The sound creation of the jaranero community: Reflections and analysis on the practice of son jarocho on the Tijuana-San Diego border.

Receipt: May 31, 2023

Acceptance: September 19, 2023


This article reflects on and describes the collective practice of son jarocho on the Tijuana-San Diego border. Based on interviews, as well as participatory observation in the spaces dedicated to the performance of son jarocho, we explore the importance of musical and sound production from a communitarian sense among the practitioners of this musical genre rooted in the last two decades in the border between Mexico and San Diego. u.s.a.. This article shows results of research conducted from 2020 to 2022 in this border region as well as information obtained for at least three decades both in the Veracruz region, as well as in Mexico City and other countries. Finally, with the purpose of proposing that the practice of son jarocho is conceived as an alternative to the daily experience of living on the border, through testimonies of son jarocho musicians, a part of the history of this musical genre in the border region is examined.

Keywords: , , , ,

the sound creation of the jaranera community: reflections on the practice of son jarocho at the tijuana-san diego border

This article reflects on the collective practice of the son jarocho on the Tijuana-San Diego border. Interviews and participant observation at places where the son jarocho is played point to music and sound production's role in forging a sense of community among the players of this musical genre that has taken root on the U.S.-Mexican border in the past two decades. In addition to the findings of research conducted between 2020 and 2022 in this border area, the discussion includes information gathered over at least three decades in the Veracruz region, Mexico City, and other countries. Finally, in order to reveal how this particular music is conceived as an alternative to the daily experience of living along the border, musician testimonies shed light on the history of this music along the border.

Keywords: fandango, border, music community, participant music, son jarocho.

Being jarocho in exile
has no other explanation,
the same sad reason
happens all over the world
and in the same trough
have us all drinking,
by force and in any case
capital drags us down,
that damned animal
that is killing everything.
Fernando Guadarrama1


The city of Tijuana currently has a population of 1,922,523 people, according to data from the inegi (2020). Of this population, a little more than half are people who were not born in this city and, despite the existence of a population census, there is a flow of people with peculiar mobility characteristics that are difficult to quantify. Of this population, there are people with dual U.S.-Mexico nationality, or people of Mexican origin who lived in the United States. u.s.a. and for some reason returned to Mexico. In some cases this return is not the result of their own choice, but as a consequence of deportation. In other cases, there are people who go in and out of Mexico as a result of deportation. u.s.a. continuously, which are referred to as commuters, There are also people from transnational communities, such as indigenous people from various Mexican states who enter and leave the country on a continuous basis.

The migrant population to Tijuana historically comes from various Mexican states such as Sinaloa, Sonora, Jalisco, Oaxaca, Michoacán or Zacatecas; but also from Latin American countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, Peru, Venezuela, Nicaragua and from other countries in the world such as Russia, Romania, Turkey and West African countries. In the years from 2016 to 2023, there was a strong migration of population from countries such as Haiti, Ukraine, China, Turkey, Romania and India, as well as from some African countries, each with their respective cultural practices.2 Despite the efforts of U.S. and Mexican agencies to quantify migration as a whole and the population migrating or transiting the U.S.-Mexico border, there is still a need to quantify the number of people migrating and transiting the U.S.-Mexico border. u.s.a. and Tijuana, the data will always be inaccurate, especially with regard to clandestine migration and the deaths resulting from it.3 Today the Tijuana-San Diego border is the busiest border crossing in the world with 130,266 daily crossings in 2022, a year that saw an annual crossing of 43,769,488.4

Among the many cultural expressions from different countries and social groups that come in and out of the Tijuana-San Diego border region, there is a very particular musical tradition called son jarocho. This tradition originally flourished in southeastern central Mexico, specifically in the state of Veracruz and the Sotavento region, but has spread to different cosmopolitan spaces in Europe, Japan and the United States, including cities along the U.S.-Mexico border.

This traditional Mexican genre has had an important diffusion in the last four decades, perhaps similar to that of the mariachi in its moment of national effervescence. Unlike the latter, which has an openly commercial character abroad, son jarocho has established itself as a musical practice preferably communitarian and horizontal in different cosmopolitan cities around the world where people of diverse citizenships and cultural origins tend to live.5 The groups of Jarocha music lovers have spread to different countries around the world thanks, on the one hand, to the migration of people; but above all, due to the media diffusion of the genre, which we will call the musical migration of son jarocho. It is necessary to point out that currently this musical migration, particularly in Tijuana, is nourished by several factors. On the one hand, there is the community infrastructure created by jarocho musicians or son jarocho aficionados who, upon leaving their homes, are inserted into a complex network of migrant solidarity, while at the same time there are the relationships that some musicians and cultural managers have with non-governmental organizations, state and federal institutions interested in the dissemination of son jarocho. Through these organizations, it has been possible to spread the genre and attract some musicians from the Veracruz region, as well as to cover the inputs for the promotion and diffusion of son jarocho as a transcultural and cosmopolitan music. In the case of Paris, civil organizations such as the one that emerged in the independent space Théâtre de Verre, was carried out first from community networks already established by Mexicans in Paris, and then with the invitation of jarocho musicians.6 (Rinaudo, 2019). The diffusion of the son jarocho in the border region, both in u.s.a.. as in Mexico, has been possible thanks to the contacts and communications systematically established by border musicians with the jaranero communities of Veracruz origin.

