The new Radio Jarocho album is a vibrant statement of what can be done with a Mexican folk genre that has existed for more than two centuries. Equally urban and traditional on its approach to son jarocho, the band explores new frontiers within the style and presents Café Café, the first record by a jarocho band that contains no traditional songs.
Café Café is the first full-length album by Radio Jarocho, the New York City band that championed son jarocho—a mix of Afro-Caribbean, Spanish, and Mexican Indigenous dance and music—on the East Coast by performing in dozens of concerts and fandangos in several cities, including New York, Washington DC, and Boston.
After years of playing the traditional son jarocho repertoire, Radio Jarocho envisioned a record that would be written, produced, and performed by the group.
“It took us some time to develop our skills as songwriters but we definitely knew we could do it,” says Gabriel Guzmán jaranero and leader of the band. “We would start by taking a line or a verse of a traditional song and make it the subject of a new one. Then we created a particular song structure and added bolder chord changes that sounded more appropriate for an urban band like us. Finally, we polished the melody, the lyrics, and then we had our own song,” says Guzmán.
To accomplish their vision, Radio Jarocho hired Grammy Award-winning engineer Alex Venguer to co-produce the CD. As per the band’s request, the album was recorded live in the studio to minimize editing and overdubs, and then mixed more in the vein of a rock or pop album. The recording ranges from joyful rhythmic songs like “Café Café” and “Conga Libre” to more introspective numbers like “Morena es la Virgen” and “La Tristeza”.
“We did the best to display in our songs the many rhythmic intricacies and rich textures of son jarocho, which we learned from the traditional songbook,” says Guzmán.
The only song not written by the band, and also one of the highlights of the album, is “Bemba y Tablao”—an original song by Patricio Hidalgo, one of the finest poets and jarocho musicians of his generation. Radio Jarocho was lucky enough to have him come to New York for a small tour and find time to go to the studio and record “Bemba y Tablao.” The result is a relentless song adorned with bluesy guitar/bass riffs, Afro-Caribbean percussion, zapateado, and Patricio’s trademark wailing vocals and jarana breaks.
The Café Café album is also a reality thanks to the positive response and encouragement that the band received from the audience when performing their own songs. With this new album, Radio Jarocho is ready to soar.