Radio Jarocho Reinvent High-Voltage, Rustic Mexican Party Music

by delarue

Radio Jarocho‘s music isn’t watered-down exotica for politically correct yuppies. It’s raw and roughhewn and funny and fearless, which even though it’s all-acoustic makes it about as punk as you can get. It’s something people might have danced to over tequila shots in a dingy Veracruz cabana fifty years ago – except that with one exception, all of the songs on their latest album, Café Café – streaming at Bandcamp – are brand new.

What Radio Jarocho play is sort of a Son Jarocho counterpart to Very Be Careful‘s rustically biting retro Colombian cumbias. They’ve made the claim that their self-titled 2009 debut album was the first Son Jarocho album ever recorded in New York. The backstory to Café Café, their second release, is that after playing the raucously soulful Mexican coastal repertoire for years, they figured they could write originals that were just as good. They’re bringing them to a fantastic, free triplebill at the Jalopy on Dec 11 starting at 8 at with oldtime string band maven Feral Foster and most likely headlining later, Hubby Jenkins of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. And the Jalopy folks will be donating a portion of all drink sales to God’s Love We Deliver.

The album opens with the title track, Juan Carlos Marín’s requinto (a Mexican tenor guitar) mingling with the flurrying jaranas (shortscale eight-string guitars) of Carlos Cuestas and Emmanuel Huitzil as their dancer, Julia del Palacio keeps the beat going with her pandero hand drum. The lead instrument is Francisco Martínez’s marimbol, an Afro-Caribbean instrument with a midrange tone that looks and sounds like a cross between a mbira and a Jamaican rhythm box.

By contrast, Malhaya el Sueño is a brooding, eerily shapeshifting, waltz-ish nocturne, folk noir done Son Jarocho style. They pick up the pace again with the defiant party anthem Conga Libre, a happy-go-lucky, La Bamba-style singalong and keep it going with the most antique-sounding track here, a hellraising tale aptly titled Los Jaraneros (The Partyers).

Morena es la Virgen is another moody track, flamenco run through a surreal Mexican prism. The wistful waltz La Tristeza is a lot more lively and bittersweet than the title would suggest. Las Comadres (The Wives) works a droll back-and-forth dialogue, the whole band joining in on the chorus as they do on most of the songs, one of the jaranas firing off an unexpectedly jazzy solo..

Se Ve Que Sabes Bailar brings back the flamenco drama and intensity, followed by Conga Le Lé, its dips and swells and animated call-and-response. The album winds up with the anthemic Bemba y Tablao, by popular Son Jarocho songwriter and poet Patricio Hidalgo, who also sings on it. One especially cool thing about this album is that the songs go on for four or five minutes apiece, giving the band a chance to take their time and cut loose and capture the sly humor and exuberance that you’d find at the fandangos where it’s played. And as much fun as this stuff is, it also has depth and gravitas – and you don’t need to speak Spanish to enjoy it.