What role do border, migrant and local musicians play in the cultural reproduction of this tradition? How do border musicians experience the musical foundations of a tradition in a context far from the original musical communities? To what extent do the participants of this musical movement deepen and appropriate both the sounds and their musical structures, as well as the social organization that accompanies them? What creative possibilities does son jarocho offer to migrant musicians and the border population to recreate their sonic cognition in a cosmopolitan society?

The objective of this article is to reflect on and analyze the conditions of the emergence and reproduction of musical communities associated with the performance of border son jarocho. For this purpose, we take up the testimonies provided by migrant and border musicians collaborating in this research, while examining the musical implications of sound reproduction, with the understanding that the performers possess diverse stimuli that make them participate in the reconfiguration of the sound universe of the northern border.

An additional purpose of this work is to analyze and highlight music as a sociocultural articulator of the community environment on the border, so we include transcriptions, field recordings and testimonies that allow us to delve deeper into the subject. Prior to conducting this study, we participated in several fandangos and community meetings in the border region, whose primary objective was the performance and interpretation of son jarocho.

Being part of the jarocho community or being immersed with the people who are interested in son jarocho has allowed us to be part of the links that individuals live from within, as well as to analyze the community through their life experiences and their musical experiences.

Historical notes

Musical migration is not a new phenomenon: instruments, influences and musical systems have enjoyed wide diffusion and mutual recreation between different cultures for centuries (Olmos, 2013: 1).7

Jarocho music is originally a peasant genre nourished by different traditions throughout history. Musical studies of son jarocho often exalt the African roots, the Andalusian influence and the indigenous influence (Loza, 1982; Pérez Montfort, 1992; García de León, 2002).8 It is well known that the son jarocho is nourished by the combination or crossbreeding of African music from the west coast that arrived in Mexico in the 20th century. xviiThe styles and sound universes of the ancient Nahua people of southeastern Mexico have been making up the musical mestizaje of what we know today as jarocho music. As will be specified below, the son jarocho is characterized for being a festive music, which is accompanied by jaranas: a stringed instrument in different tessituras, a bass or "leona" and a requinto or "guitarra de son", which performs the introductory melodies and counterpoints during the interpretation of the son jarochos. On some occasions, depending on the region and the possibilities of the performers, it is possible to include a tambourine, a donkey or horse jawbone, a harp or a violin. In the last decades, around 1990, the marimbol was introduced to the practice of son jarocho; however, this instrument had arrived in Mexico since the thirties of the 20th century. xx with a Cuban group (Rebolledo, 2005). The marimbol, like the African sanza or mbira but larger, has a resonance box made of wood to which metal reeds are attached, which give it its own sonority when played with the fingers of the hands.9

Border soneros (Pedro Chávez, Kevin Delgado, Citlali Canales and Jacob Hernández) play the jarana, requinto, güiro and marimbol. Source: Personal archive, 2022.

The artistic communities created from the son jarocho have discovered a reason to meet with the music, but also with their national imaginaries and in some cases with their regional ancestors. The portentous diffusion and creation of jarocho communities would be incomprehensible if we did not count on the history that made possible the diffusion of this tradition. Jarocha music, as Olmos (2020) has pointed out, emerges with a massive component of origin thanks to the jaranero meetings organized by Radio Educación in Mexico City at the end of the seventies. The great live broadcasting of the son jarocho encounters was one of the most important components that triggered its expansion (Pérez Montfort, 2002). Some years later, the first three discs were published. lp with the recordings of these encounters (Radio Educación, n.d.). From then on, soneros from Mexico City and the center of the country also cultivated a taste for son jarocho. In this context, workshops and fandangos proliferated as natural places and spaces for the jarocho party (García Díaz, 2022). Workshops were held both in Mexico City and in the cities of Puebla and Xalapa. This situation also stimulated the youth of the late 1970s to take action on the vindication of the son jarocho of their places of origin. According to interviews with the producers of Radio Educación, they themselves highlighted the leadership of Gilberto Gutiérrez, director of the group Mono Blanco since the early eighties, who together with other musicians and intellectuals of the region, such as Antonio García de León, were just some of the stimuli that brought together the youth around the son jarocho movement.10

On the other hand, in the Mexican-American scene, in which it is not possible to speak fully of jarocha communities but of diverse Mexican communities settled in California, we cannot fail to mention the incursions that Lino Chávez and Andrés Huesca had in the cities of Tijuana and Los Angeles since the thirties, or Arcadio Hidalgo himself in the eighties (Cardona, 2011: 133; Pascoe, 2003: 46). However, in general terms, the expressions of jarocha music in u.s.a. in the first half of the century xx and until the 1970s were cultivated in a marginal way with respect to the local Jarocho region and the Mexican national culture itself. As mentioned by Cardona and Rinaudo, the Chicano population appropriated the African roots of son jarocho to fight against white racism in Mexico. u.s.a.:

Some musicians of the jaranero movement connected to the academic world appropriated the themes of afromestizaje, of the inscription of son jarocho within what García de León (1992) called "el Caribeafroandaluz" and of the history of this cultural heritage in the Sotavento (Delgado, 2004), with the objective not of "blackening" this practice, that is, of its definition as "black", but of "de-blackening", of reincorporating its African heritage, along with the indigenous and Spanish, in musical projects (Cardona and Rinaudo, 2017: 5).

