Jaranas in New York City: Lute Making and Creating Musical Communities

Updated: Apr 30, 2019

By Emily J. Williamson


In the fall of 2013, I was invited by a friend to the annual Encuentro de son jarocho (Son jarocho gathering) in New York City. Since my concentration in ethnomusicology was Mexican music, I was already familiar with the musical structure and technical elements of son jarocho (a regional folk music from Mexico). However, I was not familiar with the community aspects in contemporary son jarocho, let alone the status of a son jarocho community in New York City. The night was a gathering of local New Yorkers, some commuters from New Jersey, and visiting musicians from Mexico. Throughout the evening, amateur performers presented the music they had recently learned and played for the audience. In some cases, a new singer mumbled a word or a player missed a chord on their instrument, but these errors were not seen as “mistakes.” Rather, this evening was dedicated to the learning experience of performing—for the first time for some—and to the celebration of a living musical tradition. After my first encuentro experience, I decided to research how son jarocho operates as a community music in New York City.

Son jarocho is a music, dance, and poetry tradition, originally from the region of southern Veracruz, in southeastern Mexico, bordering the Gulf. The principle musical instruments of son jarocho include: the jarana, a strummed, fretted chordophone that comes in a variety of sizes with eight strings in five courses (the three middle courses are double-coursed) which plays the harmonic cycle; the requinto, a plucked chordophone with four strings that plays the melody; and zapateado, the heel-tapping dance that is the rhythmic accompaniment. While additional instruments such as the harp or violin can be played, the jarana is the most common instrument one will find at a son jarocho event and is central to the recent movement to sustain and revive the music. Even the name for a son jarocho musician has its root from jarana: jaranero.[1]

Jarana: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jarana_primera.jpg

In 2007, Radio Jarocho, one of the first son jarocho groups in New York City, formed and began to play concerts and provide music workshops on son jarocho jarana playing, zapateado dance, and singing.