As mentioned previously, I had hoped to write a little on my recent trip to Mexico but I’ve been having trouble finding a place to start. So much has changed since my last visit there seven years earlier. I can’t tell if Mexico is more American, the US is more Mexican or if it’s just that I’m finally beginning to understand both cultures. In any case, there’s too much to wrap my head around, there are race and class issues I simply do not have the skills to write about. (Like what’s up with all the vendors and ambulantes calling me “huera” when I have the same morena skin as them?) Then there’s the commercialization of El Chopo, the high prices of La Lagunilla and the intensity of Mercado Merced, all of these subjects are coincidentally being covered by Los Angeles journalist Daniel Hernandez who has been sharing his cultural observations of Mexico DF on his excellent blog: Intersections. I’ll leave the good writing and the insightful analysis to him. Instead, I’ll focus on two subjects that partly inspired this visit to Mexico: Son Huasteco music and Filigree jewelry.
My initial far fetched itinerary to Mexico had me trekking up to the Huasteca region to search out authentic Son Huasteco but unfortunately my visit was short and my lack of planning kept me relegated to the bits of Mexico I’m familiar with: Mexico DF and Oaxaca. Not that I’m complaining, these places have their charms and I was fortunate enough to enjoy live music and dancing almost every night. I was able to find some great Son Huasteco CDs at the fabulous Gandhi Bookstore in Mexico DF and at Librería Grañen Porrúa bookstore in Oaxaca. I’ve included some examples of Son Huasteco tunes from these CDs, so keep reading below!
Son Huasteco is one of my favorite musical genres. It is representative of what makes Mexican culture so beautiful, a cross cultural blend of musical elements strongly rooted in indigenous traditions and garnished by the successive immigrant and ethnic groups that have left their legacy in this Mexican region. There’s the violin: melodious, sometimes frantic and other times meandering, with influences of Eastern European styles. Equally compelling are the vocals with their characteristic bits of falsetto and the undeniable echoes of Africa that reverberate throughout their singing. The driving rhythm that accompanies Son Huasteco is called Huapango, a type of dancing partly inspired by Spanish Flamenco.
More from the National Geographic website:
Son huasteco is the term associated with the huapango rhythm and features violin and guitar instrumentation with highly improvisational text, often structured around the Spanish décima form. The word “huapango” is derived from the Náhuatl term cuauh-panco, which means “to dance on a wooden platform,” demonstrating links to its Aztec past. Huapangos are also used in competitive form, such as the huapango arribeño, where dueling poets improvise complex décimas around topical events.
Los Camperos del Valle are one of the more internationally known Son Huasteco groups and are extremely talented musicians. Here’s a clip to give you an idea:
El Gusto-Los Camperos de Valles
Another version of the same song:
This energetic live clip really gives you the feel for how the dancer’s percussive footwork enhances the rhythm of this kind of Son. Also notice how each violin player brings their own style to the song. The violin in Son Huasteco is what makes this music characteristically unique, much in the way the harp is for Son Jarocho.
There are national and regional dance competitions for Huapango, this video excerpt gives you some idea of the structure of the dance.
Concurso Nacional de Huapango
Son Huasteco has also made it’s way across the border and a derivative style is often performed by various Tejano musicians.
Tex Maniacs – Huapango
I’ve included some Son Huasteco music examples that best exemplify, in my opinion, this musical mixture of influences.
From Son Anthologia de Mexico: Son Huasteco, Discos Corason 1985, Mexico.
Los Chiles Verdes-Abacum Fernandez y Reveriano Soto
One of my favorites. A very traditional indigenous Son Huasteco arrangement, unusual for it’s lack of violin and for the raw but completely engaging vocals.
El Gusto-Trio Los Camalotes
When I mentioned voices with echoes of Africa earlier in this post, it was this song I had in mind. Exceptional violin on this song and an all around amazing example of rootsy Son Huasteco.
From El Caiman, Caiman:Sones Huastecos, Discos Corason, 1996
El Llorar-Los Hermanos Perez Maya
It’s hard to describe how I felt when I first heard this song, it caused a small revolution in my musical life and inspired an emotional attachment that continues with repeated listenings. It is from this song that I developed my love for Son Huasteco. A few of the distinguishing elements of El Llorar are the falsetto vocals and the fantastic violin runs. There are many different versions, each one just as remarkable as the next.
I’ve had some difficulty researching Son Huasteco. I imagine more materials and references can be found in Mexico. One other CD I purchased on my trip was Huapango! Grabciones de campo de Thomas Stanford , 1970 which includes extensive liner notes from his field recordings. Highly recommended.
How to dance to Son Huasteco
Next up (okay, someday…) joyeria filigrana/filigree jewelry!