Radio Jarocho Brings Culture to WC

By Jeremy Quintin

Elm Staff Writer

Pop music has become a cultural image of the United States. Figures like Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Lady Gaga are trademark images of a musical style now almost inherently associated with America. However, because North America is actually a conglomeration of various cultures from the early colonial period, what most accurately describes American music is a rich cultural hodge-podge of genres ranging across the board. This past Friday was an illustration of that when the group Radio Jarocho presented our campus with a traditional combination of Spanish, Afro-Caribbean, and Mexican sounds known as “Son Jarocho”.

If anyone took the initiative this past Friday to go and check out Radio Jarocho, they were more than likely treated to something completely out-of-sync with what they ordinarily listen to. I know that for me, it was much like getting doused with a bucket of water. This isn’t to speak poorly of the band, but it certainly illustrates how shocking the change of sound can be to the ears.

The group comprises two things, both of which I was ignorant to beforehand. One is Son Jarocho, and the other is “Fandango”, a community celebration which involves Son Jarocho,, along with various other art forms such as dancing and poetry, that altogether create a spectacular party. It certainly sounds like a lot of fun, but because of the limitations of a live performance, Radio Jarocho could not bring the whole Son Jarocho experience to the stage.

Of the portion that could be brought, it was quite the thing to see, on top of something to hear. Each song that Radio Jarocho played was accompanied by a dance routine, which the percussionist performed. This is because (get ready for it) due to her nail lined shoes, her dancing also functioned as the percussion for each song. This is a great example of the coalition of art forms, in which different artistic disciplines often thought of  as existing separately become one to exhibit new and interesting creations. Having the percussion be both a dance and an instrument is very ingenuitive. It also incorporates the audience to the point where they become additional musicians simply through dancing. Indeed, the band often asked members of the audience to come up to dance with the crew, making musicians out of us on the spot.

Though the majority of the performance was enjoyable, Radio Jarocho had a bit of a damper put on them due to the unfortunate acoustics of Hynson Lounge. While the idea behind the dancing percussionist is cool, the loudness of the dance at times would drown out the other musicians to the point where the lead instrument could not be heard over the banging. Some of this is likely due to the place of the performance, which had to be changed due to unforeseen circumstances known as a sprinkler going off in Hodson. Oh well.

Another issue is that a lyrical program was not provided like at “Hotchkiss@12”, and so if you either couldn’t hear what the band members said at the start of the song or don’t understand Spanish fluently, you would miss out on what each song was about. Despite this, the band was answering questions throughout the night, about their culture, their instruments, and their lyrics, so that people could gather the information they wanted straight from the members themselves.

Overall the performance was enjoyable despite minor complaints. A big point behind Radio Jarocho, their lead singer explained, is to keep alive a style of music that is at risk of disappearing even in its country of origin. That is a more than commendable task, and Radio Jarocho is doing their part to preserve a genre not to be missed out on.

2 thoughts on “Radio Jarocho Brings Culture to WC

  1. Thanks for the review Jeremy. We had a great time in Washington College and we hope we gave a good show despite as you say, of the sound quality of the lounge and the rainy weather. Also, due to the time we were given to perform there was not to much that we could do in terms of showing the intricacies of son jarocho. 300 years of history would be hard to explain in 60 minutes. I want to point out that what I said was that when I was young, son jarocho was in risk of disappearing. Not anymore. Nowadays there are hundreds of bands in Mexico and the U.S performing the style. In fact, there are so many bands that play the traditional son jarocho repertoire that in Radio Jarocho we decided to play mostly original songs written by the band when we are on stage (like a club, festival, or situations where people sits down and listen.) and not in a fandango situation (more community participation involved). In Washington College we played mostly originals except for “la bamba” and “siquisiri” which we often play to introduce the traditional repertoire and invite the audience to participate and get a bit of a feeling of what a fandango is. Our original songs are not folkloric or traditional and we use a wide array of influences from other Mexican styles, to pop and even rock music. Our song “Se ve que sabes bailar” which means “it looks like you can dance” has and intro inspired by the Arctic Monkeys “I bet you look good on the dance floor” but after that is a straightforward song jarocho. I could go on with examples like in our original songs but at the end everything we do is framed under the son jarocho style and sound. If you want to listen more of how son jarocho has blended with contemporary music check bands like Cafe Tacvba, David Wax Museum, or Mariachi el Bronx. Regarding the zapateado being too loud, I guess that is due simply to the sound set up. We will try to explain more in the future what the songs are about to non-Spanish speakers but again, sometimes we don’t have enough time. Maybe I just trust people will enjoy the music for its sound as I enjoyed the music with lyrics in English of many British and American music before I spoke and understood the language of Shakespeare. Thanks very much again for writing and coming to the show.

    Gabriel Guzman

  2. Jarocho music, like its cousiin huapango is a very creative musical form. The harp, like the violin, in huapango play the lead role and musical, as well as vocal improvisation are a part of it. Unfortunately they’ve been overshadowed by banda music and duranguense. There are efforts in the Veracruz area as well the Huasteca to maintain this music alive. Mariachi music is portrayed as the authentic music of Mexico, but there are many, including music from Chiapas and Oaxaca. Commercial considerations by broadcasters promote certain types of music and neglect others, like Jarocho, unfortunately.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *