4:03pm

Sun September 30, 2012
Music

Son Jarocho, The Sound Of Veracruz

Originally published on Sun September 30, 2012 9:56 pm

Betto Arcos is the host of Global Village, a world music show on KPFK in Los Angeles, and a native of Xalapa, capital city of the Mexican state of Veracruz. He recently spoke with Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered, about son jarocho — a style of music played mostly in the south of his home state. He says the music is so vibrant because it comes from the Caribbean side of Mexico and has all the influences of that region: African, indigenous and Spanish.

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Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. And it's time now for music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOS JARANEROS")

RAZ: And that is our cue for our next guest. That's global music DJ Betto Arcos. He's back to share some of his favorite new tracks: today, from or inspired by Latin American music. Betto, great to have you back.

BETTO ARCOS: Great to be with you, Guy.

RAZ: I understand that everything that we're going to hear really mimics a style - this style of music we're hearing, which is called?

ARCOS: Son Jarocho.

RAZ: Son Jarocho.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOS JARANEROS")

ARCOS: That's right. That's the style of music from the southern state of Veracruz in the Gulf Coast of Mexico.

RAZ: Which happens to be your ancestral homeland.

ARCOS: Correct. I'm from the capital, from Jalapa. And this music's played mostly in the south of Veracruz. And the crucial, the essential instrument that makes this music special and unique is an instrument called the jarana. It's an eight-string instrument. The strings are doubles, and it sounds like this:

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: And I should mention, Betto, that is not a recording. That was you just playing the jarana in the studio.

ARCOS: That's right. It's...

RAZ: Which sounded great, by the way.

ARCOS: Thank you. Yeah, it's carved out of one solid piece of wood, and it's what makes this instrument so powerful and so juicy. So this is an instrument that's loud. There's no need for amplification.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOS JARANEROS")

RAZ: Yeah. And it has a sort of island sound. And we're talking about the Gulf Coast of Mexico - warm water, you know, you're not that far from the Caribbean really.

ARCOS: That's right, that's right. And this is what this music is so vibrant. It's because it's in the Caribbean. It's the Caribbean side of Mexico, and it has all of the influences of the Caribbean - African influences, indigenous influences, of course, Spanish influences.

RAZ: OK. So this track that we're hearing, it's by a group that is based in New York called Radio Horocho. Tell me about this song.

ARCOS: This is a song called "Los Jaraneros." It basically means the jarana players. This song is all about the celebration of music and dance. It's when people go to a fandango. A fandango is a party where people get together to dance, to play and to sing in a community setting. So everybody's welcome - kids, elderly, everyone takes part in this celebration.

RAZ: Hah, I did not know that 'cause I've heard that word, you know, obviously, over the course of my life. And now, people associate it with movie tickets - Fandango. But it really is something much more interesting than movie tickets.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOS JARANEROS")

RAZ: Brings you this fandango place, like this sort of evening under the stars with lots of people dancing and having a good time. And there you go. You've got this music, this great music playing behind you.

ARCOS: Exactly. That's what this is all about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOS JARANEROS")

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA BAMBA REBELDE")

RAZ: All right. Up next, we're going to go from the East Coast of the United States to the West Coast.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA BAMBA REBELDE")

RAZ: "La Bamba?"

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA BAMBA REBELDE")

ARCOS: This, in fact, is "La Bamba," but it's not the typical "La Bamba."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA BAMBA REBELDE")

RAZ: This is cool stuff. What is this?

ARCOS: This is a band called Las Cafeteras. It's a seven-piece band made up of men and women.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA BAMBA REBELDE")

ARCOS: And they have a new record out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA BAMBA REBELDE")

ARCOS: And this is their own version of the classic, "La Bamba," but they call it "La Bamba Rebelde," as in the rebellious Bamba.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA BAMBA REBELDE")

ARCOS: And it's a song that pretty much is sort of their flag, as sort of a group that says we are different. We're not from Mexico; we're Mexican-Americans. We're Chicano.

RAZ: That's interesting, yeah.

ARCOS: Yeah, because they're from L.A.

That's right. They're from - all from L.A. And it's all about the plight of immigrants who come here to work and have a hard time sometimes. And this is a song that's all about sort of empowerment and celebration...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA BAMBA REBELDE")

ARCOS: ...of life and living in this city like Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA BAMBA REBELDE")

RAZ: Betto, we should mention that it is not just Spanish-language artists who are actually being influenced by son jarocho. There's actually a track from a band based in Boston, David Wax Museum. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL SENSE OF TIME")

DAVID WAX MUSEUM: (Singing) How beautiful when it rains, you can hear the nighttime sing, you can hear the nighttime sing, how beautiful when it rains...

ARCOS: David Wax Museum is a project based in Boston, but David Wax himself lived in Mexico, studied some jarocho music with maestros, with teachers there in Veracruz when he was doing a fellowship from Harvard University some years ago. And so what you hear in this tune is not only the sound of the jarana that he's strumming...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL SENSE OF TIME")

ARCOS: ...and his idea for bringing together American folk music, American indie rock with Mexican son jarocho, son huaxtecho and other styles is very much this concept that came together over the last couple of years.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL SENSE OF TIME")

RAZ: It's a great song. That's David Wax Museum. The song is called "All Sense of Time." Betto, we have time for one more. What you got?

ARCOS: This next project is actually from the Bay Area. It's a producer by the name of Hector Perez, and he has a project called Sistema Bomb Presenta Electra-Jarocho, where he brings together different groups of son jarocho musicians from Veracruz, and then he kind of remixes them or reinvents their music. And the song that I chose for this is a tune called "El Butaquito," which features the group from Veracruz called Los Cojolites. And take a listen to what he did to this tune.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL BUTAQUITO")

ARCOS: So here you have a standard, if you will, son jarocho tune called "El Butaquito."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL BUTAQUITO")

ARCOS: Reinvented, reimagined for the 21st century with an electronica twist. I think it's really, really tastefully done.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL BUTAQUITO")

RAZ: It's interesting with almost all of the musicians that you played, Betto, are not from Mexico. They're all Americans.

ARCOS: That's precisely what I like about this. This music has, in a sense, spread all over the U.S. in the last decade. The great thing about it is that musicians from Veracruz come to the U.S. to give workshops to beat musicians here and musicians from here go to Veracruz to learn and to be inspired by the music and the culture. It's a four-way street. It's just fantastic stuff.

RAZ: It really is. I love it. Betto, thank you so much for coming in. Betto Arcos is the host of Global Village on KPFK in Los Angeles. Betto, we'll catch up with you in a couple of weeks again.

ARCOS: Thanks so much, Guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL BUTAQUITO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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