Son Jarocho Takes Root in East Valley

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On Saturday, December 20, 2014, community members gathered at the Rancho La Boquilla in Thermal, Calif. to learn the zapateado, a traditional folk dance. The dancers practiced atop a tarima, a large wooden box built to amplify the stomping of the dancers’ feet, while musicians to the right of the tarima, played the jarana jarocha, a small instrument resembling the guitar. Photo: Amber Amaya/ Coachella Unincorporated

JOHNNY FLORES / Coachella Uninc.

Brightly colored papel picados are strung around the courtyard at the Rancho La Boquilla in Thermal, Calif. It’s late December, and Arnulfo Rodriguez and his daughters are busy hanging the paper streams, roasting heaps of lamb and beef, and readying the dance floor for the massive party later that night.

The Fandango, a traditional Mexican community celebration, helps teach attendees about the music and dance of the Son Jarocho music of Veracruz, Mexico.

“The idea of coming together, making art, and expressing together is not just something you buy or listen to but something you participate in,” said one the Rodriguez daughters, Crystal Gonzalez.

Son Jarocho, “son” referring to music and “jarocho” referring to the state of Veracruz, is the product of the melding together of three cultures, African, European and Indigenous. It embodies the resistance and social justice movements of past generations, tracing its roots back to indigenous peoples’ defiance of the early colonization of Mexico.

Picking up steam in the past two years, bands and musicians including Los Lobos, Ozomatli, and Rage Against the Machine vocalist, Zach de la Rocha, have been creating Son Jarocho music and bringing the new sound to the masses through their extensive fan bases.

Watching Son Jarocho gain momentum through the use of the Fandango, moving from Los Angeles through Santa Ana, local Eastern Coachella Valley community members requested that Gonzalez bring the movement to the area with a Fandango of their own.

Gonzalez explained that the Son Jarocho movement is rooted in the Afro-Mexican music of the jarana jarocha, a small instrument that resembles a guitar.

 

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The jarana jarocha, a small instrument that resembles a guitar, creates the melody for Son Jarocho music. Musicians strum the instrument rhythmically and typically at a fast pace. Photo: Amber Amaya/ Coachella Unincorporated

The sound of Son Jarocho is rhythmic. High-pitched strumming of the jarana provides the foundation for the melody. Vocalists add to the melody by shouting or singing short phrases. But the most artistic element of the music is the stomping of feet. In Son Jarocho, percussion takes center stage.

Before the main celebration starts, residents arrive at the Rancho La Boquilla early in the afternoon to learn how to dance the zapateado, a traditional dance that is characterized by the stomping or rhythmic striking of feet.

A group of 15 residents gather at the center of the ranch’s courtyard. One by one, each resident takes a turn practicing atop a tarima, a large wooden box made to amplify the percussion coming from the stomping feet. Some also learn how to play the jarana.

Esmeralda Rodriguez, Arnulfo Rodriguez’s daughter, has been apart of the Son Jarocho movement since 2004. She said because the Fandango is about finding community and celebrating culture, there is also an instructive element to the celebration.

When the sun goes down, crowds make their way through the gates of the Rancho La Boquilla, and the Fandango gets in full swing. Musicians begin to strum their jaranas —traditional Son Jarocho songs can last an entire hour or more.

For this generation of Eastern Coachella Valley residents, the Fandango preserves the traditions of past generations and sets the rhythm for ones to come.

“In Spanish there is a saying: ‘Cuando la cultura muere la gente muere,’ meaning, ‘When culture dies, the people die,” said  Rodriguez. “It’s family, culture, tradition and survival.”

 

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