The Afro-Andalusian claim has been well mentioned in virtually all research on son jarocho. However, except for the research by Delgado and García de León, relatively few studies have delved into the primordial indigenous component of son jarocho as part of this Afro-Mestizo musical expression.11

However, the relationships established between Chicano organizations in the major cities of the region and the u.s.a. at no time did they consider the possibility of spreading the expressions of jarocho music to the border. It must be recognized that since the 1950s, the son jarocho continued through musical channels and networks of Chicano groups, exalted in well-known characters such as Ritchie Valens or Los Lobos (Loza, 1982; Hernández, 2014). However, in the last two decades, the focus of jarocho diffusion in both countries coincided in the Fandango Fronterizo held at the Tijuana-San Diego border in 2008, despite the fact that there were already some fandangos and musical gatherings in border cities both on the Mexican side and in the United States.12 The history of the Chicano son jarocho and the local history of Tijuana coincided at the end of the first decade of the year 2000 with the creation of the Fandango Fronterizo, but in reality, with respect to the history of the son jarocho in other cities of Tijuana, the history of the son jarocho in other cities of the country, the history of Tijuana and the history of the son jarocho in other cities of u.s.a.. these are very different historical and musical processes.

Son's community at the border

The concept of community in anthropological sciences has been changing throughout history, since the local community referred to by anthropologists 50 or 60 years ago has changed radically (Aguirre Beltrán, 1967; Bonfil, 1987; Lisbona, 2005). In various anthropological investigations, Roughly speaking, the community is defined as an entity articulated by solidarity networks where each of its participants knows his or her role and fulfills it for the collective benefit. This role is carried out as a religious duty or derived from the uses and customs established by a historical structure that also depends on the positions, commitments and responsibilities agreed upon collectively within their societies. In the words of Manuel Delgado, "wherever human beings are related by their own will in an organic way and are affirmed among themselves, we will find one or another form of community" (Delgado, 2005: 40).

Participants in the sonorous community who have formed around son jarocho are from the most diverse social strata and nationalities: workers, professionals, academics, musicians, bureaucrats, housewives, married and single women and men, Mexicans born in the United States, Mexicans born in Veracruz and other parts of Mexico, Americans without Mexican ancestry and a myriad of possibilities of the profiles of each of those who enjoy this genre. In this context, the participants assume different responsibilities: some lead workshops, others learn music and others manage the spaces and economic support. In addition to the help they can get from civil and governmental organizations, jarocho musicians are often hosted in the homes of the same local jaraneros who organize the fandangos.

As some anthropologists such as Kearney (1991) and Garduño (2017) have specified, the transnational community finds some features that do not belong to the classical definition of community as an entity that establishes ties of solidarity and cooperation while sharing a historical and socio-cultural reality. Now the community is transnational back and forth in a constant cyclical movement, so that the musical influences end up being reciprocal and mutually influential of the communities that we used to call communities of origin and destination.

In Mesoamerica in particular, traditional communities have faced the onslaught of global hegemony and its consequent social relations through the community strength generated by the strong ties of cooperation among individuals; in parallel, some indigenous cultures in different latitudes have negotiated sensitive aspects of their identity by taking advantage of the use of technologies as links with media postmodernity as we have developed elsewhere (Olmos, 2020).13 In addition, we find transnational migrant communities, both those from local indigenous societies and those belonging to the urban mestizo sphere. Both have set the pattern of socialization established by the mobility of individuals in the northern border.

In the border region there are migrant communities that form part of groups or civil societies in which, even without fully sharing a culture or a long-standing history, they intertwine affections and tastes for music and dance in a way that is very similar to a community that is in some respects imagined, in the sense that individuals can create bonds of belonging based on a common axis that manifests itself in a momentary or ephemeral way, which can arise from nationality, although not necessarily, or regionalism, and which in our case is originated by the appropriation of a traditional music to which one would like to belong, even if in an imagined way, and therefore obtain recognition through its practice. In the author's words, the imagined community is one "whose horizontal camaraderie, solidarity and cultural homogeneity constitute characteristics that only exist in the mentality of its members, as they live immersed in a context full of inequalities and exploitation, as well as internal rivalries..." (Anderson, 1983).

The soneros of the "border community" get together to play on various occasions. In San Diego they are frequently invited by Eduardo García, one of the most important soneros in the city. In other California cities such as Santa Ana, Los Angeles and San Francisco, there are also musical groups fond of son jarocho (Balcomb, 2012). On the Mexican side we find performers of jarocho music in Tijuana as well as in Ensenada and Mexicali. In recent years, the Jaranero Movement on the border has gained some relevance due to the call made by some groups that perform the genre in schools, cultural centers and at gatherings of friends. The jarocha music movement also encompassed the publication of some border research works (Zamudio Serrano, 2014; Gottfried, 2014) to which we will refer below. Regarding the studies of the cosmopolitan jarocho community, one of the main conclusions of Koen's (2022) research indicates that a good part of the practitioners of son jarocho music in the Tijuana and San Diego region consider themselves as part of a local community, which in turn has a connection with a broader movement of traditional son jarocho.

