Recently in Xalapa, I found myself in the middle of a heated debate. I was sitting in the colonial courtyard of an artists’ cooperative, surrounded by a dozen local celebrities. They were a mixture of young and old son jarocho musicians who had gathered to discuss “the future” of their music, now that it’s all the rage in Mexican cities. The central issue could be summed up in one question: As metropolitan musicians playing country music, does that make them a ciudad de soneros, or soneros de la ciudad? That translates to say, are they “a city of [authentic] son jarocho musicians, or [somewhat less authentic] son jarocho musicians of the city?”
The debate was a chipper one—as students and teachers of each other, the group was a close-knit community who could take pride in the fact that their music’s biggest problem is overexposure. Still, their concerns were real. Is son jarocho losing its local flavors, now that young people are imitating hit records instead of their neighbors? Is it becoming commercial, now that hit records simply exist, and some fandangos charge a cover? Are fandangos becoming less instructive, now that the next generation of soneros is made up of Guitar Hero-playing, iPhone-addicted egomaniacs, whose shrinking attention spans and inability to hear anything that isn’t blasted through subwoofers mean that they’ve forgotten how to just listen?
Like a good dialogue, the debate generated more questions than answers. But rather than write them all out, I thought I’d draw you guys a picture instead to hopefully capture some of the color of this music, as well as the concerns of its fans. Lucky for me (and you) the political cartoonist Fernando “el Fer” de Anda offered to draw it for me. De Anda is based in Mexico City but lived in Xalapa for several years, so he was excited to work some of the symbols of jarocho culture into his satirical art. Here’s what he says about his cartoon:
“First, all the captions are verses taken from different sones. Something I find fascinating about son jarocho is the poetry of the lyrics; it is full of magical images. Also, the majority of the characters that I drew are animals. This is because there are many sones about animals (the rabbit, the dog, the parrot, the snake, etc). I imagine this is because Veracruz is a region that’s rich in fauna and exotic species.
In the first drawing is a woman in a traditional dress, who represents the beauty of son jarocho. The rooster next to her illustrates the verse above him [from the son “the Rooster”].
In the second drawing I put a young deer, in jarocho dress with a chile for a heart. This is not only to illustrate the verse that accompanies him, but also to give props to the culinary culture of the chile in Mexico.
The third picture shows torito de guanábana [a fruity peanut liquor]. Torito is the traditional drink at fandangos. It is made with milk, cream, fruits and other ingredients, with liquor from sugarcane. For one, it’s a tasty drink, and two, it gives you a serious buzz. When I was living in Xalapa, I was not only witness but a living testimony to the powers of this beverage. Hence the devil in the bottle.
In the third picture, you see old guys playing a serenade together in a group, under the moon. The final picture shows the contrast between the rural and the urban son jarocho. The character represents a youngster singing on a stage. His caption is a famous verse about soledad (loneliness), which I tried to illustrate with this young jaranero. He’s howling on about his loneliness to a big nothing in the desert.”