Do you know that feeling when you walk into a bookstore without a plan, reach up on a shelf and lay your hands on a book that changes your life or at least makes a big impact on a chapter of your existence? I guess we call that serendipity. More and more I find that my life is guided in a positive way by this phenomenon. I may suddenly be exposed to wonderful music and it leads to a joyful exploration of the story that surrounds it.

This happened to me recently with the music from Veracruz. Inspired by singer Lila Downs’ Los Pollos ( and Media Luna’s rendition of the classic El Cascabel ( last Saturday morning I approached the market at Olas Altas thinking how I would love to hear some of the Jarocho music from Veracruz. There, at the big stage, were three young women and a young man playing a wonderful array of string instruments; jaranas of various sizes, a requinto and even the quijada de burro—donkey’s jaw used for rhythm—along with a keyboard. The group, La Santa Patrona was out of Nayarit although the members came from several areas of Mexico and as far away as Patagonia, Argentina. All of them had fallen in love with the Jarocho sound which has its roots in the Spanish music that came to Veracruz, African beats from the Caribbean and native indigenous sounds. (

The Jarocho music is not only spirited and delightful to hear but when the lyrics are studied you learn it is filled with fun, “picardía” or roguishness, and double meaning. It is really infectious. The songs sometimes go on forever with verse after verse making fun of everyday situations and each time becoming more hilarious as the singers go on with a second voice often repeating the first in a slightly different manner. Improvisation is important to the genre. In the song El Gallo a woman complains that she thinks the neighbor wants to catch her rooster and make a stew, but then you realize her neighbor may have other plans for her “Gallo” as it refers to her man. The music gives the feeling of a lively community gathering (a Fandango) filled with dance (zapateado), joy, and participation from all present, singing–as the songs are familiar to the entire group–clapping and dancing.

The string instruments are works of art, meticulously hand crafted from one solid piece of a special wood. Nestor Villaseñor from Guadalajara and of the musical duo Tajín specializes in prehispanic musical instruments and has a shop in the market where you can see these wonderful pieces. Your mouth will water viewing them even if you are not a musician! He and Magali Uribe perform many songs from Veracruz at their show on Mondays at Babel Bar. (

Encouraged by my friends Aldo and Alvaro at del Puerto Cafe on Madero near Corona who have been holding Fandangos at their cafe lately to show off the music and dance of Veracruz, I plan to visit the area this summer to experience more Musica Jarocho. I will definitely report back!

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