I met Juan Carlos, 18, on my first day of mariachi classes at the School of Mexican Music in Mexico City. We were pretty much friendly strangers for the first two months, since we sat on opposite sides of the classroom—me in the neatly-arranged row of guitarists in the front, him with the pack of macho guitarrón players who roamed freely in the back.
Juan Carlos” natural knack for music could have made him the envy of the entire class. But he was way too likable, always greeting people with a warm saludo as they walked in the door, or helping them decipher their sheet music, to bring on anything but fuzzy feelings from the rest of us. What most impressed me was that despite his confidence, Juan Carlos was as new to the guitarrón as I was to Mexico.
If I were to make assumptions based on appearances (not like I ever do that), I would have taken his spiked-gelled hair, gold chains, and baggy jeans as an indication that Juan Carlos was like his fellow teenage classmates: street-smart, 100% Chilango (born and bred in Mexico City), and basically urban to the core. And like them, I figured he had come to the school to be groomed for a professional mariachi career.
All of that changed one day, late in the semester, when our mariachi teacher didn”t show up. Students quickly scattered in different directions to practice on their own or hang out in the courtyard. I left the classroom for awhile, but decided stick my head back in after hearing some unfamiliar sounds flooding out of the open windows.
Inside, the ambiente had completely changed. Rather than sitting in rows behind their music stands, my older classmates were standing up in a circle. Juan Carlos was at the center, but his guitarrón was nowhere in sight. Instead, he was plucking at lightning speed on a full-size jarocha harp, leading his fellow aspiring mariachis in a completely different musical exercise: an impromptu fandango, the traditional format for playing the Son Jarocho* music of Veracruz.
I proceeded to do what I think most people would do upon seeing an 18-year-old boy play the harp: I pulled out my digital camera and took the following wobbly video. It doesn”t capture much of the sound, but hopefully gives you an idea of the mood of the moment:
That day, I learned that there was much more to Juan Carlos” musical story than mariachi. Later during our interview, he would tell me about nbso online casino reviews his family”s move from their rural pueblo in Veracruz, where Son Jarocho originates, to one of the roughest neighborhoods in Mexico City. Like the majority of newcomers to Mexico”s capital, Juan Carlos” family came looking for a brighter economic future than their village could provide.
In exchange for city life, Juan Carlos had to abandon one of his favorite country traditions: watching his older neighbors jam on the jarocha harp at local fandangos and festivals. He left Veracruz as a young teen, right at the age when his cousins were starting to take up the harp and follow the lead of their elders. To his disappointment, the fandangos in Mexico City were starkly different. They were commercial, rarely spontaneous, and often took place in theaters or the hard-to-reach wealthy areas of town. The biggest blow came after discovering that many renowned jarocho harpists— legends in his hometown—had moved to Mexico City for the same reason he did: needing money, and too preoccupied to play for fun.
Two years ago, Juan Carlos nearly gave up his dream of learning to play the harp in the city. Then he stumbled upon the School of Mexican Music. The school immediately accepted him on a scholarship, and gave him a harp on loan. In this interview, he tells me about why the harp appeals to him, and the challenges he hopes to overcome before leading his own fandangos back home.
Thanks to the Museo Archivo de la Fotografía in Mexico City for the vintage photos!
*note on vocab:
•Fandango: festive gathering of Son Jarocho musicians and dancers.
•Jarana: rhythm guitar used in Son Jarocho.
•Jarocho: Adjective that describes people, music and things from the southern lowland
and coastal regions of Veracruz.
•Requinto: lead guitar used in Son Jarocho.
•Son Jarocho: Traditional music from from the southern lowland and coastal regions of Veracruz (more info in English here).
•Zapateado: percussive footwork in Son Jarocho, often danced at fandangos atop a
wooden platform called a tarima.