Sounds of Cultura (SOC) : Son Jarocho Collective

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We’ll talk about a collective of inter-generational students that are learning the tradition of Son Jarocho.
Son Jarocho is a traditional musical style of Veracruz, a Mexican state along the Gulf of Mexico. Members Dr. Michelle Tellez and Quetzalli Enrique talk about the collective.

RICHARD RUELAS: Son Jarocho is a regional folk musical style of Mexican son from Vera Cruz, a Mexican state along the Gulf of Mexico. We'll talk about a collective of intergenerational students in the valley learning the tradition of Son Jarocho music in a moment, but first here is a collective performing at a recent event here in Phoenix.

VIDEO: [Singing]

RICHARD RUELAS: Joining me to talk about the Son Jarocho collective here in the valley is Dr. Michelle Tellez, also here is Quetzalli Enrique. Both are members of the Son Jarocho collective. How did this begin in Phoenix?

MICHELLE TELLEZ: That's great. We were talking and we brought out with Michelle Tellez a group of women who are playing this music.

RICHARD RUELAS: intergenerational a nice way of saying young and old. [laughter]

MICHELLE TELLEZ: They use it as a way to build bridges across borders. We had the pleasure of having them perform and the day after we invited them to do a workshop, indigenous peoples, a place where we are trying to revitalize our culture. From that initial workshop we had maybe 20 to 25 participants. It was a free workshop. From that day one of the members, Angela Flores, who is from the east side cafe in Los Angeles, said, you all are wanting to learn, I'm going to make the commitment to help you all learn. So she started coming. I don't know if you want to add anything.

RICHARD RUELAS: how did you get involved?

QUETZALLI ENRIQUE: One day -- I'm a frequent visitor. My family always goes. I just walked in the building and people were playing these little big and small instruments.

RICHARD RUELAS: Was this something you were given by the --

QUETZALLI ENRIQUE: I ordered this one. Yes. This is mine. I ordered it after I discovered I had a passion for playing. I walked in and they were all playing.

RICHARD RUELAS: Maybe show it to the camera so we can --


RICHARD RUELAS: You can tell us what it is and what it looks like.

QUETZALLI ENRIQUE: It's a jarama, similar to a ukulele, but it's Veracruz, Mexico, and we play different sones. That's what the songs are called. Each son talks about resistance, the land, the people, what they are going through.

RICHARD RUELAS: It's music that I guess sounds familiar if you grew up in an Hispanic community. If you grew up in a place where there's Mexican culture around. This isn't that far off of what we have heard sort of growing up.


RICHARD RUELAS: Regional difference?

MICHELLE TELLEZ: The thing is that in Veracruz this music has been around for 400 years. We're students. We're like in preschool maybe. What we have learned this is the music of resistance. It's been around. It's a missing nation of Spanish, African and indigenous. In the 1970s we found that the music was dying out, so the communities that held on to this tradition like in the little pickup los, the elders were the only ones that knew the music. The new generation was no longer using it. So in this --

RICHARD RUELAS: Dying out because of something going on in Mexico, sort of a naturalization?

MICHELLE TELLEZ: exactly. Some of the more regional cultural specifies tease were losing its popularity. If you -- you want to do the pop music --

RICHARD RUELAS: Like if cajun music suddenly fell out of favor or tejano music.

MICHELLE TELLEZ: absolutely. Some people wanted to hold on to the tradition in Mexico and started going out into the communities and learning from these elders, from these people who had held on to it after all these years and were bringing it back to their own communities. From there it crossed over into on this side of the border, I guess.

RICHARD RUELAS: what resonates for you? Is your family from the region?? What about this music resonates with you?

QUETZALLI ENRIQUE: My family is not from the region, but part of my family is from Mexico. What resonates with me is that it's a music, a community thing. It's not just one person, a solo act. It's something where the community can come, you can go up and sing and you can go up and dance if you feel like it. It's participatory type of music. Anyone can go up, anyone can come. It's just a really good energy when you can do something that's positive with your community.

RICHARD RUELAS: Is that the most important part of it, that collective?

MICHELLE TELLEZ: I think so. Absolutely. What we're learning is that really the technique is important. You want to learn the technique. There's a lot to learn. The most important part is building that community with one another, sharing our stories. We want to tell the stories. There's lots of stories to tell in Phoenix and in Arizona in general that affect our communities. Eventually we will get to them. We're already starting to do that. When you come together -- we're not -- Quetzalli is a great musician. I feel I can express myself in a way I'm not otherwise able to. Through singing or dancing or playing.

RICHARD RUELAS: How did you get into this?

QUETZALLI ENRIQUE: Well, I play music. I went to a music school, so when I picked it up it came naturally. Just playing simple songs. But there's something about it it just fits, you know, the size, it fits me, the sound.

RICHARD RUELAS: There's a percussive nature. For most people they may have heard songs like La Bamba is probably the most popular. Familiar music, very percussive. How would you describe it to someone who has not heard it?

QUETZALLI ENRIQUE: I would say it's upbeat. Like La Bamba is very fast. It's an upbeat type of music rhythm, it's not just about rhythm, it's about rhythmic phrases. It's not super strict but you have to know each song is -- each son is different. You have to know the difference. One simple stroke can change the whole son. You just have to know that each rhythm.

RICHARD RUELAS: I guess people associate -- it's in the news a lot for political reasons. There's the cultural side. Some of the music is culturally supposed to be whimsical. Are the songs that are written out of this group whimsy?

MICHELLE TELLEZ: Whimsy. I don't know. We want to tell the stories of resistance of our people in our everyday lives. We want to live without fear in harmony, in beauty, right? And we're also having a campaign trying to fund raise to bring in more maestros.

RICHARD RUELAS: The website?

MICHELLE TELLEZ: Just look up the son jarocho collective. 1159 July 2 is the last time you can donate.

RICHARD RUELAS: that's our show for tonight. Thanks from all of us. Thanks for watching. I'm Richard Ruelas. Have a great evening.

VIDEO: Funding for Horizonte made possible by contributions by the friends of 8, members of your Arizona PBS station.

Dr. Michelle Tellez :Member of Son Jarocho Collective, Quetzalli Enrique:Member of Son Jarocho Collective

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