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Updating and reinvigorating the lively son jarocho of Veracruz, Mexico, Los Angeles-based Conjunto Jardín (cone-HOON-toe har-DEEN) features sisters Libby and Cindy Harding – the band’s name is a play on the Spanish pronunciation of their last name – on the traditional jarana, a small strummed rhythm guitar, and requinto, a 4-string lead guitar plucked with a long bone pua or pick. (Thus the expression “I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”) Their sibling vocals ride atop hard-charging jaranas, driving cajón-and-bass rhythm section and sparkling harp-like keyboards to create a fresh, modern sound that is at once faithfully traditional, yet at the same time possessed of a rock-influenced drive and accessible edge. The group was nominated for Best Latin/Salsa Artist in the 2003 L.A. Weekly Music Awards, and is the recipient of an L.A. Treasures Award from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.

Their long-awaited third album, Yerba Buena, was released May 5, 2008. It features an expanded palette of sounds and rhythms – including quena (Andean flute), zamponas (bamboo panpipes), accordion, organ and other electric keyboards, electric guitar and rock- and Colombian vallenato-inspired grooves – as the group continues to expand the borders of son jarocho. The extraordinary artwork and package design is by young Chicano artist Daniel González.  See Recordings.

Cindy and Libby ("La Xeminita Hendrix" and "La Bruja", respectively) started playing jarocho music as children, learning from and performing with their father, renowned Latin American scholar and musician Timothy Harding (“El Gran Tigre”), and his group Los Tigres de la Sierra. They have further honed their skills with trips to Veracruz and by studying with master jarocho musicians in Mexico and the U.S. Both played key roles in seminal ’80s nueva canción group Sabiá: Cindy co-founded the ensemble while at Brown University in 1976, and Libby’s original songs and “deceptively delicate” lead vocals defined the band’s core sound. After singing together for more than 25 years, the sisters achieve that special vocal blend unique to siblings. And La Ximenita is still the only known woman requinto player!

Around the traditional core of jarana and requinto, Conjunto Jardín features keyboardist Gary Johnson (“El Pulpo”) on “incredible keyboard-harp simulations” (Tom Cheyney, L.A. Weekly), as well as quijada de burro (donkey jawbone), pandero (large wood-framed tambourine) and jarana. The native Oklahoman but longtime L.A. resident’s varied musical résumé includes Del Shannon (yes, he got to play the famous “Runaway” proto-synth keyboard solo), the Rick Vito Band with Russ Kunkel and Bob Glaub, Robben Ford, the Bonedaddys, Steve Ripley, Fast Fontaine, Sabiá, Word of Mouth, Michele Greene, Ritmo Mela’o, the Ciro Hurtado Group, and Blue Rose Café (with Kevin Welch) among others. El Pulpo has worn many funny hats on stage. This makes one more.

Connecting the dots from Veracruz to Cuba and back to Africa is Marcel Adjibi (“El Capitan”) from Benin, West Africa, on cajón – the wooden box drum originated by black slaves in the Americas – talking drum, chekere and vocals. His surging crescendos and African vocal touches add a below-the-waist rhythmic sway that makes tangible what’s often debated by scholars of son jarocho: the genre’s African roots. (“La Bamba” was written by an African ex-slave in the 1800s.) His professional career has taken El Capitan from Ivory Coast and Senegal to Paris, Washington, DC and Los Angeles, featuring stints with Manu Dibango and Aster Aweke among others.

With Marcel now a part-time member following a move to Texas in 2006, Conjunto Jardín now benefits from the estimable contributions of master Peruvian cajonero Gino Gamboa ("El Obispo").

Bass player and Kansas City native Rick Moors (“El Tiburon”) has worked with Oleta Adams, Mary Wells, Combonation, and Ritmo Mela’o among many others. As long-time bassist for the Bonedaddys, he has been playing world music (and wearing silly outfits on stage) since before it had a name.

Chiapas, Mexico native Jorge Mijangos (“Shpococ”) sings and plays jarana, leona (a baritone requinto that functions primarily as a bass), Cuban trés and percussion. Disgustingly talented, Jorge can play just about any instrument. Jorge is also a master luthier and builder of many of the band’s instruments. Learn more about Mijangos instruments here. (La Bruja: “We weren’t sure if we could allow a Mexican in the group, but Shpococ was studying with my father (‘El Gran Tigre’), so we decided it was OK.”)