In the analysis of the fieldwork and the testimonies of the soneros, it was observed that the sounds, musical structures and particular dynamics of the practice of son play an active role in the production of this community feeling. The ethnomusicologist Kay Kauffman Shelemay (2011) defines three types of music communities that are present in the two border cities. However, when referring to the idea of community in the interviews it was evident that the soneros were speaking of an even more basic type of bond that touched on collective sensibilities. That is, in the border reality the soneros seemed to be referring to a type of collective friendship that focuses on shared experiences in a broad sense, through son jarocho:

When we see each other, we are there, aren't we? Because we get together in the fandango. [I don't know, there were many people who got sick during the pandemic and we tried to talk to them, to communicate with them to find out how they were doing; well, it marks a little more of that closeness, doesn't it? It's the fact of wanting your fellow fandango members, your son, to be well (M. López, personal communication, March 10, 2022).

Pedro Chávez, a young sonero from Cosamaloapan, Veracruz who lives in Tijuana, insists on the fact that being in a community implies care and concern for others, as he points out in the previous quote. For Pedro, being part of the community also implies assuming some responsibilities in the son events, both in terms of attendance, organization and music:

For me the community is people who are two or three hours away from here, or like me, I am two or three hours away from San Felipe or the Bay, I go to the huapango to fulfill, to serve the role that I must serve in the huapango (P. Chávez, personal communication, February 24, 2022).

What exactly does this imply, what role should the musician assume in a fandango, and how does playing this particular music with others promote a community connection?

The structures of son jarocho and ancient migrations

This section explores some of the participatory and community aspects of son jarocho that have been observed on the border along with the historical foundations of this musical genre. Alan Merriam, in his seminal work The anthropology of music (1964), stresses the importance of studying music, with its particular sounds and structures, together with the concepts that integrate it into the activities of society - which can reveal important questions of values - and the behavior that music ultimately produces. Even before playing or singing a note, the brain is already planning to interact with a system of sound rules that hierarchizes certain tones, the distance between them, their duration and the technologies that will be used to produce them, for example. Different musical systems restrict or open up opportunities for participation for an individual or a group, which in turn evidences sociocultural values implicit in the design of sounds and musical structures. Ethnomusicologist Thomas Turino (2008) suggests that the universe of possibilities for musical organization can be represented by a spectrum that includes four categories of artistic fields. One of these categories, participatory music, is especially oriented towards the creation of community feelings among people through participation in music and dance. This author argues that the participatory music employ musical forms and encourage attitudes that limit individual virtuosity and prioritize the creation of a meaningful collective experience in which everyone can take part, whether they are experienced musicians or not.

If part of the practice of son jarocho in Tijuana and San Diego exhibits some of these characteristics, as observed in Koen's research (2022), it is clear that this is a long-standing historical process that began in the 20th century. xvi with significant musical migrations to American lands, which implied the resignification of sounds and musical practices.

The son jarocho had a long period of gestation in which a whole world of ideas, artifacts, economies and cultural and musical elements were introduced to the continent through the Port of Veracruz and coexisted with everything that was already there; little by little they were transferred and adapted to the life of the people who inhabited the lands further inland and to the south of the port (García de León, 2006). Most probably, as a result of this process -before being a more or less stable genre, homologated and associated with a territory-, the music of the Jarocha region already gathered instrumental elements with which it is known today. A particular element that distinguishes this genre of Mexican son from others is precisely its grouping of instruments. This may vary among the different regions of central and southern Veracruz, but the basis of son music for centuries has been the jarana jarocha in its various tessituras. The jarana is a popular instrument of rustic manufacture that derived from the first guitars brought by the Iberian conquerors to the American continent, what today are known as Renaissance guitars of four orders, and it is possible that over time the local luthiery was also influenced by the popularity of the Spanish baroque guitars of five orders of the century. xvii and xviiiresulting in the range of jarana sizes and tessituras that we know today (Mejía Armijo, 2023; Cruz, 2023; García de León, 2002).

Even the music of composers such as Gaspar Sans of the xvii and his well-known Canarios, which belonged to a popular genre of several Mediterranean countries and the Canary Islands, were part of repertoires widely spread in Spain at that time. These canaries, popular at the time in the 20th century, were part of a repertoire widely spread in Spain at that time. xvi and xviiIn Europe, they were taken up by several composers, among them Kapsberger and the aforementioned Gaspar Sans, well known in the guitar repertoire, while in Latin America forms similar to the canaries were appropriated by indigenous populations. In Mexico, with the same name and similar melodic turns, we found canaries in indigenous Nahua communities of the Huasteca Hidalguense in the center of the country, as part of their ritual music (Camacho, 2003; Jurado, 2005; Cruz, 2002). We recorded them at the end of 1986 in the Huasteca Hidalguense, although we have also confirmed their presence in indigenous communities in the central part of the country (Camacho, 2003; Jurado, 2005; Cruz, 2002). yoremes and yoemes (Yaquis and Mayos) of Sinaloa and Sonora (Olmos, 2011). In addition, it is well known that there are old pieces for guitar from the Baroque period that -just as some popular pieces remained in Europe especially in the rural context- transcended in time in Mexico and, in some cases, the rhythmic, melodic and harmonic similarity is accompanied by similarities, as is the case of son jarocho pieces such as "El guapo-Villanos", "La lloroncita" and "Los ympossibles" and "La jotta-María Chuchena" (Cruz, 2002).

