Our border with Mexico is the catalyst for an impassioned and often vituperous debate about immigration, citizenship, and related issues. In the midst of this furor opportunities for mutually-beneficial fellowship are often scorned when not overlooked altogether, but a growing network of artists and musicians on both sides of the divide are working to transcend barriers, both physical and sociological, to “cross-pollinate” the two cultures. In so doing they hope to have a broader positive impact on US-Mexico relations.
Such efforts at creating camaraderie and forging cross-cultural alliances have a rich history tracing back at least one hundred and fifty years. Radio host Betto Arcos (NPR, BBC Radio 3) invited three prominent figures in Latin jazz, Afro Latin music, and other genres to discuss today’s Border initiatives within that history’s context. The guests include Martha Gonzalez, songwriter and lead singer of Quetzl and an Associate Professor at Scripps/Claremont College; Arturo O’Farrill, Artistic Director of the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance and Professor and Associate Dean at UCLA; and Jorge Castillo, Founder and Director of the annual Fandango Fronterizo festival.
One focus of the conversation is fandango as practiced in Veracruz, Mexico. Originating in Spain and Portugal in the early 18th century, the style has evolved in the New World while retaining some of fandango’s traditional features. In Veracruz fandango is often accompanied by Son jarocho music, a folkloric style that incorporates indigenous, Spanish, and African influences to reflect the region’s fabled diversity. The three panelists in this program stress that the emphasis of fandango is on community, which makes the music ideally suited to the goal of fostering brotherhood. Their lively discussion topics also include fandango’s unique characteristics; its ongoing popularity; how a neophyte may best approach the music; the balancing act between maintaining tradition and encouraging innovation; and the stresses that can arise from enthusiastic amateurism vs. trained professionalism (or inclusionary vs. “elitist”).
For both novice and seasoned veteran, Music and the Border provides an excellent overview of the vital fandango genre, Fandango Fronterizo, and their roles in lessening tensions in the border regions.