Eighty-three towns and villages in all 31 states of Mexico have been awarded the title Pueblo Mágico. Coatepec was officially designated as a Magico pueblo in 2006. Xico received the same designation in 2011. Two pueblos with such recognition just a mere 5 miles a apart.
We discovered their charm long before they became officially magical. But, last night all the magic seemed to be centered in Coatepec.
A reader of this Blog and a fellow music industry hombre, Paul Bowman, sent me a heads up on a group that was to play in Coatepec last night. “The master of the jarana, Ramon Gutierrez will be performing at Cafe Alandalus [in] Coatepec tonight night with his group, Son de Madera. Highly recommended. Cover charge $80 MXN. Starts at 9:30.”
That is five bucks cover charge folks!
We Skyped another music man, our friend John (of John and Jane fame). As the situation evolved Paul’s notice turned out to be extremely fortuitous.
John and Jane were celebrating both their birthdays and their 34th anniversary; all occurring over the weekend. What better way to celebrate than listening to some traditional, local, live music? John, “The music scene – that’s one of the reasons we are here man!”
Off the four of us went to Coatepec, just 3 miles or so from our homes in Xico.
First a little history about the music: The improvisatory, string-band music of Veracruz called Son Jarocho has enjoyed several decades of major resurgence – a rebirth of sorts. The mariachi tradition is as much a part of Mexican folklore as the emblematic tortilla, but that music is different from the son jarocho tradition. The playing styles and the music are remarkably dis-similar.
Jarana Jarocha tradition – son jaracho music – goes generations back to the elder farmer and rancher musicians of the Jalapa area. The group Son de Madera, led by Ramon Gutierrez, bursts with creativity and reverence for both the old and the new as it draws from rural roots to produce fresh and innovative interpretations of popular Mexican regional and traditional music.
When we arrived the band was still setting up. There were no ‘roadies’. It was obvious that the band with generations of farmer’s roots was self-contained from beginning to end. John and I talked about our first world experiences where NOB bands had roadies and equipment movers and soundmen – none to be found here. Just four intrepid musicians going about their setup business – doing it all.
We were seated front row stage right where I was close enough to rub elbows with the string bass player, allotting me a clear sonic and photographic view save some mic stands. The occasional squealing speakers at ear shattering volume plagued us. But, do not let the simple beginning and strident setup mislead you.
We had no idea what we were in for at that point. This jarana band comprised of three hombres and one mujer employed a violinist, two jarana players, and an upright bass – four musicians in all. The guys sported the traditional guayabera otherwise known as white Mexian wedding shirts. Natalia Arroyo Rodríguez, the female violinist, was dressed in contrasting black – well let the pictures set the stage:
As the music began to unfold and sound levels became homogenous, we were treated to some amazingly complex rhythms and arrangements. The four players were world class, performing here in this little venue just northeast of Xico. What – a treat!
I remarked to John that it was amazing how four musicians and their small stringed instruments (save the grand stringed bass) could sound like a band of perhaps twelve. The rhythm guitar player and co-lead singer could belt out music from his small jarana guitar with amazing fervor.
Ramon Guiterrez, the band’s leader, was responsible for melody lines – the fastest fingers around. His knowledge of historical playing styles and his technique were quite impressive, on both the jarana and the smaller requinto. To hear and witness his incredible technique was nothing short of amazing; indeed the entire band possessed comparable talent including harmonies and vocal and instrumental solos performed by each during the set.
The music was truly magical. If you ever are in the area do not miss an opportunity to hear this band.
Today is the FINAL GAME – GO Cruz Azul! Stay Tuned!