The state of Veracruz has a centuries old rich multi-cultural history with European influence going back to the first Spanish explorations of the Central America. Founded in 1519 by Cortez as “Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz” ( the rich village of the true cross), the city of Veracruz was the major Spanish port in Central America for centuries and it was through this city that nearly all Atlantic commerce flowed. Because of this, Veracruz has strong Caribbean, European, and African influences that combine with its indigenous traditions to create a unique culture. This amalgam is easily seen in the music of Veracruz, son jarocho. It is characterized by the arpa jarocho (a style of harp particular to the region), the jarana (a small instrument that, to me, appears to be a cross between a mandolin, ukelele and banjo – it has 8 strings in 5 courses and has an immediately recognizable sound), and a particular musical style that is most familiar to Americans in the song “La Bamba”.
Jarocho refers not just to the music of the area, but is a general term for the people of Veracruz. Many of the traditional jarocho songs reflect the realities of life for these people with lyrics about sailors, cattle, and love and are often told in a humorous way. In fact, don’t be surprised if your name suddenly becomes part of a song’s lyrics and the audience bursts out in laughter. Jarocho songs often contain improvised lyrics that tease audience members. Its all in good fun though and meant to be witty and light-hearted. Sometimes, different singers will exchange improvised verses that again are humorous and teasing.
Jarocho music is experiencing a revitalized following among young people in the region. Part of the experience is in attending “fandangos” – improvised musical jam parties. This page has a very interesting short video that describes this rebirth of jarocho in Veracruz. It is well worth a few minutes time.
If you are interested in a more in depth look at the history of jarocho music and its modern varieties, there is an interesting NPR radio show you can listen to here:
Here is a traditional jarocho version from a singer at Vida Milenaria in 2013:
Lastly, here is an example of the teasing, improvisational nature of jarocho music. Note that my Spanish isn’t good enough to understand all of the lyrics directed at us. Hopefully, they aren’t too offensive.
Hope you enjoyed the music. We will definitely check some of it out first hand in May.
If you want to find out more about the music of Veracruz then be sure to read this article by the Conde Nast Traveler.