The Son Huasteco
There’s a bunch of Mexican folk styles that deserve to be better understood. They are not only the bearers of rural, indigenous and traditional cultures, but also feed in to the mainstream and off each other to form a rich and varied tradition. In addition they are styles that live to be played, for community and group enjoyment. Like a musical version of Facebook, they define and bring together communities. I’ve already given you a taste of the Veracruz style the Son Jarocho, now I will give you a rough sketch of its closest musical neighbour, the Son Huasteco.
Son Huasteco is party music played by groups made up of three musicians (known as Trios). The instruments these Trios employ are the Jarana (a small guitar), a huapanguera (a big guitar) and a violin. The violin plays the role that the harp does in the Son Jarocho, carrying the melody. Similarly, both styles use dancers to mark out rhythm. The wooden dance floor (Tarima) is arguably an additional instrument. Traditional zapateado dancers bang the floor with their boots and shoes in time with the rhythm – a phenomenon akin to tap dancing.
This style of music is found in the northern part of the state of Veracruz and Puebla, southern Tamaulipas and eastern San Luis Potosi, Hidalgo and Queretaro states. It is very much associated with indigenous peoples such as the Totonacs and bears a very characteristic stamp of indigenous styles. The use of falsetto vocals is one typical sign of this legacy. Here the traditional group Trio Reyixtla interpret the popular standard, ‘the short-sighted bee’.
A lot of groups sing in indigenous languages, keeping alive the traditions of cultures in danger of being swamped by modernity. One of the most popular is the Xochipizahuatl which praises both the Virgin of Guadalupe (Mexico’s patron ‘Saint’) and the Aztec goddess Tonantzin. This song is performed at many traditional ceremonies including indigenous weddings. Here the group Los Hermanos Olivares perform a version in the Nahuatl language. A beautiful and affecting song.
Mainly, though, this music can be heard on the street, bars, parties and anywhere that musicians can get together…
Son Huasteco has, like other styles, adapted to a changing world. During the Revolution various Huasteco songs were written that became popular throughout the country. El Soldado de Levita (which has been called Mexico’s Katyusha – Russia’s most popular Revolutionary song – by err, Russians) is perhaps the most popular. This particular version has been adapted for radio play and a general audience.
And to finish, an idea of how this music still influences the pop and rock tradition. Take it away, Cafe Tacuba!