Lotería Jarocha: Linoleum Prints

Front Cover
The Porcupine's Quill, 2013 - Art - 133 pages

In the mid-1990s, artist and musician Alec Dempster returned to Mexico, the place of his birth, and discovered son jarocho. A genre of folk music from the Veracruz region of Mexico, son jarocho originated in the 17th century with the confluence of Indigenous, African and European peoples. In Veracruz today, musicians can still be heard singing these traditional sones, passed down orally through the generations as themes or tropes, rather than songs with set lyrics. As Dempster immersed himself in the tradition, speaking and playing with rural musicians, his exploration of the culture resulted in a series of linoleum prints, each depicting a traditional son. Dempster?s imagery, playful and enigmatic, provides a window into a culture virtually unknown outside Mexico. In this stunning collection, Dempster lends his own voice to the prints for the first time, illustrating their genesis and origin in clear, unassuming prose. With Dempster as guide, Lotería Jarocha draws its reader into an infectious culture of music, laughter and dance.


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El borracho
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El conejo
La guacarnaya

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About the author (2013)

El Aguanieve
The rain in Santiago Tuxtla has two flavours: the torrid din of a summer downpour and the penetrating cold of a slow winter drizzle, called aguanieve. In December, damp weather often muffles the sound of nocturnal processions along streets and down alleyways when musicians gather, moving in multiple directions, each with a chorus of followers. Time and place are blurred by the mist and steady rain saturated with the collective incantation of a familiar refrain: ''Oranges and limes, limes and lemons. The Virgin is more beautiful than all the flowers.'' The tranquility, however, is sometimes interrupted by northerly winds which invade the night with violent gusts, shattering windowpanes and rattling tin roofs. Many of the verses associated with this son mention tears, rain and the sea. Longing and departure are also common themes. Perhaps El Aguanieve originated along the coast as a lament for sailors out at sea, with other lyrics attaching themselves to it on its journey inland to places like Santiago Tuxtla where this son has been played for many generations.

El Balajú
Most people sing El Balajú without considering what the title might mean or what the son may be about. This is not surprising because balajú is an archaic word that has disappeared from the dictionary and common usage. Some clues may be found in the verse which is usually sung as an introduction.Because he was a warrior
Balajú set off to sea.
This is what he said to his mate,
- Come and navigate with me.
Who''ll be first to cross the ocean?
Shall it be you? Shall it be me?The maritime theme makes sense in relation to a definition published in 1859 referring to balajú as a schooner found in the Caribbean as well a type of boat used on the Bay of Biscay. The origin of certain verses and songs has been traced to very old songbooks. A songbook from Santiago Tuxtla includes a couple of pages of verses for El Balajú. One verse mentions The Port of Veracruz, Havana and El Muelle Inglés. The latter may refer to a historic port in Panama.

La Bamba
In 1958 Richie Valens rebranded the most emblematic of sones jarochos, in a rock and roll setting. He took his cue from early versions of La Bamba sung by musicians from Veracruz who had found a place in Mexico City''s burgeoning film industry and night club scene. Verses associated with La Bamba indicate that it may have originated in the Port of Veracruz during the seventeenth century when the population lived in fear of attacks by ''Lorencillo'', a dreaded Dutch pirate. I first heard a more traditional interpretation of La Bamba in 1995 on a tape of field recordings made in Los Tuxtlas. A year later I heard a similar version after stumbling off a bus in Santiago Tuxtla. I had walked just a few blocks under the searing July sun when I came across a group of old musicians huddled together playing La Bamba under the protective shade of a storefront awning. They were from different communities taking part in the annual celebrations of the town''s patron saint. After attending a few fandangos I realized that La Bamba is still very much at the heart of the traditional son jarocho repertoire.

El Zapateado
Six short notes are enough to announce the arrival of El Zaptateado with a cavalcade of nails quickly following suit across rows of expectant strings. Two brazen chords are unleashed and begin to sway back and forth like a pendulum, creating the thick sound emanating from the fandango. Meanwhile, the guitarra de son weaves an endless string of melodic variations within the harmonic tug of war. Dancing couples take turns facing each other on the tarima to engage in the rhythmic dialogue. Singers jump into the fray with a piercing cry of ''Ayyyyy!'' as a signal for the dancers to quieten their steps. In spite of the sudden lull each verse must be forcefully sung over the rumble of hard soled shoes, boots, and the cumulative drone of strings and staccato melodies. Throughout the son disparate voices ring out from all around the tarima, drawing from an old well of memorized poetry. The dancers wait impatiently on the sidelines for the end of each verse. Only then is there an opportunity for a change of partners, indicated by a gentle tap on the back.

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