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KPBS Midday Edition

Son Jarocho: Traditional Mexican Folk Music Lives On In San Diego-Tijuana

A recent fandango in San Diego.
A recent fandango in San Diego.
Son Jarocho: traditional music style is new again
GuestsRoxana Bernal, musician. Jorge Castillo, musician. Cynthia Cox, musician. Adrian Florido, musician and KPBS reporter.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Digital music produced with the most sophisticated sound imaginable is as close as your smart phone these days. Why would anyone want to spend time learning an old Mexican folk instrument and get-together for little music parties? When the music is Son Jarocho, it's more than playing a tune. This old music style is gaining new attention in San Diego and Tijuana. Let's hear a sample. (Audio Recording Played) CAVANAUGH: Bueno! That was performed by my guest, Jorge Castillo, Roxana Bernal, Cynthia Cox, and the multitalented Adrian Florido. Hi! Adrian, testimony us about what we just heard. FLORIDO: Well, it's a song about a macaw, which is this beautiful bird. You see a lot of them in southern Mexico. And Son Jarocho is a traditional style of Mexican music which originates in the southern Mexican state of Vera Cruz. CAVANAUGH: Ah, ha. And so the reason that we're talking about it is that it has recently become really popular in the United States. And why is that? BERNAL: I think it provides us with community, it provides us with a connection to Mexico, which a lot of us are generally from, or our parents or grandparents are from. It's very community-oriented music. You can't really play it by yourself. You can, but it's not really played that way. And I think that fills our void. In a society where everything is individualistic and you can go days in your car, and to your work, and to your house, and to TV. It feels like a really important void that sometimes we can get, makes us feel connected to each other and connected to the earth. It's just a lot of happiness, a lot of components that we are deprived from a lot of times in modern society that music like this gives us. CAVANAUGH: Jorge, give us a sense of how Son Jarocho music is usually performed. The performers often stand up; isn't that right? CASTILLO: Yeah, that is correct. And typically at the fandangos will gather around a wooden dancing board where we get-together and play music and dance at the same time. And we'll share the lyrics of the song. It's a very enriching, sharing environment where people gather to share and celebrate. CAVANAUGH: And fandango, what would happen is after one of you sang your solo, you would stop playing and you do a dance on the board while the other people still played; is that right? FLORIDO: Well, you keep playing. People are standing around the wooden board, and we take turns stepping onto that platform to dance and to sing. One of the interesting things about this music is that you're often playing with people that you've never met. There are often people who you don't know, who you've never met at all. And that's the beauty of it. Regardless of your skill level, how long you've been playing, you have a role because it really is very open. The four of us here in this configuration have never played together. CAVANAUGH: Well, you would never know that! Tell us about the instrument. FLORIDO: Well, it's called a jarana. Jorge is playing a requinto. And it looks something like a guitar. They tend to be smaller. They have eight strings, and they're tuned a bit differently. And there is -- there are different workshops where you can buy them. I bought mine in central Mexico. There's a growing number of artisans of this instrument in Tijuana and Los Angeles, and it's just a lot of fun. It's small, it's light. CAVANAUGH: Is it hard to learn how to play? FLORIDO: Well, I have been learning to play it for two months. [ LAUGHTER ] FLORIDO: But I've been pretty obsessed. So I've been practicing a lot. Anyone can learn. It really is a lot of fun. CAVANAUGH: Let's hear a little bit more. This is el Balaju. FLORIDO: And Cynthia is going to stand up and keep the rhythm with her shoes. CAVANAUGH: Wonderful! (Audio Recording Played) CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much, again. Was this an art form that was dying out before this renaissance? Or did you just sort of discover it, and that's why it's having a renaissance here? FLORIDO: The renaissance has actually been going on for a couple of decades now. But yes, I think one of the fears in southern Mexico was that this was dying out because it's a rural music that was traditionally played by people in rural communities. As people were getting older, it wasn't being played as much. And a few key groups, I don't want to say discovered it, but started to play it again, to spread it throughout Mexico, and especially here in the United States. CAVANAUGH: Now, we're up on a time crunch. So what I'm going to do is end the program, but I'm going to ask you, if you'll perhaps play us out with a little bit of La Bamba. FLORIDO: And this Saturday, there's a really big event at the border. CAVANAUGH: Yes, the fifth annual Border Fandango! Saturday from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM at friendship park at the U.S./Mexico border and la playas de Tijuana. Thank you so much.

Digital music produced with the most sophisticated sound imaginable is as close as your smart phone these days. So then why would anyone want to spend time learning to play an old Mexican-folk instrument and get together for little music parties?

Well, when the music is Son Jarocho—a traditional music style of Veracruz, Mexico—it's about more than playing a tune. It's about tradition and identity—and bonding across a cultural campfire.

This old music style is gaining new attention in San Diego and Tijuana. (Last May, KPBS reporter Adrian Florido had this story about the music's local resurgence.)


This Saturday, musicians on both sides of the border will hold a bi-national fandango, or live jam session. All are welcome to join in the fun at the fifth annual Border Fandango/Fandango Fronterizo, held in Friendship Park at the U.S.-Mexico border and in Playas Tijuana from 11 am to 3 pm.

KPBS Midday Edition speaks with four local Son Jarocho musicians (including Florido) about this folk music's history and why it has become popular among young Mexican-Americans living in our border region.