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Latin Roots #34: Jasmine Garsd introduces a melancholy, mischievous genre from the port city of Veracruz, Mexico - May 16, 2013

"Oh! It is so good to fly, at two in the morning, at two 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 fitting of 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 La Bruja's insight into Catholic-Latin sexuality, the enticing fear of the woman who "consumes" men in the wee hours of the night, that woman who is even promiscuous in her cannibalism.

The song is a standard of Son Jarocho- a melancholy yet mischievous genre from the port city of Vercarcruz, Mexico. It fuses indigenous, Spanish and African elements and a very 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 a horse.)

Not all jarochos are as dark as "La Bruja," but they do tend towards the mischievous double entendre and maritime references- after all it's a 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 and roll lens and made popular in by Ritchie Valens in the late 1950's. Its chorus line of "I am not a sailor, I am a captain!" is possibly 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 US, scheming in their musical laboratories, reformulating son jarocho. Two bands to take note of 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, who's feisty and sexy songs are a nod to tradition, but would make any supposedly sensual top-40's 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.

  • Listen to the Show:
    Listen to this Latin Roots session at WorldCafe.NPR.org.
  • Show Tracks:
    • Jose Gutierrez & Los Hermanos Ochoa / "La Bruja" / La Bamba: Sones Jarochos from Veracruz
    • Radio Jarocho / "Los Jaraneros" / Cafe Cafe
    • Ritchie Valens / "La Bamba" / La Bamba
  • Listen to the Playlist:
    To explore more, listen to Jasmine Garsd's Spotify Playlist