The National Endowment for the Arts (“NEA”) is an independent federal agency that was created by the Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. One NEA publication states that “The NEA was established to nurture American creativity, to elevate the nation’s culture, and to sustain and preserve the country’s many artistic traditions.” The mastery and artistry of all ethnic groups are promoted and preserved. One style of music preserved by the NEA is Jarocho music. Musician Jose Gutierrez is a master of Jarocho music.
Defining Jarocho Music
Jarocho music emerged from the Gulf of Mexico’s tropical paradise of Veracruz, Mexico. Its cultural identity is a blend of Spanish, Indigenous, and African influences. Its music is generally typified by the sound of the Indian Harp, Jarana (small six-stringed guitar) and Requinto (small guitar which is plucked instead of strummed). Jose Gutierrez, a resident of California and native of the Alvarado region of Veracruz, Mexico, has been performing Jarocho music since the 1970’s.
Gutierrez learned to play Jarocho music as a member of Conjunto Jarocho Medellin of Lino Chavez. It remains one of the most respected groups of all time in the genre of Jarocho music. Over the years, Gutierrez has mastered playing the requinto and had developed the voice and style necessary to perform as the lead vocalist in a sub-set of Jarocho music known as “Coplas.”
A “Pregon” is a type of song that includes the proclamation or shouting out of certain poetic verses aimed to elicit responses. The Pregonero (caller) aims the statement to the audience or specific individual. In Coplas, the singing/proclamation of such a verse is responded to in kind. Often, the Coplas are humorous and spontaneous. Jose Gutierrez is an expert in Coplas. He is a Pregonero. At one time, he even named his own conjunto Jarocho “Los Pregoneros del Puerto.”
Jose Gutierrez, The Man
I am fortunate enough to call Gutierrez both a colleague and friend. My father Fidencio Hinojosa, also a Jarocho, performed intermittently with Gutierrez in the late 1980’s when both resided in San Bernardino, California. In 1989, the National Endowment for the Arts recognized Gutierrez by bestowing upon him the honor of National Heritage Fellow. I can understand why as a musician and man he deserves the honor.
In the early 1990’s, I was the folk dancer and occasional singer for Los Pregoneros del Puerto. Gutierrez was the director of our troupe. He was open, charismatic, and deeply concerned about representing the music of Veracruz authentically and professionally. We performed at many public venues across the United States, representing the music of Veracruz.
When we performed at President Clinton’s second inauguration at Washington, D.C., a city I had never visited before, Gutierrez remained by my side. He constantly looked out for my well-being and general safety. He was always a true gentleman.
As a musician, Gutierrez never deviated from playing authentically traditional songs, like La Bamba and Maria Chuchena. He consistently performed with a musical and vocal richness that never ceased to attract interest in the music from Veracruz. He was always willing to answer questions regarding Jarocho music, to further general appreciation of its history and unique genre of music.
Jarocho Music in the United States
It is appropriate that the National Endowment For the Arts recognized the importance of Jose Gutierrez’s music in 1989. Jarocho music has been a part of American culture since Mexican movie star and Jarocho music’s premiere harpist Andres Huesca toured the southwest during the mid-1950’s.
Jarocho songs like “La Bamba” soared into popular culture after teen idol Richie Valens published his adaptation of the song in 1958. According to the Billboard magazine, the same song hit number one in 1987 in the United States. It has also appeared in numerous movies including one with the same title. Throughout our country, Americans of Mexican descent and Mexican immigrants enjoy the music of their heritage at the same time the American culture embraces it as their own.
Jarocho music is cross-cultural. It is here to stay. Whether through pop culture or a celebration of America’s past, this genre of music has been assimilated into the fabric of United States’ history. Hopefully, Jose Gutierrez and other traditional Jarocho musicians can continue to remind us of Jarocho music’s authentic roots for many years to come.