If on any Thursday night you happen to pass by “Calles y Sueños”, a small Pilsen gallery with bright murals on its walls, you’ll see through the window a group of musicians playing what look to be traditional Mexican instruments. There’s guitar-like instruments in a variety of sizes, something that resembles an animal’s jawbone with teeth that are struck to rattle to the music – yes, it is a real jawbone – a donkey’s in fact. There’s also a wooden platform for dancing the “zapateado” the rapid percussive footwork that often accompanies traditional Mexican music.
However, you’ll also notice a violinist using an electric guitar pedal to loop and distort his instrument’s sound. The other musicians surround him, jamming like crazy, and the textured music they create is all at once very rooted in Latin American folk music, and at the same time something completely different. At times their sounds twang and reverb psychedelic, then venture from tropical into slightly punk, and then get a little funky or maybe Middle-Eastern. It’s the Chicago Sones Collective, and their members are the younger musicians from three different well-established groups in Chicago that play “jarocho” music from the state of Veracruz.
As their name indicates, they work as a collective, says percussionist Carlos Bueno. All of the members of the group bring their ideas and make decisions together as to the kind of music they want to create. In keeping with their collective spirit, they asked to be interviewed as a group. Sitting in a circle at Calles and Sueños, they described their musical vision, which isn’t exactly their parent’s “jarocho”.
Their collective musical creations began with early jams session, says Maya Fernandez, vocalist and dancer who also plays several instruments, including the melodica (which is certainly rarely a part of a jarocho band). She adds that they got excited when the jam sessions took them to strange and new musical landscapes, “…all of a sudden everyone’s doing these crazy chord progressions…and a song speeds up or slows down, it turns into a good song…there’s always endless possibilities.” The jamming took the Collective’s sounds veering back and forth not just between the traditional Latin American folk rhythms they have learned, but also all their influences growing up in the U.S. Bassist, Emiliano Rojas adds that they have been introducing electronic elements to give their compositions the flavor of the mix and to allow for lots of experimenting.
Anabel Tapia, who dances and plays several string instruments, explains that at the beginning of their careers, they focused on learning the traditional forms as well as possible, but now it’s their time to move the traditions in a new direction. They all agree that the freedom to go elsewhere comes from their open-mindedness as a brand-new band. As vocalist and string-instrument player Adrian Alcantara declares: “We don’t have any borders, any limits. We’re pretty flexible and I feel like all of us don’t have a specific view in mind, we’re letting it grow and develop so we can say: This is what WE do”.
Chicago Sones Collective will play: