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Young talent brightens music festival

by Miko Sloper Daily Planet correspondent
Friday August 03, 2001

Many casual listeners believe that Mexican music consists of a single style.  

But in fact there is a huge variety within the culture south of the border.  

The concert will present master musicians from four different regions, emphasizing the diversity, strength and quality of traditional Mexican and Mexican-American music and dance. This program features elder master artists together with talented and dedicated young artists. 

Julián Gonzaléz plays violin in the traditional form of mariachi from Jalisco, Mexico, which he performs without the modern addition of trumpets. He learned his technique and repertory from his father and uncle, who learned it from their father. This version of mariachi has the deep soul of legitimate folk music, in contrast to the commercial caricatures which we often hear. 

Atilano López sings many of his songs in Purepecha, one of the native languages of Michoacan.  

Traditionally musicians in this region also dance, so it is likely that López will put down his vihuela and demonstrate a few fancy steps. The troupe of dancers also perform an important role as percussionists.  

López is joined by his two sons, Atilano and Roberto, among the members of his band. 

Santiago Jimenez Jr. learned the art of Tex-Mex accordion from his father, Santiago Jimenez Sr. who was one of the pioneers of this style. Although his brother Flaco combines elements of rock ’n‘ roll and pop music in his version of Tex-Mex, Santiago is proud of the fidelity with which he preserves the flavor of his father’s music. This is the real deal, straight and undiluted. 

Andrés Vega plays music with obvious Caribbean spice. With his son’s harp sounds providing a bouncy rhythmic framework, the other musicians improvise melodic variations and complex counterrhythms.  

The band plays several exotic instruments which are in the same family as guitars and vihuelas, but are used only in Veracruz. This music inspires a party atmosphere, so the hall becomes a fandango with several generations of revelers celebrating together. 

Even though the focus of this program is the grand old masters, perhaps the brightest stars are the young local musicians called Los Cenzontles (Mockingbirds), who play a short set to begin each half of the concert, and also dance and sing during several of the numbers of the various master musicians. In this way, we get to see these traditions being passed on right before our eyes, as the new generation polishes techniques with guidance from their respected elders. 

The members of this local group study traditional Mexican music and dance at Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center in San Pablo.  

They demonstrate deep mastery of all four styles of music being presented on this program, justifying the name “Cenzontles” for mockingbirds are famous for learning the songs of other birds and for their general musical virtuosity. 

This concert is a treasure-store for musicologists or fans of world music.  

Any one of these four master musicians would be worthy of a journey crosstown, yet they are all playing the same venue on the same night. 

Also the dancers perform in authentic folkdance styles. This is not “Ballet Folklorico” in glittering costumes. These are the flirtatious rituals of farmers and cowboys close to the earth. 

Of course, anybody who is already familiar with the riches of Mexican folk music and dance will understand how exciting this concert will be.  

Those who are unfamiliar with these styles should prepare for a treat.