In the Jarocha region, the body of the jarana was traditionally carved from a single piece of cedar and there was a wide range of sizes. As mentioned, today, especially in urban centers where son is practiced, such as Tijuana and San Diego, the instruments have been standardized and jaranas are found in all tessituras, from the smallest to the largest: chaquiste, mosquito, primera, segunda, tercera and tercerola.

In its form, the jarana maintains many features of its Renaissance ancestors (Mejía Armijo, 2023), including the use of string orders, that is, double strings tuned in unison or an octave apart, as well as wooden pegs and a tuned soundboard. In practice it is notorious that the most common tuning of the renaissance guitar (Bermudo, 1555: Libro ivxcvi; Fink, 2007) is virtually identical to the most popular tuning of the jarana, popularly known as by four:

Figure 1. Common tunings of the renaissance guitar and the jarana primera.
Source: own elaboration.

Although most jaranas jarochas have a fifth string (although not all, as there are jaranas in some regions such as Tlacotalpan that have, like the Renaissance guitar, only four strings), it often serves the function of a second drone, duplicating the first string on the other side of the fingerboard, which does not alter in essence neither the similarity nor the ease in the way chords are formed in both instruments. The Renaissance four-course guitar used to be played with plucked finger plucking, just like the lute and the Spanish vihuela, but strumming was added to this technique. In the xvi not everyone liked this technique, and some of the earliest texts mentioning the guitar record complaints about the relative ease with which it could be played and its louder volume compared to the sounds produced by the vihuela when plucked (Covarrubias, 1611: fol. 209v). However, these voices must have been a minority, as the guitar soon became immensely popular not only among cult musicians, but with the popular classes as well, and perhaps it was precisely this ease that made the jarana an instrument of enormous popularity in the sotavento in subsequent centuries and certainly one of the technologies that oriented the practice of son jarocho towards the creation of collective and probably communitarian senses.

The jarana in the hands of a maestro can become an infinitely complex instrument, a tool for strumming and percussing a myriad of rhythmic variations, as ethnomusicologist Daniel Sheehy (1979) documented a total of 75 maniqueos (cyclic strumming patterns) commonly employed by jaranero jarochos. However, in the practice of son in Tijuana and San Diego it was observed that most jaraneros employ only four basic maniqueos to interpret almost all sones: 1. ↓↑↓↑↓↑ 2. ↓↓↑↓↓↑ 3. ↓↑↑↓↓↑ 4. ↓↑↓↑↑

In Tijuana and San Diego, the common repertoire for son jarocho events appears to consist of approximately 25 traditional sones, with minimal differences between the two cities. The son jarochos are not songs with fixed lyrics and melodies (Gottfried, 2005), but more open forms comprising a rhythmic-harmonic pattern, melodies with variations, verse verse stanza, meter and theme, song organization, and zapateado rules. Of these, most are rhythmically ternary and frequently a 6/8 time signature is juxtaposed to the basic 3/4 time signature, creating a vertical sesquiáltera. A smaller number of sones, such as "El Colás" and "El Ahualulco", are binary. Each has a particular accentuation, creating syncopations in some sones between the percussive strumming of the jarana and the percussion of the feet on the floor in the zapateado:

Figure 2. Syncopations of the jarana and the tarima in the Toro Zacamandú. Source: own elaboration.
Audio 1. Zacamandú bull. Source, 2022. Personal Archive.

This interaction creates tension and rhythmic interest, and allows a novice jaranero to enter into a musical dialogue with more experienced practitioners in other roles, such as zapateado. In their testimonies, jaraneras like Cris Cruz highlighted another aspect that facilitates the immediate participation of first-time jarana players: the limited harmonic vocabulary of many jarocho sones.

when you realize that with three chords you can make a lot of sones, it's like, ah! Well yeah, also people realize that it's not hard to be able to play an instrument, right? It's not so hard to be part of this, to join this community. I think that's nice too, isn't it, that it's simple, maybe, that someone can join like, ah! look, there it is. C, one little finger, G, three little fingers, and with those two, that's it. Look, you don't even have to do the F, right? It's just a step. In other words, with two chords you can play up, down and start, let's say. Take the first step. And that's how it's done (C. Cruz, personal communication, March 18, 2022).

Of the approximately 25 sones of the general repertoire, about half include only the tonic, dominant and subdominant in major (i, v7 y iv). Since it has become standardized to play sones in major by the key of C not only in Tijuana and San Diego, but in many other urban contexts as well, a beginning jaranero only needs to master the chords of C, G7 and F to be able to participate in the music from the very beginning. These are some of the easiest chords to form in a tuned jarana by four.

