As the searing sun beats down, a collection of musicians assemble with their instruments under a tree outside of Schoenberg Hall. Together, they form what is essentially a little piece of Mexico on the UCLA campus.
This assembly is known as Jueves Jarocho, or “Jarocho Thursday” in Spanish, a group dedicated to the folk musical style of “son jarocho” from Veracruz, Mexico. Students, staff, teaching assistants and professors simply show up with their instruments ready to play on Thursday afternoons. Jueves Jarocho is, in essence, a jam session.
“It’s just sort of to get together to exchange ideas and to just kind of jam out,” said third-year ethnomusicology student and harp player Willie Acuña.
The roots of Jueves Jarocho began in February after several conversations between Acuna, ethnomusicology graduate student and requinto jarocho player Alexandro Hernandez and physics graduate student and harp player Julio Rodriguez.
With the common desire to play son jarocho music in mind, these three musicians reached out to others in the community. Together, they agreed to meet on Thursdays, a convenient day for each member to participate in the jam session.
What started only about a quarter ago has since turned into a thriving community of son jarocho musicians.
The group consists of musicians who play several different instruments, such as the eight- or nine-string guitar called the jarana jarocha, the harp and the requinto jarocho, a four- or five-string guitar used to create a melody for the singer.
Son jarocho is a mixture of musical elements from North Africa, Spain and the indigenous people of Mexico. Hernandez, who is writing his doctoral thesis on son jarocho music, has researched its style and history extensively.
According to his research, California has a 70-year history of son jarocho music, beginning with its migration from Veracruz in the mid-1940s. He has also traced groups with music similar to son jarocho, such as Conjunto Hueyapan, which took root at UCLA in the 1970s.
“I see (Jueves Jarocho) as a way of honoring the fact that this music has been around campus since at least the 1960s, and it periodically shows up,” Hernandez said. “I think this is really the latest manifestation of it.”
At its meetings, Jueves Jarocho can be seen and heard outside of Schoenberg Hall playing covers of famous songs such as “La Bamba” and “Siquisiri.” The song selection varies between meetings, as members are free to call out any song they wish to play, further emphasizing the idea of community.
Because the group aims largely to include and appreciate every musician regardless of skill level, Jueves Jarocho does not strive to perform on stage. However, the outside meetings inevitably become mini-performances, as the group captures an audience with its distinct son jarocho sound and myriad of instruments.
“What’s cool about being outside is that every single week, people from all walks of life stick around for a little while and really appreciate the sound of us being there, no matter what musical level people are at,” Hernandez said.
In addition to playing music, Jueves Jarocho has allowed musicians to teach each other various skills in an informal setting.
Lizzet Alvarez, the education program liason for the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, is currently learning how to play the jarana jarocho. When learning to play a new song, she said she learns by listening to instructions by a fellow member, observing the group and practicing at home. Not only has Jueves Jarocho been a way for her to polish her skills on the jarana jarocho, it has also been a way for her to unwind.
“For us, this is a good way for us to get together with friends and just do something creative and fun, and that’s also in some ways invigorating,” Alvarez said.
In the future, Jueves Jarocho hopes to develop its group further by incorporating the dance aspect of the fandango in which the audience is encouraged to join in and dance along to the music on wooden platforms called “tarima.” Rodriguez said the group intends to add this element to its weekly jam sessions after acquiring the tarimas.
Rodriguez said the group welcomes everyone who has an interest in son jarocho music, and anyone who wishes to participate in Jueves Jarocho can simply join the jam session.
“Regardless of skill level, regardless of whether they speak Spanish or not, all they have to do is show up and we’ll find something for them to do,” Rodriguez said. “(Jueves Jarocho) brings me together with a bunch of people that like to play the same kind of music that I do and that’s just fantastic.”