Music of Southern Veracruz, part 3: Jaranero Movimiento

In recent decades son jarocho has been in the midst of a revival.  While the music remains centered in the Sotavento–the coastal area and eastern inland area of the southern half of Veracruz–son jarocho has been riding a wave of popularity worldwide.  Bands have popped up not only in towns and cities across Veracruz but also in the rest of Mexico, in the United States and in Japan and Europe as well.

This revival is generally known as the jaranero movimiento (the jarana movement), and the movement’s goal has been to both revitalize son jarocho’s more authentic forms while simultaneously pushing the genre into the future by expanding its participatory base and encouraging social commentary in the lyric.  As touched upon in the posting on arpas, use of authentic instrumentation is paramount.  Furthermore, musicians have taken to the Veracruz countryside with recorders and notebooks in an earnest attempt to learn songs and styles from those whom they feel are the true owners of the genre.

Recordings by some of the more prominent bands of the genre (those whose CDs were more likely to be found in a North American record store bin when such a thing existed), I frankly am not crazy about. Though I would never call to question the integrity of any of these bands, their sound I consider too detailed, too studied, too much of a sit-down in a concert hall and applaud politely type of affair … too dreary, I dare say, not fun enough.  My own preferences definitely tend towards the more lively, edging into the raucous, entertaining styles of the son comercial. To my own relatively uneducated ears, the Tlacotalpan band that most effectively bridges the gap between the two poles would be Estanzuela – my favorite of all the Tlacotalpan bands I recorded.

Comprised of students and former students of the Casa de la Cultura teachers, and led by requintista and vocalist Julio Cesar Corro Lara, members of Estanzuela were an extremely friendly and accommodating bunch and I enjoyed my time with them immensely. Julio’s patience with my Spanish bordered on saintly and he was very open to letting me record his band both in 2002 and again 2005. Furthermore, it was Estanzuela that introduced me to some of the more exotic instrumentation used in son jarocho, notably the cajon, the marimbol and the quijado del burro. The cajon and marimbol are both wooden boxes.  The cajon one sits upon and the sound is made by striking one hands against the box face between the legs; the marimbol is affixed with metallic keys and played like an over-sized thumb piano.

Here is a nice closeup of the Estanzuela marimbol:

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The quijado del burro is literally the jawbone of a burro, stripped of flesh, laid out to dry, and played by striking the bone with the butt of the hand and causing the teeth to rattle. In Estanzuela, to play the quijada del burro was jokingly thought of as a hazing ritual. The player was often the youngest member of the group, sitting slightly removed from other band members at one rehearsal I attended. Why? Because the quijada del burro stinks!

In the following excerpt from a track recorded in 2002 you can hear the rattle of the quijada del burro:

Julio César Coro Lara:  requinto, vocals
Juan Manuel Rodriguez Domínguez:  jarana tercera, vocals
José Lidencio Aguirre Fierro:  marimbol, vocals
Rafael de Jesus Vazquez Marcelo:  quijada del burro
Xóchitl Elena Torres Herrara :  jarana segunda, vocals

And here is a complete recording of Estanzuela playing the son El Valedor in 2005:

Julio Cesar Corro Lara:  requinto, vocals
Jose Fidencio Aguirre Fiero:  marimbol
Juan Manuel Rodriguez Dominguez: jarana tercera, vocals
Huematzin Pulido Romero, jarana mosquito, vocals

The momentum this band can achieve is phenomenal, their songs just roll along unstoppable as a flooding river and I always wondered if that aggressiveness came from the experience of listening to rock and roll music. This band, after all, was of at least a generation or two younger than members of Grupo Casa de Cultura de Tlacotalpan, and growing up I bet they definitely rocked out from time to time.  In regards to this particular son, El Valedor, I’ve never heard another like it.  I think it is the only son I’ve ever recorded, or heard on record, that possessed such a distinctive two-part structure (verse/chorus song structures are not really a son jarocho characteristic).  After recording the track, Julio pointed out to me that it was a particularly old son, one not commonly played anymore.  When asked where he learned it, he simply answered “Cirilo Promotor.”

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Siquisiri

Siquisiri is another influential Tlacotalpan band. Siquisiri (named after a famous jarocho son) seems to exist in a universe parallel to the fellows at Casa de Cultura and its offspring, as the intentions of this band are more scholarly, and their style more technical if not bordering on the virtuoso. While equally rooted in tradition they are more willing to push its boundaries. Instead of a harp or marimbol picking out the songs bass lines Siquisiri features an actual upright bass, played by the group’s founder Rafael Figueroa Alaves, a feature that combined with the improvisational nature of son jarocho gives the band something of a jazz feel at times.

Rafael is a kind, thoughtful man. I felt always welcome to drop by and sit in the cool, airy salon of his home and enjoy the gracious hospitality displayed by him and his lovely lovely wife. He was unfailingly informative and clear with his answers to my awkwardly phrased Spanish questions. In addition to being a musician, Rafael was a woodworker, and he made the instruments played in his band. This, I learned, was not unusual. Marco Gomez, the jarana player in Grupo Casa de Cultura de Tlacotalpan and Julio in Estanzuela were also luthiers, as was Emilio Hernandez, the musician I will discuss in the next post. I concluded that it was of course only reasonable that a folk musician should be making his own instrument. From nearly all of these musicians, in fact, I ended up purchasing something, and all were fine instruments. Here is a picture of a jarana shell I saw in Rafael’s workshop in the courtyard of his home (notice that the jarana body is comprised all of one piece of wood):

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On the evening of my recording session with Siquisiri, I arrived at Rafael’s home with my portable recorder and a stereo microphone in a bag slung over my shoulder to find the band members scrutinizing the latest bass track they had just laid down in Cool Edit. Given my own simplistic approach to recording I was a little taken about by this display of sophistication. I was also a little surprised when the requinto player Diego grilled me with questions regarding the the impetus for my recording session – a perfectly reasonable line of questions which no one else had ever so pointedly asked. I was fine with the request, and I appreciated the scrutiny for it gave me the opportunity to recite my desire to open up American listeners to a world of music outside their own commercial tastes (I spoke very broadly, I confess, and I fear in retrospect that I may have gone as far as to claim it was my wish to use my recordings to save our very world). A language translation program on the computer got us over communication rough spots.

With motivational issues settled to everyone’s satisfaction, we left the echoey salon to record in the courtyard. Once I had set up my equipment and the band began to play I was flabbergasted by the level of musicianship exhibited. It seemed absurd to me that I should be recording such musicians in someone’s backyard … what an honor! I present here are a track from that session to give you an idea (Cascabel, recorded April 2005):

Rafael Figueroa Alavés:   contrabajo
Diego López Vergara:   requinto (left), vocals
Raúl Martínez Acevedo:   requinto (right), vocals
Margarito Pérez Vergara:   jarana tercera, vocals

Instrumentation-wise, the band is noteworthy not only for the upright bass (the contrabasso), but also for the dueling requintos. This was not something I had heard either before or since, as a single requinto is the typical standard for a group. In all, Siquisiri provided a textbook example of the expanding boundaries of the genre, and I wonder to where the music has gone in the 12 years since I made this recording.

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