Far From Fading, Mexico's Son Huasteco Style Flares More than 40 years ago, four friends — three scientists and one musician — went to the Huasteca region in Northeastern Mexico in search of music they wanted to record for their own enjoyment. Now, some of that work has been released on a two-CD compilation titled El Gusto.
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Far From Fading, Mexico's Son Huasteco Style Flares

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Far From Fading, Mexico's Son Huasteco Style Flares

Far From Fading, Mexico's Son Huasteco Style Flares

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

More than 40 years ago, four friends, three scientists and one musician, went to the Northeastern Mexico in search of music they wanted to record for their own enjoyment. Now, some of their work has been released on a compilation titled "El Gusto."

Betto Arcos has the story of the music called Son Huasteco.

BETTO ARCOS, BYLINE: The four friends found a wealth of music in Ciudad Valles, in the State of San Luis Potosi. One of the groups was Los Cantores de la Sierra, featuring a 17-year old singer named Marcos Hernandez.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAS FLORES")

ARCOS: Of those four friends, only Eduardo Llerenas chose to dedicate his life to recording music. He gave up a career in biochemistry.

EDUARDO LLERENAS: I just couldn't afford the time to do both things. Being a scientist and a researcher, you need 24 hours a day. And to do this work with the music, you need the same sort of time - 24 hours a day. So it was impossible. So then, back in 1986 I moved into the music field.

ARCOS: Llerenas used the observational skills he honed as a scientist to try to understand the community.

LLERENAS: You have adapt you're ear to the local ear, and in that way you could actually make judgments and do recordings of what we think are the very best musicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ARCOS: Son Huasteco is also commonly known in Mexico as huapango. It's played by a trio of musicians, on a small five-string rhythm guitar called Jarana Huasteca, an eight-string bass guitar called Quinta Huapanguera and a violin. The two guitarists sing coplas, or short poetry stanzas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL SACAMANDU")

ARCOS: At a bus stop in the same town of Ciudad Valles, Llerenas and his colleagues came upon a trio called Los Camperos Huastecos, whose violinist was considered one of the top musicians of this genre, the late Heliodoro Copado. The recording they made at a motel restaurant produced the classic "El Sacamandu."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL SACAMANDU")

ARCOS: Son Huasteco has two unique trademarks: improvised violin ornamentations based on a melody, and the high falsetto voice. The style has spread beyond Veracruz and San Luis Potosi, where Llerenas and his friends recorded much of this music, to other states including Hidalgo, which is now the wellspring of Son Huasteco.

Llerenas says the reason for the music's popularity is the demand for it at family parties, weddings, baptisms and birthdays.

LLERENAS: So it is the desire of the community. They love this music they have been born to. They dance to it. They drink to it. And so, it's the meaning of the fiesta for them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL CABALLO")

ARCOS: Writer Mary Farquharson, co-produced the "El Gusto" compilation. She says contemporary groups are not reinventing the sound but building on the roots that make the music remarkable.

MARY FARQUHARSON: The emotional range that can go from joy to great tragedy within one song, but there's always emotional relief. It sort of pushes you up and drags you down and whirls you around, all in one song. It's such a complete music and it's played by three musicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL TEPETZINTLECO")

ROY GEREMANO: I happened to be in a market one day and my friend picked up a CD and I was just blown away by the sound.

ARCOS: Roy Germano was filming his documentary "The Other Side of Immigration" in 2008. Last summer, he began shooting a new documentary about Son Huasteco. For him, the recordings are great, but to really get the feel of the music, you have to see it live.

GEREMANO: When you throw into the mix a live performance where people are dancing on the tarima and creating their own rhythm. I think it's just a magical sound.

ARCOS: One of the musicians Germano interviewed for his documentary is Marcos Hernandez, the same singer and guitar player that Eduardo Llerenas and his friends first recorded more than 40 years ago, as a teenager.

: (Foreign language spoken)

ARCOS: Hernandez says he's thrilled to see children learning Son Huasteco. He says his grandkids are starting to like it.

When Eduardo Llerenas and his three friends, went to the Huasteca region to record this music, they thought it was on the verge of extinction. Today, it's thriving perhaps more than ever. And thanks to his efforts, even more people will have the pleasure - el gusto - of hearing it.

For NPR News, I'm Betto Arcos.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Rachel Martin returns next week. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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