Spotlight Series: Radio Jarocho

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This Thursday, five-piece band Radio Jarocho will close off the Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series at Pfiffner Park with the vibrant rhythms of son jarocho music, paying homage to the countryside that pioneered the genre.

Originating from Veracruz, Mexico, son jarocho music emerged as early as the 18th century and fuses its Spanish roots with the sounds of Afro-Caribbean and Mexican regions. The result is a lively, animated performance with an inviting spirit and humorous lyrics. Stringed instruments lie at the core of son mexicano music, slowly evolving over 300 years into distinct regional instruments based on the European models. In the case of Veracruz and son jarocho, the dominant instruments arpa jarocha (wooden harp), requinto jarocho (four-stringed guitar), and most importantly, the jarana (8-12 stringed guitar), make up the base instrumentation of contemporary folk groups – though many other unique instruments are often included in the lineup.

Son jarocho is traditionally performed at fandangos, a communal celebration dedicated to music and dance. You may recognize some traditional son jarocho songs played at these parties, which include “La Bamba,” “El Cascabel,” and “La Morena.” Julia Del Palacio, co-founder of Radio Jarocho, accompanies performances with vocals and the zapateado, rhythmic footwork customarily executed on a wooden platform called the tarima.

What distinguishes Radio Jarocho from traditional son jarocho bands is the musicians’ modern take on the style. In addition to performing the classics, the members of Radio Jarocho compose their own contemporary tracks inspired by an assortment of influences, while still remaining true to the soul of the genre. The band’s first full-length album, Café Café (2012), contains nine original songs, one of which was featured on NPR radio show All Things Considered.

Having performed all over New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia and Boston, the NYC-based band has garnered quite the reputation as “the most established son jarocho outfit on the East Coast,” as described by the Boston Globe. Zenen Zeferino, frequent musical collaborator with Radio Jarocho and pioneer of the movement, notes the pride in being jarocho, telling The New York Times that his music is for the “people that have come to work but also don’t want their children to lose the links to our land.”

The diverse backgrounds of the band’s members are a testament to the widespread influence of son jarocho. Del Palacio and Juan Carlos Marín (requinto guitarist) both hail from Mexico City. Jarana player Carlos Cuestas is Colombian, and bassist Victor Murillo is from California.

When they’re not captivating music halls and museums, Radio Jarocho members partner with Zeferino to teach workshops and lecture demonstrations about the history of son jarocho and its traditions. Some organizations they’ve partnered with include Columbia University, Brooklyn Arts Council and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

Radio Jarocho and Zeferino close the 2017 season of the Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series Aug. 3 at 6 PM CDT with a commemorative evening rich with culture and community engagement. Pack a picnic, bring your dancing shoes and experience the magical sounds of Veracruz this starry Thursday night!