A fandango gathering is more than a jam session. It’s the epicenter of son jarocho music. No matter where you stand, you’re able to hear the strumming of the jarana, hands slapping against the cajón and heels stomping on a tarima.
Harmony is created as the audience and musicians marry in song and dance.
“Para bailar La Bamba se necessita una poca de gracia
Una poca de gracia para mi, para ti, ay arriba, ay arriba.”
Son jarocho is a bright, cheerful, syncopated style of music. Its high spirited tones offer vivacious rhythms along with a powerful message.
In the last 10 to 15 years, a resurgence of son jarocho music has captivated young people in Los Angeles and beyond. This year, the Los Angeles band Quetzal won a Grammy for the son jarocho-influenced album ‘Imaginaries,’ the first time the music has earned several nominations. Betto Arcos, host of a world music show on KPFK, says the recognition shows that “son jarocho is being recognized as valid, important music by the mainstream.”
And today, people gather for fandangos at spaces like Corazón Del Pueblo in Boyle Heights and Eastside Café in El Sereno. Son jarocho has become a bridge to their heritage for young Chicanos in the United States.
“The whole energy of a fandango is beautiful. You feel so in tune with the strumming, with the canto. It just makes you feel good,” says Jessica Rivas, 21, a Boyle Heights resident who began taking son jarocho classes this year.
“It’s like music of magic. It’s this energy that kind of captivates you,” says Leah Rose Gallegos, 29, member of Las Cafeteras, a son jarocho-influenced band.
Influenced by African, Spanish and indigenous Mexican cultures, son jarocho has been the heart and soul of fandango gatherings for more than 500 years since its birth in Veracruz, Mexico.
Son jarocho provides a bridge to this heritage, yet at the same time, it’s a route to understanding the issues of modern day.
“We’re trying to tell stories of what’s really happening with our people and with people around the world, [and] we’re trying to tell our own stories,” says Gallegos.
For many, the first introduction to son jarocho was Richie Valens’ 1950s rock and roll version of La Bamba. Since then, Eastside bands like Los Lobos and Quetzal began blending son jarocho with rock, funk and other styles.
For Quetzal Flores, front man of Quetzal, using music to express a message was natural. “My parents were very involved in the Chicano movement, so my identity was never in question,” said Flores. “When I started playing music, it was very natural for me to want to have a message in the music.”
When Flores began traveling and participating in an exchange between musicians from Los Angeles and Mexico, he was influenced by a more traditional sense of son jarocho and the fandango experience.
“It completely changed the way that I understood music,” Flores said about his musical pilgrimage to Veracruz, which he says reinforced the idea that music and community are connected. “The jaranas didn’t sound the same, and the poetry in this music is unbelievable.” Flores also explains that the traditional version contains improvised cantos, or verses.
No firm rules
Arcos says not all jarocheros follow a strict and traditional style. “There are groups that play the traditional, and there are groups that mix it up.”
Many son jarocho songs and verses played today come from the original songs and subjects, including struggles, love and daily life. But some add a contemporary political touch.
Las Cafeteras, a band born in Eastside Cafe in El Sereno, has created songs about immigration, equality and justice, with titles like “La Bamba Rebelde,” “Mujer Soy” and “Trabajadora.”
“What we’re trying to do is use traditional music to talk about the current struggles of today, through stories, through music and through songs,” says Hector Flores, a Las Cafeteras member who plays jarana, sings and dances the zapateado.
People young and old understand that son jarocho has a powerful message.
“It was only a matter of time before son jarocho met with a social justice movement in Los Angeles in order to create a new movement,” he adds about the growing popularity and messages of this music.