On September 11, 2014 ACTA, debuted the first-ever performance of an ensemble dubbed “Soneros Californianos” on the stage of the Library of Congress’s Coolidge Auditorium, which over the past 80 years, has hosted most of the 20th-century’s greatest performers and composers, including Copland and Stravinsky. This performance on the national stage by three California master artists with their apprentices was ACTA’s curatorial contribution to the annual Homegrown Music Series produced by the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center (AFC), in coordination with the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage.
One of the goals of the series is to bring the multicultural richness of American folk arts from around the country to the Capitol. The American Folklife Center works closely with state folklorists in each state, in this case, ACTA, who advise on artists and styles of performance that are important in their regions. In addition to being a series of concerts for the public to enjoy, the Homegrown Music Series is also an important acquisitions project for the Center. The Library of Congress has been documenting traditional music by staging and recording performances since the 1930s, when Alan Lomax recorded Jelly Roll Morton in the Coolidge Auditorium, and many other musicians in the Library’s recording lab. This has resulted in a significant collection of high-quality recordings in the American Folklife Center’s archive. The Homegrown concerts are also documented along with contextual interviews with the artists and become part of the permanent collections of the Library of Congress for future generations to enjoy and study. A second concert is staged the same day on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium stage with a live web-cast extending the audience globally.
“We had so many magnificent possibilities of artists to consider as ACTA’s curatorial contribution to the series,” said ACTA’s executive director, Amy Kitchener, “but when the AFC suggested their interest in son jarocho music, dance and verse, we dove in.” ACTA has invested several Living Cultures Grants and Apprenticeships in son jarocho practicing artists and projects, and the D.C. concerts presented an opportunity to share these results with a national audience, coupled with the fact that two of ACTA’s program staff, Quetzal Flores and Russell Rodríguez, have been part of the transcommunal jarocho cultural phenomenon since the 1990s. ACTA called upon representatives from three of the several California communities – Santa Ana, Los Angeles, and Richmond – that organize ongoing fandangos – a convivencia, convivial gathering in which the son jarocho music, dance, and poetry forms are practiced, in addition to the sharing of food, conversation, and social interaction. What is also apparent within these communities are engagements of apprenticeships, so to draw on ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program history, we invited master artist Artemio Posadas (San Jose) and his apprentice of more than 15 years, Dolores Garcia (Richmond) from the ensemble Son de la Tierra; Cesar Castro and his apprentice Xochi Flores of the group Cambalache from Los Angeles; and Luis Sarmiento and Ana Siria Urzua of the ensemble Son del Centro of Santa Ana.
Bringing these six wonderful and talented musicians, dancers, and singers together was a joy as they shared music, food, and conversation. The overall goal for their presentation was to make evident the significance of gathering, specifically around the fandango. All the participants, however, articulated diverse reasons why the fandango and the son jarocho are valuable, which included ways to build community, create accessible forms of cultural knowledge, fortify family bonds, and develop a voice to address the situations and conditions of the communities in where they live.
For example, Luis Sarmiento’s utilized the traditional poetic form of the decima to demonstrate how the son jarocho tradition serves as a vehicle for personal expression and critique by writing a series of verses around the issue of deportation and the lack of a just immigration reform. The following is a just one of six verses Sarmiento shared in the performances:
Soy un jaranero errante
I am a wondering troubadour
This endeavor illuminated the power and synergy people develop when they get the opportunity to work together to demonstrate the importance of the traditional cultural practices in which they engage.
You can experience the entire concert which is now part of the Millennium Stage archive at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., at: http://www.kennedy-center.org/explorer/videos/?id=M5995.
See also the program notes, Fandango: Convivial Sharing, by Russell Rodríguez and Quezal Flores, available at: http://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2014/09/fandango-convivial-sharing/.