As in other places, in Tijuana and San Diego the instrumental melody of each son is played by the requinto or guitarra de son, an instrument with four single strings (although there are variants that have orders of strings or up to five single strings). It is played with a plectrum, and it is likely that this instrument is a descendant of the Renaissance bandola or bandurria (Mejía Armijo, 2023). As mentioned above, other melodic instruments include the leona-an instrument virtually identical to the son guitar except for its large size-which usually accompanies the main melody with a lower counterpoint, the diatonic harp, and on certain occasions the violin. These instruments are initially much more difficult to play than the jarana and carry the additional responsibility of "declaring" the son in such a way that it is instantly recognizable to the other players, as well as constantly improvising variations on the main instrumental melody.

In son jarocho, differentiated roles such as the jarana, primarily harmonic and rhythmic, and the requinto, mainly melodic, as well as the zapateadores and versadores, represent different degrees of responsibility in a son jarocho event, where an unlimited number of musicians can participate. Turino (2008) points out that it is crucial that a participatory music presents its practitioners with progressive challenges that bring people of all ability ranges into a similar state of attention. This allows them to enter into a musical dialogue in which practitioners begin to sound and move in sync:

This need to pay attention is a kind of intensification of social interaction; when the music is flowing, the differences between participants seem to melt away in the immediacy of focusing on the fluid articulation of sound and movement. In these moments, moving and sounding together in a group creates a direct sense of being together and of a deeply felt similarity and identification with the other (Turino, 2008: 43, own translation).

Although the weekly son jarocho gatherings in Tijuana and San Diego include many of these sones, forms and structures, the son event that has brought all of the above elements together for centuries is the fandango, a festive ritual that border soneros consider the centerpiece of their practice. The fandango jarocho apparently stems from the so-called "fandango con bombas" that arrived in the Port of Veracruz in the early 1900s. xviiiThe dance, coming from the ports of Santo Domingo, Cuba and Puerto Rico, where it was already in vogue (García de León, 2002: 67). What was initially a musical and zapateo show on a wooden stage for an audience was transformed when it was incorporated into the life of the Veracruz countryside, becoming a ritual of connection and collective catharsis. At a distance of centuries and thousands of kilometers, the fandangos of Tijuana and San Diego still preserve something of this function.

For Turino, one of the fundamental differences between stage music, what he calls "the music of the stage", and the music of the stage, which he calls "the music of the stage". presentational music, and a participatory music, as the fandango son jarocho, is the presence of an audience in the former and its absence in the latter. In presentational music, a group of people who are specialists - the musicians - prepare the music for another group: the audience.

Photo 2. Son de San Diego delights an enthusiastic audience. Source: Personal archive, 2021.

In the fandangos of Tijuana and San Diego this division does not exist: everyone present participates in the production of the music and the occasion, that is, the music is produced by and for the participants. A visual way to understand this is by observing the placement of the practitioners in the space during a fandango (Zarina Palafox, 2014: 37). In the following two photographs, one can see how the soneros form a circle or semicircle around the platform and play inward, for them. This contrasts with the value orientation in a concert, in which musicians express another musical-socio-cultural constellation where they project -sounds and meanings- towards an audience that does not actively participate in their production.

Soneros tijuanenses in the Fandango del Mar de Cortés. Source: Personal archive, 2022.
Photograph 4. Soneros from Tijuana, Mexicali and San Felipe at a fandango in Tecate. Source: Personal archive, 2022.

The fandango jarocho uses an arrangement of space that facilitates musical communication between participants and a heightened state of attention to the sounds and movements produced by others. Eventually, the notes and rhythms of the different musicians and dancers and their movements align in perfect synchrony. Such was the case during the 2022 Fandango Fronterizo. In the short video below you can see how the bodies of the soneros move together:

Video 1. Fandango Fronterizo. Source: Pedro Chávez, 2022, used with permission.

At the same time, a moment of rhythmic synchrony between the jaranas, the requinto and the güiro can be heard in seconds 14-17 during which they play this sequence of rhythms:

Figure 3. Rhythmic synchrony during the Fandango Fronterizo, 2022
Source: own elaboration.

Turino (2008) suggests that these moments of synchrony and connection throughout an event, such as a fandango (which often last more than eight hours), create strong feelings of identification and collective well-being among participants. When the same group of people decide to repeat the fandango experience over time, it can form the basis for the creation of strong community bonds. In their original localities, ritual events such as the fandango jarocho often function as the condensation of a pre-existing community life in which relationships are renewed among people who live in close proximity to each other. In the border context, this process works the other way around, as the fandango may be the mechanism through which these ties are created among people dispersed throughout the urban territory.

Recent migrations

By the year 2000 Tijuana and San Diego had already seen many different musics come and go. These two border cities are among the largest in their respective countries, so they have attracted diverse cultural movements that frequently come into contact with the other side. In many cases, the sounds and practices that have become popular in this region have been the result of the music that the migrant people themselves, already in this new context, reproduce from their memory. In others, the migration of music is not directly linked to the movement of people, but manages to insert itself into a new context thanks to a media concentration (Olmos, 2013).

