During the fiestas de San Rafael, the patron saint of El Cargadero, the ghost town comes to life with migrants who have returned for the festivities. I’ve never been there for the feasts in October, but 4 years ago my parents went with Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni. During the day, they went through the bureaucracy of signing over the grandparents’ house to my mom. In the evening they joined the festivities in the Plaza del Migrante or watched the borlote (commotion) from the balcony. My grandparents’ – well, now mom’s – house overlooks the main plaza. This was great for people watching, but not great for making international calls.
My dad called me one evening during the trip. Even though he was inside the house with the windows closed, I could still barely hear him. It wasn’t the connection; the background noise of drums and horns from down below was drowning him out.
The sound was familiar. I’d heard it several times before at anniversary parties, weddings, birthday parties and any other special occasion. Pretty much every big party on the Zacatecano/maternal side of the family featured a tamborazo zacatecano.
I must confess, I’ve always been ambivalent to tamborazo, which sounds a bit like a marching band sometimes. It might just be the Guanjuato/paternal musical influence, but I never warmed to the music. For backyard parties, the tamborazo was always too loud. Sometimes, the horns and woodwinds sounded out of tune and the musicians weren’t that good. There was no singing; and after a while songs started to sound the same. Like the rest of my cousins, I was usually glad when the band took a break and the DJ played pocho-friendly music. Despite my ambivalence, I danced, especially if my 91-year old tamborazo-loving grandpa pulled me out to the dance floor. I love dancing with Papá Chepe and will take every opportunity I get while he can still dance.
I feel a little bad for feeling this way. I’m supposed to be proud of my culture and champion it, right? Even if it hurts my ears?
A few weeks ago my fellow Cargaderense, OC Weekly editor/food writer, and sometimes profe Gustavo Arellano posted on Facebook:
Wonder when Mexican intelligentia will champion tamborazo like they do son jarocho. That’s right: NEVER—chuntis ain’t cool enough to save our traditions.
I commented that I’d be championing my homeland’s music at my uncle’s birthday party later this month. But then I got to thinking and I’m not sure it’s about tamborazo being chunti or less worthy of saving. However, it’s easy to see tamborazo doesn’t enjoy the same cultural capital of son jarocho and other Mexican musical genres despite the large number of Mexicans in Southern California originating from the state Zacatecas. When was the last time you met a Veracruzano in LA? Zacatecanos? They’re all over the place. Zacatecas is one of the Mexican states that sends the most immigrants to the US.
I don’t know why tamborazo doesn’t enjoy the same popularity amongst the intellegentia – young, college educated, hip Chican@s – but I can make some educated guesses.
First, um, maybe some of my peers just don’t like the music. That’s easy to understand. As someone who grow up listening to tamborazo (through hands over my ears), I should champion the music. Still, I can’t see myself hiring a band for my birthday party or wedding. Tamborazo is my grandparents’ music, not mine.
Second, son jarocho has been championed in pop music well before this current intellegentia trend. There’s Ritchie Valens’ classic rock cover of “La Bamba.” Unfortunately, he never recorded a rock version of a tamborazo classic like “La Marcha de Zacatecas”. His hit was rooted in son jarocho. Later, the padrinos of Chicano rock, Los Lobos, recorded an album featuring son jarocho tunes. There was no “El Sauce y la Palma”. Los Lobos even played a modified version of “Canelo” on Sesame Street. It’s neat. There are many more examples of the budding popularity of son jarocho in pop music and culture (see: Café Tacuba’s cover of “Ojalá Que Llueva Café”), and Chicano groups popping up these days are putting their own twist on the genre. I could go on, but I think we got the pop music angle covered. Son jarocho wins there.
Third, other cultural centers and practices include son jarocho. I’ve heard of cultural centers offering jarana classes. In ballet folkórico, I danced to music of several Mexican states including Veracruz. I didn’t know the music was called son jarocho, but I danced to it. Our routines never included any dances choreographed to tamborazo songs. I guess here it is about culture.
Fourth, forming a tamborazo zacatecano means you need musicians who know how to play instruments like trumpet, tuba, saxophone, clarinet and drums. You’ll also need decent practice space. You can strum a jarana in your tiny apartment and probably not piss off your neighbors. Blast away on your tuba and play tab on your snare drum? Um, you’ll probably piss off your neighbor. I’d also venture to say that there are a lot of the intellegentia who never had a decent music education in school where a lot of people learn to play wind instruments. I was lucky to have great music teachers and a decent marching/concert band program, but my school was in the suburbs and my band traveled internationally. If you already have experience playing a string instrument, playing jarana might not be such a big leap. There are some barriers to entry in to tamborazo that might not exist for son jarocho.
Fifth, it’s male dominated. I’ve never seen a tamborazo group which includes a woman. I don’t know if this turns anyone away, but it might be a reason some might not be attracted.
Sixth, there’s no singing. I love singing and telling a good story through compelling lyrics. You can’t do that with tamborazo as there’s no singer in the bands. Even if they play a song with lyrics, you just have to think of them in your head. This could draw some away.
Gustavo may be right. Maybe tamborazo gets no shine because it’s associated with the new, poor, non-English speaking, likely undocumented immigrants. Or it could be that the intellegentia just like singing, playing and dancing at fandangos.