I went to a fandango the other night at the Patio Muñoz in the center of Xalapa. This patio, is like a set of small houses with a shared courtyard space, and it’s now a cultural hub, with workshops of painting and music. It has a small entrance, a long vividly painted corridor, and then an opening.
In the centre of the opening is the old washing areas, complete with sinks and basins.
There are periodic fandangos held here, mostly to raise money for some cause or the other. I don’t even remember the cause this time. But these fandangos are well respected, and some of the best names in the business turn up to play here.
What they play is a type of music called the Son Jarocho.
Son Jarocho is a traditional musical style of Veracruz, Mexico. It has historically been played from the northern state of Manny to central Veracruz, including Veracruz port and its hinterlands, hence the term for people or things from this region. It represents a fusion of (primarily Huastecan), Spanish, and African musical elements, reflecting the population which evolved in the region from Spanish colonial times. Lyrics include humorous verses and subjects such as love, nature, sailors, and cattle breeding that still reflect life in colonial and 19th century Mexico. Verses are often shared with the wider Mexican and Hispanic Caribbean repertoire
One of the more peculiar instruments they play is called the Quihada: it’s made from the jaw of a donkey or a horse.
Here’s a link to a video of what it sounds like .
I’ve heard a tremendous buzz around two groups, the first, Sonex, who recently won a National Geographic contest to play along with Ojos de brujo. But since their music has since diverged from the pure folk sound –for example, instead of using a wooden box, the drummer uses a electronically tricked out wooden box, and the violinist uses an electric violin– the purists are generally upset.
Same story with Son de madera, who’s founder Ramon runs the workshop here in Patio Muñoz. His group recently released an album with Smithsonian Folkways, called Son de mi tierra.
In these events, it usually starts with a concert, where various groups do their thing, but most people are there for the actual fandango, where everybody gets together and plays the song together.
There is a small wooden stage called the tarima where the dancers dance, with their hells thumping on the boards to provide a percussive accompaniment to the many small guitars.
- I went to a fandango in Veracruz once, and took this photo very close to the centre of this vortex of sound, and immediately understood why playing the Jarana is so addictive, it’s an unbelievably potent participatory experience. You’re surrounded by this huge crowd of guitars, and the songs are very earthy and very familiar, but every guitar adds to the mix and mingled with the pounding of the tarima by the dancers, everything becomes hypnotic. The fandango goes on all night, depending only on the number of players left, and the enthusiasm of the dancers.