The migration of fandango jarocho sounds to Tijuana and San Diego took place in a more confusing way. They approached the Tijuana-San Diego border from multiple fronts in the early years of the new millennium. In 2002, a group of San Diego arts and music teachers won a grant to travel to Veracruz to study traditional music. in situ. One of them, Eduardo García, was especially moved by the music and fandangos he experienced there, and decided to try to implement what he had learned back in San Diego with the help of the other maestros. In Tijuana in 2005, Los Parientes de Playa Vicente and Los Utrera, two well-known son jarocho groups, gave a concert at the Tijuana Cultural Center. Carlos Rosario, a decimero and jaranero originally from Tlacotalpan who had been in Tijuana for years yearning to find companions with whom to play the music of his lands, discovered that day that there were other jaraneros present at the event, and when the concert ended he decided to announce that there would be a fandango at his house that same night (Zamudio Serrano, 2014: 50). Sergio Vela Castro, a musician from Mexicali, through records and a trip to the 2001 Encuentro de Jaraneros in Tlacotalpan discovered that there was a variant of son jarocho beyond the stage folkloric son, and began a long process to spread the sounds and practice of the fandango in his city (Vela, 2009).

The migration of people from Veracruz to the border region, such as Carlos Rosario, over the years has had a clear impact on the presence of son jarocho in Tijuana and San Diego. Equally important has been the diffusion of the so-called "Movimiento Jaranero" (Jaranero Movement). This movement, which began in the 1980s, was in part an attempt to reclaim the son jarocho that was played in the rural areas of Veracruz and which had been diminished after decades of promotion by the Mexican State (Pérez Montfort, 2000) and the presence on radio and television of a stylized and staged version of the son. From its beginnings, the Jaranero Movement has been mixed, as it has involved translating, once again, a participatory music to the stage and in the process different traditional son groups have found commercial success (Figueroa Hernández, 2007). At the same time, many of these same exponents have worked for years to revive the fandango in Veracruz and also to spread it to new places, especially in the large cities of Mexico and the United States. In Tijuana and San Diego there has been a constant coexistence of both aspects of the movement, the commercial and the community, and at times this has been a source of friction and tension.

Aside from the workshops, weekly gatherings and fandangos that have taken place consistently in the border region over the past 20 years, one event with which soneros from Tijuana and San Diego have clearly appropriated son jarocho with a new purpose is the Fandango Fronterizo. Musician Jorge Castillo comments that in 2008 he had the idea of joining the task of convening soneros from the border region in a fandango that would be held simultaneously from both sides of the wall (Zamudio Serrano, 2014). Since then, 14 editions of the Fandango Fronterizo have been held, and the show has resonated with people not only from the region but from many other latitudes, and more and more practitioners from different parts of Mexico, the United States and even Europe travel long distances to attend. However, its popularity has driven some rifts in the son communities of Tijuana and San Diego, although for many other soneros the festival continues to represent a source of pride. This came to a climax in 2018, when the documentary film Fandango at the Wall and an album of the same name. In February of that same year, a live version of the album featuring several prominent son jarocho musicians along with Arturo O'Farril and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra won a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album.14

These events have been met with mixed reactions, not only in the border region but among soneros in different places. While for some it is an honor to see their musical genre and the fandango jarocho receive important awards and recognition from a wider public, others feel that they were not adequately represented or that the media attention may distort the practice of fandango. In any case, both the Fandango Fronterizo and the more local son jarocho events in Tijuana and San Diego represent a new way of using the sounds and structures of son, which enable a connection between participants. But what does this connection mean in the lives of the practitioners, and what new possibilities does son jarocho really offer in the border context?

The imaginary life of sounds on the border

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1994: 113) insists that, although music possesses an internal structure that does influence its meaning, the musical vocabulary is not capable of connoting "the data of sensitive experience", so that "the world of sonorities is wide open to metaphors". The previous sections of this text have sought to understand how certain structures embedded in sound organization and practice actively participate in the production of emotional states and strong connections between people. However, musical migration implies transformations in the way sound systems communicate (Olmos, 2013), so music in a new context also opens up to new metaphors.

Due to the heterogeneity of the processes of border soneros, it is not possible to generalize in absolute terms about their perception and resignification of the practice of son jarocho. However, in the interviews conducted by Koen in 2022, similar discourses were observed that set aspects of son jarocho in opposition to the daily reality of living in a border city. More than merely national differences, the testimonies suggest that the sense of community and connection that practitioners manage to create through son jarocho serves as an antidote to various symptoms of overmodernity (Augé, 1992), which are exacerbated in the border region. For example, for Eduardo García the main objective of the purpose of coming together through son jarocho is "not to be alone," which is a clear necessity in light of the separation and alienation that several of the soneros said they felt in their day-to-day lives in the two cities. Thus, for example, the synchronicity and connectedness experienced in the fandango can serve as an important metaphor in a collective imagination that seeks to present an alternative to the alienation from society that practitioners claim to experience. Below is a table that identifies associated elements that emerged from the soneros' testimonies. It is suggested that these form part of antagonistic imaginaries that are shared by several of the practitioners in Tijuana and San Diego.

Table 1. Oppositions of imaginaries of son jarocho and life on the border. Source: Own elaboration.

