As Folkloristas we have learned that dances from the coastal areas of Mexico such as Veracruz and Guerrero have African influences due to the slave trade during the Colonial period in Mexican history. However, have you ever thought that the sones and jarabes may also have African influences as well? Yes, that’s right it’s true.
African Influences in the Sones & Jarabes
Gabriel Saldívar in La Historia de Música (1934), believes that it is quite possible that African people living in Mexico after the first half of the seventeenth century greatly influenced the development of the son (265). Susan Cashion mentions in The Son and the Jarabe: Mestizo Dance Forms in Jalisco, Mexico (1967) that for many years’ scholars thought that no African-derived body movements supported his argument (34). However, recently scholars such as J. Arturo Chamorro Escalante in Mariachi Antiguo, Jarabe, y Son: Símbolos Compartidos y Tradición Musicale en las Identidades Jalisciences (2000) have begun to argue the contrary. Chamorro Escalante suggests that there are indeed African influences in the sones and jarabes from the state of Jalisco.
The Africanist Presence
According to Chamorro Escalante, African influenced body movements in the sones and jarabes are evident in the way in which at some points of the dance there is a quick succession of fast paced footwork movements followed by slow meandering body movements. Chamorro Escalante is describing what Dance scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild calls high-affect juxtaposition. Gottschild says high-effect juxtaposition is a “mood, attitude, or movement breaks that omit the transitions and connective links (14).” So, a dramatic shift in the pace of our zapateados from fast to slow is a clue of how our bodies retain the Africanist presence.
Visibilizing the Africanist Presence
Let’s see how we can analyze the body movements of El Son de La Negra, one of the most famous dances of Mexico, to find this African influence. I filmed a few of my company members dancing a part in our version of El Son de La Negra. Please pay careful attention to the zapateados in this video.
Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico demonstrating high-affect juxtapostion in El Son de la Negra.
As you can see from the video above, my company members dance a quick succession of rapid zapateados followed by the slow movements of the borracho step without a transition. I argue that these type of zapateados follow the dance traditions as borrowed from the African people.
Visibilizing the Indigenous and African Presence
As you know, El Son de la Negra has Spanish, African, Indigenous, and mestizo influences as well. TV Nayarit aired a film in which Felipe Manriquez, Professor of Music at the National Autonomous University of Nayarit, describes the rhythms of many of the sones of Mexico. He argues that the sones including El Son de la Negra have a rhythm that does not follow the beat of the way music was traditionally composed by the Europeans. Instead, El Son de la Negra has a rhythm influenced by the African and Indigenous people which is marked by two beats followed by three beats. He argues that this rhythm is very complicated to play and sing.
To hear his explanation please click on this video and start it at 16:50. It is published on facebook:
The following video clip of my company members dancing El Son de la Negra shows an example of the ways we bodily maintain this African and Indigenous presence. I note the ways in which the dancers perform the rhythms with their zapateados and dance skills as described by Professor Manriquez.
Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico demonstrating how we retain the African and Indigenous rhythms in our zapateados.
As you can see in the video above, the zapateado movements in El Son de la Negra mark the African and Indigenous rhythmic beat. I argue that Folklorico dancers with their zapateados are the percussive instruments that accompany the music. As a result, we embody these Indigenous, African, Spanish, and mestizo influences within our zapateados. This is one way that we bodily maintain the history of our people. Can you spot the ways in which our body movements reveal the Africanist presence in other sones and jarabes?
To read more on how our bodies store our histories please read my post entitled Folklorico Dance as an Embodied Practice
SPECIAL THANKS TO LAURA ZAVALA, JESSE SOLIS, KARINA MONTEMAYOR, AND JAVI RUIZ FOR DANCING IN THESE VIDEO CLIPS
Cashion, Susan Valarie. “The Son and the Jarabe: Mestizo Dance Forms of Jalisco, Mexico.” MA thesis. University of California at Los Angeles, 1967. Print.
“El son de la negra ¿ De Nayarit o Jalisco ? Conoce el origen y la grandeza del son más popular en México.” La Vida De.. 10 TV Nayarit. March 2018.
Escalante Chamorro, Arturo J. Mariachi Antiguo, Jarabe, y Son: Símbolos Compartidos y Tradición Musicale en las Identidades Jalisciences. Zapopan: El Colegio de Jalisco, 2000. Print
Gottschild, Brenda Dixon. Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance: Dance and other Contexts. Westport: Praeger Publishers. 1998. Print.
Mendoza-Garcia, Gabriela. “Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Demonstrating High-Effect Juxtaposition.” March 23, 2018.
—.— “Gabriela Mendoza-Garcia Ballet Folklorico Demonstrating How We Retain African and Indigenous Rhythms in Our Zapateados.” March 23, 2018.
Saldívar, Gabriel. Historia de la Música. México, 1934 .D.F.: SEP Ediciones Gernika, 1987. Print.