Many of the regional styles in Spanish America are song/dance styles using a 6/8 rhythm syncopated with 2/4 and 3/4 rhythms (this is known as sesquialtera). The son jarocho in Mexico is one such style, as is the joropo and its variations in Venezuela and the tonada and cueca in Chile. These styles have their origins in the 17th and 18th centuries in Spanish dances such as the fandango, song styles such as the tonada, and theatrical musical styles that were brought from Spain in the colonial period. Another influence was African/Hispanic music developed by slaves and free blacks.

The son generally has a fast 6/8 rhythm syncopated against 3/4 (sesquialtera) and certain traditional verse forms punctuated by choruses and call-and-response interplay between the singers. The musical framework is a compas, which is a harmonic and rhythmic phrase repeated throughout the piece within which the musicians improvise. The son evolved into distinct types of son in the different regions of Mexico, and the original violin, harp and guitar-type trio also developed into different instrumental combinations.

The jarocho son developed in southern Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico. Spanish influences include the harmonic structure, verse forms, the staccato heel dance style (zapateado), and the stringed instruments. Since this is a region with a strong African cultural influence – because imported slaves were used in plantation agriculture until the early 19th century, and many contemporary jarocho musicians in the area are African-Mexicans – the son has African singing characteristics such as short choral responses to a lead singer (pregonero), slurring or bending of the notes in characteristic intervals in the scale, and a sarcastic, irreverent attitude developed among a people who asserted themselves despite being outside the framework of the Indian and Spanish societies. Indian influence is evidenced in the frequent use of animals given human characteristics (the iguana, the parrot, the bull, the hawk, the dove), marked/staccato eighth-note rhythm repetitions, and some aspects of the singing style.

The term jarocho as applied to the people and music of the region originally meant “irreverent,” but the people have turned it into an assertion of pride.

During the late Colonial period, the Catholic Church unsuccessfully tried to suppress the son jarocho because of what they saw as its devilish qualities. Apparently the bishops took exception to the sones’ frequent use of sexual doble sentidos (double meanings) and tendency to make fun of religion, death, and the church itself.

The musical heart of the jarocho son is the rhythmic and chordal framework provided by the jarana, a small guitar-type instrument with five courses of strings, at least 3 of which are double (making a total of 8-10 strings). The jaranas are constructed in different sizes. Against this the harp improvises sparkling, diamond-bright arpeggios and melodies over a syncopated bass pattern. The small four-string requinto guitar (also called guitarra de son) plucked with a cow-horn pick (pua) improvises more percussive melodies.

While harps came over to the Americas from Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries, they took on different variations of construction and tone in different Latin American countries and regions.

The 6-string “Spanish guitar” was not developed in Spain until the late 18th century, and by that time a variety of distinct guitar-type instruments had developed based on the early vihuela, which had 6 pairs of strings, the 4-string Roman guitar and the 5 double-stringed Baroque guitar. These include the jarana and requinto in Veracruz.

Some groups also use percussion, including the octagonal tambourine (pandero), donkey jawbone (quijada), wooden box (cajón) and other drums whose origins were in Africa, Spain and indigenous Latin American cultures.

To reinforce the bass strings of the harp (or in the absence of a harp), modern jarocho groups often use electric bass, acoustic stand-up bass, or guitarrón (large acoustic bass guitar more commonly associated with mariachi music of Jalisco). Popular among groups in southern Veracruz is the use of the leon or leona, a large baritone requinto that often functions as an acoustic bass. Also gaining acceptance is the marimbol or marímbola, an oversize mbira (African thumb piano) with a large resonator box, on which percussive bass lines are played.


A fandango is an informal gathering of musicians and dancers to collectively interpret son jarocho. It's not a performance, but more like a jam session. Sometimes groups take turns playing, but often everyone plays together. We have helped to organize many fandangos in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.

Anyone who is interested is welcome. If you are interested in attending a fandango, e-mail us your contact information, and ask to be added to the fandango mailing list.