Many Conjunto Jardín shows also feature elegantly costumed virtuoso dancers Luis and Maritonia Garcia of the Club Veracruzano de California, masters of the region’s electrifying and percussive zapateado dance style.

The group’s second CD, Floreando (Flowering) (Trova Recordings 2003), received excellent reviews and spent much of spring 2003 in the top 10 on CMJ’s Latin Alternative airplay chart. It was inspired by the band’s 2001 trip to Tlacotalpan, Veracruz, Mexico, to participate in the annual Encuentro de Jaraneros (literally, “meeting of jarana players” – the major annual festival of jarocho music and dance) where they were a surprise hit of the festival, according to prominent Mexico City daily La Jornada. Floreando attempts to bridge the gap between the two principal schools of jarocho music, combining the rhythmic drive and virtuosic sparkle associated with the port city of Veracruz with the roots-oriented and percussion-flavored style typical of the region’s rural areas. See reviews for Floreando here.

Putumayo World Music’s 2001 compilation Music of Mexico features “La Bruja” from Conjunto Jardín’s well-received first CD, Nuevo Son Jarocho (1998, Trova Recordings). See reviews for Nuevo Son Jarocho here.

Since Conjunto Jardín’s successful 1997 debut at L.A.’s John Anson Ford Theatre, the group has gone on to bravura performances at universities, concert series, festivals and clubs, including a 1998 CD release concert at California Plaza Grand Performances for an audience of 3,000, supporting Carlos Vives at a sold-out House of Blues – for which they garnered a full-page review in Los Angeles Spanish-language daily La Opinión, with enormous color photos – and a SRO Cal Poly San Luis Obispo concert with Cesaria Evora.

In September 2002, the Fandango Jarocho gala at L.A.’s John Anson Ford Amphitheatre finally presented in an appropriate setting two of the most important groups, in both artistry and celebrity, in the resurgence of jarocho music in Veracruz: Son de Madera and Mono Blanco. Conjunto Jardín was honored to be a part of this concert, and their set’s preview of material from Floreando elicited a response from the audience fully as enthusiastic as that shown the illustrious out-of-town guests.

In April 2004, Conjunto Jardín participated in the 3rd annual Encuentro de Jaraneros de California. Libby Harding was one of the principal organizers of this groundbreaking event that drew 1,000 jarocho aficionados and curiosity-seekers to the plaza at Olvera Street for more than 8 hours of nonstop jarocho (and a little huasteco) music. Tim Harding and legendary harp maestro Alberto de la Rosa both sat in with Conjunto Jardín, just before Tim was honored for his contribution to the teaching and diffusion of son jarocho in the U.S.

Conjunto Jardín has participated in every annual Encuentro de Jaraneros de California. Their performance at the 7th annual festival, to tale place May 31, 2008, will celebrate the release of the group’s third album, Yerba Buena.

Part of a resurgence of interest in jarocho music gathering momentum on both sides of the border, Conjunto Jardín is on the California Arts Council Touring Program roster, and is also a CAC Multicultural Artist Program grant recipient.

Son jarocho, one of the most vital and energetic styles of Mexican folk music, comes from the state of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico. A key port for five centuries, the city of Veracruz was the point of entry for cultural influences from Africa and the old world. This vibrant musical style has roots in Mexico’s three cultures – Spanish, African and indigenous.

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Gino Gamboa
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“... a stunning neo-traditionalist performance ... vocally rich harmonic delivery with an infectious dance-happy energy ... sterling sonic reflection and impeccable musicianship ... ¡Vámonos al jardín!”
Chuy Varela, Latin Beat
  “Without denying tradition, this postmodern treatment of the century-old son jarocho deserves taking off one’s hat, throwing it to the ground and dancing to the rhythm of the group of jarana-playing Harding sisters...”
– Ricardo Camerena
, La Opinión
  “... hands-down, the liveliest of Mexico’s folk string-ensemble traditions. Some listeners may recognize the genre’s lyrical strains from the work of Los Lobos, but since 1997, Conjunto Jardín has been the music’s most dedicated North American proponent ... The unsuspecting listener may be surprised to learn that the sextet boasts only one Mexican musician, the balance hailing from the U.S. and Benin. But that footnote takes nothing away from the remarkable work of a band that rightfully earned rave reviews for its recent, invited appearance at the annual world summit of jaraneros in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz ... [S]imultaneously honors the son jarocho’s inspirational source and celebrates its efflorescent multicultural future.”
– Michael Stone, fRoots
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