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Young instrument makers in Veracruz. Young instrument makers in Veracruz.

Youths learn to make guitars to help preserve traditional music of Veracruz

Interest waning in the traditional music known as son jarocho

If you’ve heard the song La Bamba you’ve heard son jarocho, a regional style of music from Veracruz, jarocho being a term used to describe someone or something from that state.

But despite the importance of the music to the state’s traditional culture, passing it on to the next generation is not an easy task.

However, musician Anastasio Martínez has taken on the challenge. In his case, it takes the form of a fledgling program in the southern municipality of Cosoleacaque to teach the making of the traditional guitars that are used, called jaranas.

“We began the program because there was a certain level of disinterest in son jarocho. It was being lost in the local culture, at least in southern Veracruz. The tradition was dying because children were not interested,” being drawn to other attractions such as celebrating Halloween, Martínez said.

With only four months in existence, the program already has 30 participants aged 7 to 17. Even three of the mothers accompanying their children have started to make jaranas.

Martínez is encouraged. “The response has been very good. They are enjoying how I work, and they find they like tracing the molds and designing their own instruments, adding a drawing or other detail.”

Martínez began by teaching the older children, who have in turn shared their knowledge with the younger ones.

The children in the program have made various types of guitars as well as the bajo jarocho (jarocho bass) which is similar to the large guitar (guitarrón) used in mariachi music.

The wood used for the instruments is cedar. “We tell them how long it takes for a tree to grow and when wood can be worked. It takes more or less three and a half months to dry the wood after the tree has been cut.”

Parents have noticed a change in the participating children, who are no longer spending so much time on their cell phones, playing their instruments instead.

Martínez began playing son jarocho when he was 17. “In my family, no one is a musician. I am the only one who is involved in son jarocho. I learned guitar making because I had no musical instruments since they are expensive . . .”  He has now been making instruments for 13 years.

Future plans include collaborating with other programs to train traditional musicians, especially those working with the musical styles of Veracruz.

Son jarocho itself is a fusion of indigenous, Spanish and African musical elements, a result of the populations that have influenced this eastern state starting in the colonial period. The musical style is most traditionally played only with jaranas, which provide both melody and rhythm.

Songs are typically about everyday life in the state with subjects such as sailing, cattle breeding, love and nature.

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