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Rescued by the Music

November 26, 2023

by Richard Adelman
    photos: Fátima Rodríguez, Alfox Jimenez - Colectivo Afrojarocho

Last Sunday's son jarocho concert, as part of the 28th anniversary party for El Sindicato, was a bit of a roller coaster ride for me.

Son jarocho means the folk music, "son," of the people of Veracruz state, "jarochos." It features vocals, both solo and choruses, accompanied by mostly small guitars called jaranas and maybe a bass and miscellaneous percussion. It is traditionally música campesina, belonging to the farmers of southern Veracruz, where it is still strongest.

It includes a very interesting dance, usually danced by the women, in which there is an earthy zapateo (percussive rhythms played by the feet) that gives the curious impression that the upper bodies of the dancers are somehow floating in air. Son jarocho has a syncopated, polyrhythmic feel, meaning it has a complex repetitive rhythm which generates tension.

Colectivo Afrojarocho (left to right): Roy Galvan (percussion), Isidro Zavaleta (son guitar), Patricio Hidalgo Jr. (jarana), Daniel Valtierra (percussion), Alfredo Salas (bass)

Before coming to San Miguel, I lived in Xalapa, Veracruz, the home of one of the premier son jarocho groups, Son de Madera. In Xalapa I attended many performances of the most authentic groups. From the beginning this musical form really knocked me out. The music had a mesmerizing, hypnotic quality. And I don't mean soporific—this music is very energizing, even the slow, sad, minor-key songs. It was love at first hearing. The communal nature of the experience was also very meaningful to me. I felt enveloped and warmed by both the music and the people.

Sunday's performers, the Colectivo Afrojarocho kept referencing seminal Xalapa group, Son de Madera, during the spoken intros to their songs. I'm a big fan, playing congas with the group at a friend's wedding, helping one of their injured dancers with my Feldenkrais and Pilates and seeing them in concert in Oakland, California accompanied by two of my conga teachers. Then once, I was thrilled when, my wife and I having met the director of the group, Ramón Guiterrez, at a café, and she telling him that I was an AfroCuban percussionist (I hardly spoke Spanish at the time), he said, very knowingly, "Yes, I can see that."

The Colectivo Afrojarocho also referenced another band, Chuchumbé, and one of its members, Patricio Hidalgo, a recent Latin Grammy Award winner, who have figured so importantly in the revival of this music. Seeing Chuchumbé in person years before was a peak experience for me.

When I did, the opening act had been a small, mostly young, son jarocho group, competent and earnest. But when Chuchumbé came on the stage the atmosphere in the room became charged. Older and physically larger, their music was also larger, with more presence and depth, emanating authenticity on another level.

The same thing happened for me last Sunday night. The Colectivo Afrojarocho opened with two singers who also played jaranas, an electric bass player, and two percussionists. It was all skillful and tasteful, but felt incomplete to me. Even though the sound system was turned up too loud (an almost unavoidable occurrence in Mexico), the music was simply not strong enough. I tried to overlook the non-traditional electric bass, but the percussion seemed too loud in relation to the size of the ensemble.

Before attending, I had checked out and loved the full band on Youtube, but I figured, "Well, this is what comes to San Miguel, a skeleton crew, not the whole ensemble." The audience was appreciative, apparently not knowing what they were missing. I was thinking that it was naïve to let my expectations get so high for this performance. At 80 years old I should be a little more seasoned, not going around expecting epiphanies on demand.

But then, the lead singer, who had frequently been praising his father and mentor, the aforementioned Patricio Hidalgo, suddenly invited him and two more string players, also of an older generation, to the stage. Suddenly, the whole group came into better focus. The music was more powerfully expressed, embodied as I know it.

"You are the music while the music lasts."
- T.S. Eliot

The songs in this second act were much longer, as is the normal form. The vocalists were now more animatedly alternating verses, almost like a competitive form which is performed by decimístas (people who improvise 10-line verses). The lead singer's voice even sounded better to me when he was trading verses with his father, less sweet, more seasoned. Maybe I only imagined that, but so what; it made me happy. I was back home with the music I loved.

