Fandango at Patio Muñoz

    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.

Patio entrance

Patio detail

    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.
    Man playing the jaw
    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.

Looking on


    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.




I’m going to try my hand at a music post. I’ve been making a few weird mixes from time to time, so here’s one of them.
The mix is called Melancholia, and it’s a collection of songs that seem to suggest melancholia to me. That is to say, it’s not just a collection of sad songs, but something more…elusive.
The ‘cover image’ is from Giornale Nuovo, from this post entitled Melancolies, specifically.

Here’s the track list and some comments
1. Deep Lake by Bruce Cockburn. Bruce Cockburn is a Canadian singer songwriter, but I hardly know anything about him. I got this song off Phoenix, an American student who was in Israel at the same time I was. She was playing this CD in her caravan (a demountable house really) and I liked the music. This song impressed me with its clear sparse sound.
2. Deportation/Iguazu from the Babel movie soundtrack. The movie is drenched with melancholia and this song in particular ran through the film like a thread. It’s an instrumental piece that somehow invokes both deserts as well as the loneliness of a big city at the same time
3. Through the mist of your eyes by Yair Dalal from the BBC World Music Awards CD.
4. Lalo Lalo by Ustad Mahwash and Ensemble Kaboul. This song is also from the BBC World Music Awards CD. I hesitate before putting this song here, since the tempo is almost joyful, but there’s also a lot of melancholia suffused through, even though I have no idea what the song is about.
5. La Soledad by Pink Martini. The best thing about Pink Martini is that once you hear it, you cannot stop feeling happy that you know that they exist. They sing in a multitude of languages, and this one is from their first album ‘Sympathique’. I still cannot believe that this group came out of the US.
6. A Andorinha Da Primavera by Madredeus. I first heard of Madredeus through a comment on Metafilter, and since I was already fond of Fado at the time, I checked out their website, and was immediately blown away. Madredeus songs demand attention, and darkness, and silence mediated by wine and cigarettes.
7. Araruna by Marlui Miranda. There is a long story behind this song, but it suffices to say that the album it’s from- Putumayo’s Native American Odyssey– was the one that got me listening to ‘world’ music.
8. Porale Ponuthaye by A.R.Rahman. I’m not a fan of Indian movies, and even less a fan of the music contained in them, but this song is so haunting that I was completely blown away.
9. Ambassel by Getachew Mekurya. This is from the Ethiopiques collection, and I found it posted on an internet forum.
10. Guitar and Violin by Arik Einstein & Shalom Chanoch. Shalom Chanoch was one of the first Israeli musicians I really liked and I even went to a quaint little concert in a Kibbutz. He sang this song, but it was a very old hit for him, and he actually forgot the lyrics midway and had to be reminded by the audience singing along.
11. Kikuchiyo to Mohshimasu by Pink Martini. Yes, I really like Pink Martini. This one is in Japanese?
12. Suzanne by Leonard Cohen. Cohen needs no introduction I presume. It’s the ‘tea and oranges from china’ line that always gets me, for some reason.
13. Nostalgia by Tezeta. This is another song from the Ethiopiques collection.

So there you go. A fine set of melancholic songs. The only thing missing is some Irish music.

And finally. Here’s a zip file with the tracks in mp3 format.

The Cimbalom, revisited

When I last met Lucy, she insisted that I attend the July concert, because it was supposed to be The Big One. I assured her I would, but even then I had no idea just how big it would be. This would be the third concert that I had listened to Lucy Voronov’s music. I wrote about the first time I heard, -indeed heard of,- the cimbalom in this post, and I was looking forward to this concert.

When I was but a wee child growing up in Bangalore, I used to sneak out of the house and go to the National College’s Auditorium. The auditorium was just in front of our house, and it was often the venue of all manner of concerts. Back then, when India and Russia was still pretty good friends, the auditorium played host to one of the concerts of the Russian Festival. The following is one of my earliest memories, so bear with me as I try to recall what must be the first Russian music that I’d ever heard. I couldn’t enter the actual auditorium, and I watched the whole concert from the window. I don’t remember the concert in any great detail, but what I do remember is that the singer did this crazy babbling number, fitting Russian words or even gibberish, to the tune of a Mozart piece – The Turkish March. That the tune had stayed in my head for all these years was suddenly and dramatically brought home to me by Lucy’s recreation of the same song accompanied the guitar and the cello. Though Lucy claimed no responsibility for the particular piece, it was breathtaking, and she brought back memories that I did not even know that I still retained.

There were two parts in the concert organized by the Café Carnivale people. The first half consisted of a series of pieces that Lucy played accompanied by a diverse set of performers with an eclectic mix of instruments. I’ll talk about this in more detail later, but for now, I’ll just mention that there were pieces performed in collaboration with Larissa Burak (she plays the Ukranian Bandura, and sings as well); Stephen Lalor on classical Guitar; Anatoli Torjinski on Cello and a student of Lucy’s (whose name I can’t remember) on the piano. The second half of the concert was with the Sydney Balalaika Ensemble, featuring a whole slew of instruments including the domra, the double bass balalaika, the accordion-like-thing which had a different name, the guitar and of course the cimbalom as centrepiece.

The balalaika ensemble was awesome. Again, some of the music triggered memories. These were songs that I had heard long back, and they’d remained in my head somehow. A great deal is made of the power of smells to trigger memories, but I reckon a song can have pretty much the same effect. D. told me that the folk songs reminded her of her childhood, of a time when her father, who was a bit of a russo-phile, used to play these songs to entertain her. The highlight of the ensemble was clearly the singer Sophia Cece, who came up to the stage dressed like some exotic bird of paradise, with a voice to match. She enthralled the crowd every time she sang. It was a masterful performance, and the entire ensemble played with passion and life, each one clearly enjoying themselves. Their most recent CD is called Mail Troika, and can be purchased at their website.
I am a relative newcomer to world music, and as such, my opinions are more driven by gut feeling rather than years of study. With this disclaimer, I’d like to reiterate my stand that the most exciting part of listening to world music is the cross cultural fertilizations that seems to be happening all over the place. For example, I was intrigued to learn that Cuban music, which was heavily influenced by the music brought over across the sea by Africans, is now influencing music in Mali. This sort of transglobal collaborations is always exciting and when done well produces the greatest listening treats. A very good example is Ry Cooder, who has been devoting considerable energy in collaborating with musicians from all over the world. His album with Ali Farka Toure, Talking Timbuktu, is amazing.

Back to Lucy Voronov. The highlight of the evening, for me, was her inventiveness and her energy. She played a traditional Irish jig on the cimbalom, accompanied by Larissa Burak on the Ukranian Bandura. There were a series of songs designed to explore the cimbalom in different settings from jazz to piano. The pieces accompanied by the guitar and the cello were downright amazing. She kept going from strength to strength before ending with that highly entertaining version of Mozart’s Turkish March. Lucy’s star is on the rise and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future.