Carrboro Commons

Carrboro fiesta combines music, cultural awareness

By Alex Linder

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Carrboro was host to the sounds of shaking beads, strumming guitars and Spanish sing-along. These are the sounds of the fiesta, and they are becoming more and more common.

“I definitely think that traditional Mexican music has a role to play in the future,” said Juan Díes, 48, producer and member of the Sones de México Ensemble, a Chicago-based traditional Mexican musical group that visited Carrboro. “It’s going to have a larger and larger role considering how the Mexican and Latino populations have been growing.”

The Sones de México Ensemble plays Mexican music of different styles including songs more than 300 years old based on Aztec myths. (Staff photo by Alex Linder)

Sones de México specializes in various styles of son, Mexican folk music, and spent April 7th-9th working with local schoolchildren in Orange, Durham and Chatham counties. They performed their show, titled Fiesta Mexicana, at the Carrboro ArtsCenter.

Thanks to a downtown scattered with advertisements written in both Spanish and English alongside taco trucks, Hispanics have become a larger and more visible part of the Carrboro community. This is reflected in the numbers.

According to the 2010 Census, there are 2,706 people of Hispanic or Latino origin living in Carrboro. This makes up 13.8 percent of the population, the highest percentage in Orange County.

According to the Town of Carrboro website, this marks a significant increase from only a few decades ago. In 2000, the Hispanic or Latino population was 2,062. In 1990, it was only 199. That is a 1,260 percent increase over 20 years.

Díes said that the rapid growth of Hispanic populations, like in Carrboro, has created some problems. He said that many Latino children grow up ignorant of their cultural history.

“Some kids of Mexican ancestry aren’t taught about where they came from,” he said. “I think that’s where Fiesta Mexicana fills a huge gap, in teaching them about their culture and their traditions.”

The performance by Sones de México combined traditional Mexican music with dance and history creating the jubilant atmosphere of a fiesta. Songs varied from those inspired by Aztec myths to the rock and roll song “La Bamba,” as well as its inspiration. Songs were bookended by historical and cultural lessons about traditional instruments, words and gods.

The performers encouraged the audience to participate, even getting kids onstage to learn Mexican dances.

“I was really amazed by how educational it was,” said Gabrielle Ruth, 37, of Carrboro, who brought her two children to see the group. “My kids were very into it, one even won’t stop repeating the words that he learned.”

With the help of band member Lorena Iñiguez, kids from the audience are invited onstage to learn a traditional Mexican dance. (Staff photo by Alex Linder)

The music featured in Fiesta Mexicana comes from regions across Mexico. To play all these different styles, the six members of the group play 70 different acoustic instruments.

These include traditional instruments like guitars, fiddles and drums, but also include less typical instruments made from armadillo shells, donkey skulls and conch shells.

“Whenever I think of Mexican music, I typically think of mariachi with maracas,” said Amy Hogan, 35, a librarian from Carrboro who brought her daughter Ann. “This band went way beyond that with a bunch of instruments I’ve never even seen. It was nice to learn about them.”

Díes said that Sones de México is very dedicated to teaching. During their visit, they held workshops at local schools and played for more than 500 kids at the ArtsCenter.

Victor Pichardo, 44, the director of the ensemble, said that he came up with the idea of Fiesta Mexicana not only to teach Latino children about their Mexican heritage, but to teach those around as well.

“I think it’s good for children who are growing up beside Mexican kids and want to learn about it,” he said. “Kids are becoming more and more exposed to different cultures, and it’s not as foreign as it used to be.”

The songs and lessons of Fiesta Mexicana are taken from a double album released last April called Fiesta Mexicana: Mexican Songs and Stories for Niños and Niñas and their Papás and Mamás. The album includes two discs, one in English and the other in Spanish.

The Sones de México Ensemble began touring Chicago schools in 1994 and since has toured throughout the country. They were nominated for a Grammy in 2007 with their album “Esta Tierra Es Tuya” (This Land is Your Land). The album includes covers of not only the Woody Guthrie classic, but also Led Zeppelin’s “Four Sticks” and J.S. Bach’s “Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 2 & 3.”

“A couple of years ago we did some songs to integrate in with American culture,” Pichardo said. “Pretty soon American culture is going to have mix with us.”

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