We were helped by occasional translations from my colleague Carolina Restrepo. (For technical reasons, she doesn’t appear in the video, but I wanted to acknowledge her here.) See our wide-ranging conversation in the player below!
[Transcript of interview coming soon!]
After the premiere, you’ll be able to find both these videos with more bibliographic information at this link on the Library of Congress website. You’ll also find them on the Library of Congress YouTube Channel.
If you enjoyed the concert and interview, check out the Collection Connections below. You’ll find links to archival collections, guides, and other materials related to Mexican music and culture.
Connect with Tlacuatzin Son Huasteco
- Connect with the band at their Facebook page.
- Visit the group’s YouTube Channel.
- Watch their video of “La Llorona” at this link.
- Read an article by Eloy about his own history and that of the group
- Read a Notimex article about the group
Field Collections Online
The collections guide above links to our collections with collections from Hispanic or Latinx communities. The collections below are the ones with significant Mexican American content, including collections from communities that have been in areas of the United States since those areas were in Mexico.
California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell
Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection
Hispano Music and Culture of the Northern Rio Grande: The Juan B. Rael Collection
New Mexico Folklife Project Collection
- We first came across Tlacuatzin during the research for the blog series at this link, on La Llorona.
- Live! In the Archive: an Interview with Lone Piñon features members of a string band from New Mexico.
- My occasional blog series on opossums is at this link.
- Six years ago to the day, we featured Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellow and Son Huasteco master Artemio Posadas with some of his students.
- At this link, find concert and interview videos in the Homegrown Concert Series featuring Mexican and Mexican American Music.
- The Lone Pinon Duo played Mexican American string music from New Mexico Live in the Archive in 2020.
- At this link, find lecture videos in the Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series about Mexican American culture.
Until Next Time…
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. For several years, we’ve been presenting the concerts here on the blog with related interviews and links, in the series Homegrown Plus. (Find the whole series here!) For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.