For the last song, musicians from the audience, who had brought their instruments, were invited onstage. A dozen string players answered the call. I waited to hear whether or not their selection would admit the pair of bongos I had brought. When they struck up La Bamba, the most-popular son jarocho song, I ascended as well, where a chair was very attentively brought forward for me.

It brought me back to 1960 and PJ's club on Sunset Strip where sometimes in the back room I would play with Trini Lopez, the famous guitarist and singer. La Bamba was the song we most regularly played. How vividly I remember. Somehow 60 years doesn't seem so long ago.

After Sunday's concert, before the fandango, the anniversary party, got underway, I spoke with Patricio, who, pleased with my bongo playing, asked for my phone number to arrange for me to play with the Colectivo when they return to San Miguel, a year from now or sooner.

The author on the bongos (right)

Patricio told me that his group's mission is to rescatar traditional forms of son jarocho. Rescatar is probably best translated as "revive," but I prefer its literal meaning "rescue." As with almost everything else, there are commercialized, hyped-up, sweetened-up, diluted versions of this music, from which the authentic form needs to be rescued.

I certainly was rescued from my initial, self-imposed disappointment that evening by the full, authentic version of the folk music of Veracruz.


video by Lokkal


About Colectivo Afrojarocho:

Coming from Monterrey, the group presents its musical offering based on the interpretation of the traditional son jarocho, the assertion of African roots - hence its name - and the possibility of building, from there, new sound proposals. In this way, they try to continue and complement the path that other great Jarocho artists have followed, such as Patricio Hidalgo Belli, recent winner of the Latin Grammy Award.

The collective is directed by Patricio Hidalgo Jr. and Isidro Zavaleta. Both young people from Veracruz arrived at San Miguel de Allende to share the culture of son jarocho with other professional and amateur musicians from the cities of Saltillo and Monterrey, who accompanied them in their presentation. Patricio Jr. is heir to a dynasty of traditional musicians, like Arcadio Hidalgo, his great-grandfather, and Patricio Hidalgo Belli, his father.

The cultural day which was the result of the collaboration between El Sindicato and Colectivo Afrojarocho, began in the morning with a workshop focused on traditional poetry and a talk about son jarocho and cultural resistance, given by Patricio Hidalgo Belli, a special guest at the event, who arrived with other members of his family.

In the afternoon, the Colectivo Afrojarocho concert also included the star collaboration of Hidalgo Belli in front of a packed house, who arrived from all over. The day finished spectacularly with a fandango. Dozens of activists from the jaranero movement from different networks and groups from the states of Querétaro, Guanajuato, and San Luis Potosí participated prominently here.

Although we look forward to the ties and collaborative relationships in this cultural movement growing stronger, it is a fact that this event achieved one of its fundamental objectives, building cultural community.


Richard Adelman, MA Psychology, has been a conga and bongo drummer since the 1950´s and a teacher of those since 1970. Having studied with Cuban and Haitian master drummers in New York, Cuba, and San Francisco, he has taught Afro-Cuban and Haitian drumming to thousands of students over the years. In San Miguel he has played with Gabriel Hernandez and currently plays with a salsa group, La Libertad, every Thursday at La Choperia.

To deepen and enhance his drumming, his music teaching, and his life, Richard began studying the Feldenkrais Method and other body therapies in 1973. He maintains a private and group practice in San Miguel in Feldenkrais movement and hands-on work, a gentle form of Pilates, and Formative Psychology. He sees patients in his office in Centro and at their homes. He also teaches Awareness Through Movement Classes for Seniors at Salón Semilla in Mercado Sano (Mondays and Wednesdays, 12-1:30pm) and gives hands-on therapy in the TOSMA Saturday Market.

Whatsapp 415 197 7895,


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