LOS JARANEROS DE LOS TUXTLAS

Text, Images and Sound by

Edward Wilkinson Latham

Published in OUTPOST MAGAZINE

"NOW MY DEAR, LETS GO TO THE FANDANGO TO HARVEST THE GREEN CHILIES WHICH ARE RIPENING"

"ROOSTER IF YOU ONLY KNEW WHAT TRUE LOVE IS YOU WOULDN'T SING SO MUCH IN THE CHICKEN COOP"

"THEY SAY THAT THE RIPE CHILE HAS A SWEET HEART. MY DEAR ALSO HAS SWEET CONVERSATION"

Under a bruising sky, in front of a flaking colonial town house, a group of elderly men strum their weather beaten jaranas and sing to the sky, transforming a street corner into a temporary stage where passers are encouraged to dance and forget their day. A block later similar chords ring out accompanied by a quick tap of hard soled shoes on a concrete floor, the sound filtering through a dirty curtain at the entrance to a cantina.

It is not until midnight that those familiar sounds of drumming are again heard, combined with excited voices and small penny fireworks. Families and couples promenade together in the warm evening air, all moving in the same direction. To fandango.

Twenty or so musicians stand clustered together, a short distance from the main square, playing their small guitars of various sizes, called jaranas. All attention is focused on a couple dancing on a wooden platform called la tarima, the stomp of their feet acting as percussion to the strumming guitars. As someone begins to sing the choreography changes and the sound of the couples feet takes second place to the lyrics.

A festive occasion, fandango usually coincides with religious holidays, births and even deaths. Fandango has been an integral part of all kinds of celebrations since the 18th century, but since its decline in the 1950’s, the fandango has disappeared in numerous comminutes. But here, the music, poetry and dance lives on, amongst the cornfields, mountains and magic that is Los Tuxtlas.

Listen to Los Hermanos Domingo Najera (recorded 2000)

The musicians duel both instrumentally and lyrically. The meanings and arrangements of the sones, or songs, are complex lyrical poems with subject matter ranging from symbolic foods and animals to folklore, legends, love between men and women and the battle between good and evil. Some sones are handed down through generations, or sold from one musician to another and some exist only in the memories of elderly jaraneros.

"THEY SAY THAT THE IGUANA BITES BUT I SAY IT ISN'T SO. I GRABBED IT BY THE TAIL AND IT JUST STUCK ITS TONGUE OUT"

"WHEN THE RANCHER IS IN THE HILLS AND HE CANT FIND A COW HE READJUSTS HIS HAT WHILE HE SAYS ANOTHER PRAYER TO THE WOODPECKER"

Interview with Felipe Lara

I consider the fandango to be one of my vices. I’ll go anywhere if they tell me that there is going to be a fandango, even if it’s up the mountain. I can’t remember exactly when I learned to dance but I must have been about 12 years old. I would watch men like Don Isaac or Don Cachurin, who is still alive. Now and then I would have to get up and dance but I couldn’t quite manage, so I would have to get down from the tarima. By the time I was 13 or 14 I started going to the fandango every Saturday and Sunday. Although my mother and father were both dancers, I never saw them dance. My parents and grandparents would scold me and tell me that the fandango was something diabolical. My father told me that when he was young, two or three people would get killed at each fandango in the outlying communities because of lovers quarrels or problems between singers. Things aren’t like that anymore.

Listen to Felipe Lara (recorded 2000)

Interview with Don Juan Zapata

I learned to play when I was nine years old. In those days there were a lot of fandangos. Several jaraneros would gather together in an open lot called “La Tierra Amarilla”. A lot of women and men would gather to dance or just watch. I wouldn’t play but observe how the musicians moved their fingers and tuned their instruments.

One day I said to my father, who knew how to play, “I’m going to buy a jarana. “If you want to learn I will teach you,” he told me. But I said "No, I already understand the voices of the jarana.” When I was fourteen I was already playing the requinto. On the eve of some holy day like La Virgen del Carmen or San Juan, five or so jaraneros would gather together to play. In order to have a fandango we had to get permission from the authorities. The permit cost 50 centavos. When we were playing and the police came, we would all show the receipt and they wouldn’t say anything. Back then there wasn’t chaos in fandangos. Those standing around the tarima watching would make sure things remained orderly. If some drunk tried to get up and dance we would get him down because it soils the music.

Listen to Don Juan Zapata (recorded 2000)

EWL©