When the band of young Mexican musicians Los Cojolites first started giving lessons a decade ago, their goal was simply to get their neighbors to turn off their TVs and play local music together again. Los Cojolites played Son Jarocho—the traditional music of their hometown in Southern Veracruz—at a time when it was going through a bizarre renaissance in other parts of the country. It had exploded in Mexico’s urban centers and college campuses, and even secured a spot on the “world music” stage abroad, yet it was about to fizzle in its own birthplace.
Los Cojolites decided there must be bigger issues at play. It wasn’t just the music of Son Jarocho—the endless collection of folk songs, each its own stream of popular verses, sung loudly and spontaneously in a communal fandango—that was endangered in Veracruz. Parts of the agrarian Jarocho culture, deeply tied to the music, seemed to be fading from local memory as well.
So Los Cojolites bought a sprawling ranch and set up a camp, which they called the Seminario del Son Jarocho (Son Jarocho Seminar), on its riverbank. Leading sessions in jarana-strumming and verse-writing under shady trees, the camp quickly became the place for intensive Son Jarocho instruction in Veracruz. Soon, campers were arriving from across Mexico and as far the as the U.S., South America, and Europe. The only condition was that they would also study the core values of Jarocho culture—respecting elders, conserving nature, and toughest of all for urbanites, learning to turn off technology and enjoy a slower pace of life.
I attended the seminar as it celebrated its eighth successful year. For this city girl, strumming the warm-toned jarana and singing verses all day in the sun was a welcome change of pace. I’ll admit the constant interaction with nature (namely spiders and taking daily baths in the river, after waking up to an alarm clock of hummingbirds slamming into my tent) was my biggest challenge, but that was the idea. Still, all the ticks and sunburn felt completely worth it at night, when campers used the moonlight to find their way to the tarima (wooden platform), jaranas in hand. There, local musicians appeared from nowhere, striking up chords for the midnight fandangos that sometimes lasted till dawn.
But enough from me. Youʼll get a better perspective from these campers, who traveled incredible distances to get to Veracruz. They represent a growing wave of dedicated Mexican-American soneros (Son Jarocho musicians), who are drawn to the music precisely because of the way of life it promotes. Many are activists or community organizers in large American cities, and praise the fandango as a rallying tool. The fact that Chicanos formed the majority of campers at this yearʼs Seminar shows that Los Cojolitesʼ message has traveled far—Even the most far-flung fandangos may be trying to get back to the lessons of ranch living.