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In the high-energy and ever-more-hip musical world of son jarocho, Los Cojolites are on the short list of top acts. Emerging from the small town of Jáltipan in the Mexican state of Veracruz, these young musicians blend modern elements with the traditional blistering 3/4 rhythms and rollicking strings of the genre. Their music has been featured on the soundtrack of Salma Hayek's film Frida, and they have played alongside musicians such as Quetzal, Ozomatli and Zack de la Rocha. The group also cultivates cultural and ecological-preservation projects through the Center for the Documentation and Research of Son Jarocho. "Los Cojolites is a group that intensely live this moment—we're fully producing our culture," says musical director Ricardo Perry Guillén.
Los Cojolites take their name from a pheasant-like bird once venerated as a god of the trees by Mexico's indigenous people. The Coxolitl, as it was known to Nahuatl-speaking people, distinguished itself by its lengthy pre-dawn song. The group formed more than 11 years ago through workshops conducted at the local community center in Jáltipan. Their music highlights the energetic revitalization of the once-disappearing centuries-old tradition of son jarocho. The folk music of Veracruz is a cultural mosaic that blends various elements of Mexico's raza cósmica, combining Spanish, African and indigenous influences. Los Cojolites write songs that vivify the lineage of Veracruz's traditional music. In their arrangements, the melodious requinto traverses the frantic rhythmic strumming of the jarana, while the percussive zapateado dancing atop a tarima marries the marimbol to complete the sound. The group's poetic, passionate lyrics range from nature to social issues and encompass centuries of history.
As cultural ambassadors of son jarocho, Los Cojolites have performed in Spain, France and the U.S. Their current tour includes a stop at Santa Ana's Yost Theatre in celebration of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Earlier this year, Los Cojolites performed before an overflow crowd at El Centro Cultural de Mexico. Seeing a need to host them in a larger venue, concert organizers sought out the historic, now-vacant Yost. (The theater screened Mexican movies for decades before the city broke a promise to resell the property to previous owners the Olivos family in 1985.) "Through this event, as with our Noche de Altares, we are also hoping to further collaborate with the Fiesta Marketplace, in order to further take advantage of and protect this historic community space," says event organizer Luis Sarmiento, who works with El Centro.
Los Cojolites' young musicians will pull out their jaranas, requintos and other son jarocho-related instruments to play new songs from their latest album, No Tiene Fin (Without End). A follow-up to their 2001 debut, El Conejo, No Tiene Fin features new songs as well as traditional son jarocho compositions.
"The album picks up the group's musical experience of the past seven years," says Guillén. When asked about the significance of the album's title, he says, "We firmly believe that if we produce our own culture, do our own fandangos, keep making music, this will have no end—it will continue as it has for three centuries." The new album also features a bonus track with the masked rebel of the Mexican southeast, Subcomandante Marcos. The Zapatista spokesperson visited the Center for the Documentation and Research of Son Jarocho to exalt the musical traditions as part of the EZLN's rebellious "Other Campaign" in early 2006.
As part of a tradition of fandangos sin fronteras, Los Cojolites will be joined by Santa Ana's own Son del Centro. For years, cultural centers on both sides of the border have established links to continue son jarocho's traditions. "This event is an example of the type of transnational collaborations that we develop through the Centro Cultural," says Sarmiento, who also plays for Son del Centro. "At the Centro, we recognize that our community's realities don't begin or end at the border, but extend all the way back to Mexico."
On the other side of that border, Guillén sees son jarocho as essential to building community. "Son jarocho is born of the people, with a millenarian communitarian sense, and son jarocho helps us . . . feel that the music unites us, it tells us that we are from a certain place, that we come from a people, and that we come from a community."
Proceeds from this benefit concert in commemoration of El Centro Cultural de Mexico's fifth annual celebration of Día de los Muertos will help to fund projects in both Santa Ana and Veracruz.
Los Cojolites perform with Son del Centro at Yost Theatre, 307 Spurgeon St., Santa Ana, (714) 662-2002. Fri., 7:30 p.m. $5-$7.