By Julie Etra
Son Jarocho is a type of folk and dance music originating in the coastal state of Veracruz. “Jarocho” is a colloquial term for the people and culture of Veracruz. Son Jarocho has developed over the last 250 years, blending and fusing the music of indigenous, Spanish, and African roots. The indigenous components come primarily from the region known as the Huasteca, which includes parts of the states of Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Puebla, Hidalgo, San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, and Guanajuato. The Huastecs are of course now only a fraction of their former population, with the Nahua the remaining dominant indigenous group (speaking Nahuatl, considered the dominant dialect of the Aztecs). The people who occupy the region share much in culture, including the music addressed in this article, and festivals such as Xantolo (Día de los muertos or Day of the Dead).
Percussion, syncopation, and improvisation distinguish son jarocho. The ensembles, which include the musicians and their instruments, are called a conjunto jarocho which features the jarana, an 8- 12-stringed instrument, that resembles a guitar; sometimes it is the only instrument. (Guitars, their Mexican modified offspring, and other stringed instruments such as the violin are of Spanish origin). Three instruments, the arpas jarochas (harps), the jarana jarocho, and the 4-stringed, plucked requinto jarocho, often form the musical basis of a son jarocho. The arpa jarocha is a large wooden harp with 32-26 strings. Construction of the requinto jarocho, also called the javelina, varies, but the most cherished are carved from a solid piece of cedar. Jaranas can be of various sizes, with a smallest called “mosquitos.” Other instruments can include the liona (a large bass), the 6-stringed guitar, the pandero (tambourine), the quijada de burro (a percussion instrument made from the jawbone of a mule or horse), and the marimbol.
The marimbol, also known as known as marimbula, marimbola or marimba, consists of a series of metal plates adhered to a sound box that produce sound when plucked. It originated from the African sanza (thumb piano), and is related to the larger marimba, origin Zimbabwe, whose word has the same etymology.
Lyrics are typically light and humorous, and being folksongs of previous eras, often include subjects such as nature, sailors, and cattle breeding. Singers may participate in a particular style called décimas, where improvised verses are exchanged. Dances performed by pairs include rhythmic and complicated footwork called zapateado that complements and supports the musicians. As the musicians play, locals gather and dance atop a wooden platform known as a tarima.
The most famous son jarocho among non-Mexicans is “La Bamba.” Yes, this is the same “La Bamba” made famous by the late Chicano Ritchie Valens, although the earliest verifiable recording was in 1939. “La Bamba,” referring to the dance, may be derived from the verb bambolear (to sway). And the arriba (up) part of the song refers most likely to the nature of the dance, in which the zapateado accelerates as the song and dance continue. The song is typically accompanied by one or two arpas jarochas, jarana jarocho, and the requinto jarocho. Lyrics to the song vary greatly, as singers often improvise verses while performing. It is frequently played at jarocho weddings.
So, what is the “son part of son jarocho? It does mean sound, but as in a genre or type of music, versus sonido the ordinary meaning of “sound.” Therefore, son jarocho is a subset of son Mexico, as is son mariachi. And of course, there is son Cubano. If you have heard the Cuban lyrics “Para bailar el son hay que llevarlo en el corazon”, or, “To dance the son, you have to carry it in your heart”, (having been to Cuba, I think you have to also have it in your hips).