The son jarocho in the border cities seems to attract people who for different reasons are looking for a common strategy to counteract their feelings of loneliness and they find it in a concrete way in the sounds, in the union that is experienced in the fandangos and son events thanks to the structuring of its sounds.

Photo 5. Son jarocho, migra and muro coexist in a fandango in Playas de Tijuana. Source: Personal archive, 2021.

They also find it in an imaginary way in the new metaphors that are projected by their contact with the lived realities of these two cities.

It's the promise of a human connection in a context where there is none. I think that's pretty universal. That's what I think, because there are other musics, right? There are other musical genres. What is extra about son jarocho is the performative event called fandango. I think that is a very, very important element. It is a promise of union. And then, for those of us who have had beautiful experiences in the fandango, it is a longing to repeat those experiences, isn't it? And to repeat them in contexts... It is wonderful to think that you can go, knowing a basic musical language, that you can go and participate in a fandango in different latitudes, isn't it? (E. García, March 15, 2022).

Recently there has been much attention devoted to new musical technologies and intense discussion about how they will change musical practice and aesthetic codes as a result. The case of son jarocho on the Tijuana-San Diego border allows us to reflect on old musical technologies and their potential to communicate, be meaningful and impact unexpected contexts.


As we have pointed out, the creation of the sonera community on the border is a process that gradually unfolds. Many people, institutions, families, diverse groups whose only passion is the music of the Veracruz sotavento have participated in this path; characters that have come, others that come and go and others that remain. Thus, the music associations and collectives that like son jarocho have increased in the last decade; there are face-to-face communities and virtual communities that dialogue and coexist incessantly with the population that likes son jarocho.

The recreation of son jarocho tries to follow a ritual pattern that has been traditionally called fandango, which is regulated in a communitarian way with specific times and spaces; in real terms, the fans of the diasporas appropriate the genre in their own way and according to their economic and creative possibilities. The meetings and fandangos that take place in Tijuana or San Diego respond to different logics formed by people who have led their conduction. The rhythms, harmonies, accentuations and musical and dance expression vary according to the knowledge of each of the social agglomerates scattered all over the planet. There are those who vindicate orthodoxy and those who are open to all kinds of musical innovations possible as a result of the musical practice of son jarocho. Each segment manifests its concern in this respect, the fact is that the traditions and cultural practices have been maintained until today with the denomination of son jarocho, but in the near future very probably the expressions in the whole world will become part of musical expressions inspired by the musical tradition of the Veracruz son jarocho.

A new phenomenon has joined the community and communicative culture in recent years. The world of artificial intelligences has influenced the musical world and it is now possible to create pieces based on fusions or specific styles, with which musical authorship and creativity have been overtaken by algorithms and intelligent processes that constantly learn from the habits, customs and consumption of musical audiences. For the same reason, copyrights, including those of traditional collective-authored music, are increasingly erased. The images and sounds of different cultures are linked to collective desire and are therefore prey to the commerce of certain musical genres and of various arts in general. In this sense, communities have also been transforming with the passage of time, new technologies, modernity and overmodernity have imposed times, accelerations and fictions in community life. In the face of this acceleration of history, nameless faces and the depersonalization of urban spaces, forms of community persist that, although they are traversed by the aforementioned processes, establish the material reunion for the pleasure of joining collectively to feel the living presence of the attendees. Among these communities are the son jarocho collectives to which we have referred in this document. Beyond the real presence of the living music, the link that moves the border soneros is a bond that shows us, on the one hand, the extension of the local community, but also speaks of the intense need to recognize ourselves among musicians, where we hope to find a space for our subjectivity at the moment of losing ourselves among ephemeral faces that disappear in the cosmopolitan border imprint of the cities of Tijuana and San Diego.

The migrant son jarocho
is heard around the world,
as a noble knight
the reigning yoke is lifted,
and the weight of the great giant
that has good people
eating from their hive;
sad civilization,
disturb us, and rightly so
making other people's lives...
(Miguel Olmos Aguilera, 2023)


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Madison Ree Koen holds a master's degree in Cultural Studies from El Colegio de la Frontera Norte. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Music from the University of North Texas and a Bachelor's degree in Spanish, also from the University of North Texas. As a musician he has participated in several orchestras and groups of traditional Mexican and early music in Mexico and the United States, such as Mariachi Quetzal in Dallas, Texas, and Grupo Segrel in Mexico City.

Miguel Olmos Aguilera D. in Ethnology and Social Anthropology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. He has been a researcher at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte since 1998. He has conducted fieldwork in different border cities and with various indigenous peoples in northwestern Mexico and southern Mexico. u.s.a.. He directed the Department of Cultural Studies from 2009 to 2013. Since 1998 he has been a member of the National System of Researchers, Level ii. His books include: Cultural borders: otherness and violence, colef, 2013; Migrant music, Librenia Bonilla Artigas, uanl, uasMexico, 2012; Indigenous music and contemporaneity, inah-colef, 2016 y Ethnomusicology and globalization, colef, 2020. He has taught at universities in Mexico and abroad.


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EncartesVol. 7, No. 13, March 2024-September 2024, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: March 25, 2024.