NPR : World Cafe

Filed Under:

Latin Roots: Son Jarocho

Play associated audio

"Oh! It is so good to fly, at 2 in the morning, at 2 in the morning, it's so good to fly, oh mama! To fly and let yourself fall, into the arms of a lady ... The witch grabs me, she takes me to her home, she sits me on her lap, she gives me kisses ... 'Oh, tell me, tell me, tell me: How many creatures have you consumed?' 'Nobody, nobody! I only wish to consume you!'"

The classic Mexican song "La Bruja" ("The Witch") reads like an erotic nightmare befitting a David Lynch film. In a drunken fog, the main character is taken hostage by a witch who has her way with him. A dissertation could be written (and probably has been) about the song's insight into Catholic-Latin sexuality; the enticing fear of the woman who "consumes" men in the wee hours of the night and is promiscuous even in her cannibalism.

The song is a standard of son jarocho — a melancholy yet mischievous genre from the port city of Veracruz, Mexico. It fuses indigenous, Spanish and African elements and unique instrumentation that sounds as raggedy and quirky as its lyrics: the jarana jarocha (a small, guitar-like instrument), the arpa jarocha (a wooden harp typical of the Mexican gulf coast) and the always visually stunning quijada (the jawbone of a donkey or horse).

Not all jarochos are as dark as "La Bruja," but they do tend toward the mischievous double entendre and maritime references — after all, it's music born and raised in the nights of one of the most important port regions of Latin America. The most famous son jarocho is "La Bamba," reinterpreted through a rock 'n' roll lens and made popular by Ritchie Valens in the late 1950s. Its chorus line — "I am not a sailor, I am a captain!" — is one of the most famous chants of Latin music.

While the rest of the world rediscovers cumbia, there's a small movement of young Latin musicians, in Mexico and the U.S., who scheme in their musical laboratories, reformulating son jarocho. Two bands worth noting are Las Cafeteras, who have refashioned "La Bamba" into a more political anthem — but with the same sense of defiant mischief, they replace the traditional chorus line with, "I don't believe in borders / I will cross, I will cross."

One of my favorite new discoveries is the band Radio Jarocho, whose feisty and sexy songs nod to tradition, but would make any supposedly sensual Top 40 star blush. Because as much as people love rolling down the street and jet-setting in private planes, nothing beats flying in the arms of a witch at 2 in the morning.

To explore more, listen to Jasmine Garsd's Spotify playlist.

Latin Roots on World Cafe is made possible through a grant from The Wyncote Foundation.

Copyright 2013 WXPN-FM. To see more, visit http://www.xpn.org/.

NPR

Bonjour, Barbie! An American Icon Packs Her Heels And Heads To France

Some 700 Barbie dolls are visiting Paris this summer. They span almost six decades of pretty, plastic history, including Malibu Barbie, astronaut Barbie, and, of course, Royal Canadian Mountie Barbie.
NPR

Domino's Pizza Tests Drone Delivery In New Zealand

Don't expect the service soon. The head of a drone company told Reuters they have to figure out how to navigate "random hazards like power lines, moving vehicles and children in the backyard playing."
NPR

All Mixed Up: What Do We Call People Of Multiple Backgrounds?

The share of multiracial children in America has multiplied tenfold in the past 50 years. It's a good time to take stock of our shared vocabulary when it comes to describing Americans like me.
WAMU 88.5

A Cyber-Psychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online

Dr. Mary Aiken, a pioneering cyber-psychologist, work inspired the CBS television series "CSI: Cyber". She explains how going online changes our behavior in small and dramatic ways, and what that means for how we think about our relationship with technology.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.