A Musical Style That Unites Mexican-Americans-
It’s a warm evening at Tia Chucha’s Bookstore in Sylmar, in California’s San Fernando Valley, not far from the neighborhood where Ritchie Valens created a rock ‘n’ roll version of the most famousson jarocho tune “La Bamba.” Tonight, Aaron Castellanos is one of eight students in a music class held at the store. He’s learning to play the eight-string jarana, the main instrument in the musical style of son jarocho.
“I like the way that the jarana sounds,” he says. “I like how son jarocho invokes so much energy into the playing and into the singing.”
Students learn the jarana in a Son Jarocho class at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in Sylmar, Los Angeles.
Son jarocho comes from Veracruz, a state in the Gulf Coast region of Mexico, where three different cultures — Spanish, indigenous and African — came together more than 500 years ago. Castellanos is actually learning the “mosquito,” one of the smallest jaranas, which has a noticeably high pitch.
“This is the first instrument that I’ve ever learned, so I want to keep playing,” Castellanos says. “I want to buy my own jarana and just continue practicing.”
Castellanos’ teacher is Cesar Castro, a key figure at the center of the Son Jarocho explosion in Los Angeles. Castro says that, since he moved to L.A. from Veracruz eight years ago, the number of son jarocho musicians has been growing, and the quality of the music has been improving.
“When we had the first fandangos here in Los Angeles, the music was not that good. But the energy, the will to do these fandangos, it was very strong,” Castro says. “The music is getting better, still in a very respectful traditional format.”
Fandangos are at the heart of son jarocho. They’re kind of like jam sessions, where musicians gather to play, sing and dance around a wooden platform called a tarima. At the Zona Rosa Café in Pasadena, the fandango is hosted by Castro’s band Cambalache, one of a dozen son jarocho groups in the L.A. area. Within an hour, more fandangueros arrive and join in, playing, singing and dancing.