Son jarocho is the captivating sound of Veracruz, a Mexican state that sits prominently on the Gulf of Mexico. The city of Veracruz has been an important port for nearly five centuries, serving as a point of entry for cultural influences from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Old World. The music of the region embodies those influences, tracing its roots to at least three cultures: Spanish, African (particularly West African, that of Bantu slaves brought to Veracruz), and indigenous Indian. Echoes of Spain can be heard in the harmonic structure of the music, the verse forms, the staccato heel dance style (zapateado), and the stringed instruments; African roots have left their imprint via short choral responses to a lead singer (pregonero), the slurring or bending of notes, and a sarcastic, irreverent attitude to authority; while the Indian influence is evidenced by the frequent use of animals given human characteristics (iguana, parrot, bull, hawk, and dove), staccato eighth-note rhythmic repetitions, and certain aspects of singing style.
Yerba Buena is the third CD of son jarocho by Conjunto Jardin, a decade-old group that has been honored as recipient of an L.A. Treasures Award from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. The name of the group is a play on the Spanish pronunciation of the last name of lead singers Libby and Cindy Harding; the sisters have played and sung jarocho music since childhood, when they learned from and performed with their father, the renowned Latin-American scholar and musician Timothy Harding, whose first wife Pan also performed Mexican folklorico dance and sang with mariachi bands.
The Hardings have now sung together for more than 25 years, and their intonation and vocal blend are nothing short of magical. In addition, their instrumental skills and versatility, and those of the group as a whole, provide a palette of tonal colors that allow them to expand well beyond the traditional bounds of jarocho music. Keyboardist Gary Johnson brings a veritable cornucopia of instruments to the table. Gino Gamboa and Cindy's husband Ciro Hurtado are Peruvian, and addition of the Andean flute (quena) and bamboo panpipes (zamponas) to the mix supplies a subtle breathiness over traditional jaranas (small, strummed rhythm guitars) and requinto (four-stringed lead guitar, plucked with a long bone pua (pick). Cindy Harding, by the way, remains the only known woman requinto player.
In son jarocho, one hears several of the defining features of jazz. The rhythm is syncopated and polyrhythmic, and the vocal style is call-and-response. In Conjunto Jardin, the traditional role of the diatonic Mexican folk harp has been assumed by Gary Johnson's syncopated keyboards. The electric bass of Rick Moors, an aficionado of Caribbean music, and Marcel Adjibi's cajón further underscore the Latin and West African contributions to this music. For example, listen especially for these influences in "La Culebra."
Yerba Buena provides a tasteful blend of traditional and original selections. "El Ahualulco" explores the accordion-based vallenato music of Colombia; "La Yerba Buena con fuga de Guatimé - Mint" conveys a mysterious love song; and "Fandanguito de los Muertos" proves to be a haunting son that segues into an Afro-Cuban montuno version of Libby's original "Para Mis Muertos." "Fandango Jarocho" portrays the wonderful party atmosphere of the fandango jarocho, with luscious fruits, seafood and spirits, and lively music, dance and camaraderie till dawn. The musicianship, variety, and love of music that permeate this CD provide a most satisfying Latin musical experience, as Conjunto Jardin's first two CDs, Nuevo Son Jarocho (Trova, 1998) and Floreando (Trova, 2003) did previously.
Tracks: El Balajú; La Culebra - The Viper; El Ahualulco; La Yerba Buena con fuga de Guatimé - Mint; Fandanguito de los Muertos - Dance of the Dead; El Aguanieve/El Zapateado; Fandango Jarocho - Jarocho Party; La Tuza - The Mole; El Pájaro Cú - The Love Bird; La Vieja - The Old Woman; Conquistador.
Personnel: Conjunto Jardin: Libby Harding: jarana primera and segunda, cuatro, vocals; Cindy Harding: requinto, flute, quena, zampoñas, chaskas, vocals; Gary Johnson: keyboard harp, accordion, piano, electric piano, organ, quijada, pandero, caxixi, cowbell, clave, vocals; Jorge Mijangos: jarana segunda, jarana chaquiste, leona, trés, guacharaca, acoustic guitar, vocals; Rick Moors: bass; Gino Gamboa: cajón; Marcel Adjibi: cajón, congas, vocals. Guest musicians: Ricardo "Tiki" Passillas: percussion; Ciro Hurtado: acoustic guitar; Phil Symonds: electric and acoustic guitars; and Ericka Verba and Mari Riddle: vocals.