Reflections on the Veracruz son jarocho

Images, Politics and Selected Themes of a Mexican Music and Dance Tradition

by Randall Kohl (Author)
©2023 Monographs XVIII, 184 Pages


«In Reflections on the Veracruz son jarocho, guitarist-ethnomusicologist Randall Kohl brings something special to the surging feast of scholarship treating Mexico’s renowned regional music, the son jarocho. Part history and part cultural analysis, and both qualitative and quantitative in approach, the book explores music as music, music as business, and music as a dynamic expression of Mexican social history. Professor Kohl of the Universidad Veracruzana in Xalapa interweaves original research with a half century of scholarship to chart key vectors in the evolution of a music, a culture, and a region.»
(Daniel Sheehy, PhD, Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary for Museums and Culture; Interim Director, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings; Director & Curator Emeritus, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)
«While most of the recent English-language scholarship on son jarocho has focused on its use as a platform for activism and identity formation in the US, Randall Kohl’s Reflections on the Veracruz son jarocho takes a refreshing look at the genre’s practice in its home state of Veracruz. This work offers an excellent introduction to the genre for the unfamiliar, including son jarocho’s history, revival, style traits, subgenres, and recent fusions with other idioms. This is a wide-ranging and accessible book, and an important contribution to our growing understanding of this rich regional tradition.»
(Gregory Reish, Center for Popular Music, Middle Tennessee State University)
«Randall Kohl's deep understanding of son jarocho shines through in this book. Built on years of ethnographic immersion in the musical community of Xalapa and its environs, this book expertly traverses the textual, performative and cultural terrain of this important musical vernacular of Mexico. This first book in English on the son jarocho will be an invaluable resource for both scholars and general readers with an interest in the genre.»
(Anandam Kavoori, Professor, Department of Entertainment and Media Studies, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA)
Once associated principally with the Veracruz countryside, the son jarocho music and dance tradition is now establishing itself as a twenty-first-century urban practice caught in a struggle between firmly established customs and newly adaptive strategies. This book presents an overview of the music’s history and musical characteristics along with specific looks at its texts, iconography, past and present academic trends and other details. It also examines the recently closed local centro de cultura, La Casa de Nadie, as a focal point for son jarocho activity in the city of Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of figures
  • Preface
  • chapter 1 Introduction
  • chapter 2 An analysis and interpretation of photographic representations of son jarocho
  • chapter 3 The business of son jarocho
  • chapter 4 A musical analysis of selected son jarocho repertoire
  • chapter 5 A textual analysis of selected son jarocho repertoire
  • chapter 6 Select son jarocho participants: Past and present
  • chapter 7 The Movimiento Jaranero
  • chapter 8 Analysis of selected themes
  • chapter 9 Conclusions and additional comments
  • Bibliography
  • Index


The Veracruz son jarocho is a music and dance tradition performed mostly on chordophones, for example, guitars, harps and violins. Its musical components come originally from Europe – in particular, Spain – with some elements coming from West Africa and some influence from indigenous Americans. It is associated principally with the southern-central part of the State of Veracruz, Mexico, as attested to by Sheehy (1979), Stanford (1984) and Huidobro (1995), among others.

The physiography of this region consists largely of flat coastal plains with the Gulf of Mexico to the east and mountains surrounding the other three sides. Several significant river systems flow through this area, the most important being the Papaloapan in the middle of the region and the Coaztzacoalcos to the south. There are also many lagunes where the rivers empty into the gulf, and the area as a whole is warm and humid giving rise to tropical and subtropical fruits and plants. This region, known as the Sotavento [Leeward], includes several microregions with their own agrarian and cultural variations.

In historical terms, Hoffman and Velázquez (1994) report that human activity has existed in this region since about 1500 BCE with a notable spike during the Olmec civilization around 1200 BCE. For reasons still not completely understood, the region was soon abandoned up until sometime after 900 CE when it was occupied by several indigenous groups. Further to the north, in the Papaloapan river basin, the Mixtequilla culture emerged around the beginning of the Christian Era and developed a system of writing and sculpture which resulted in the creation of large stelae.

Important characteristics of this plains area during pre-Hispanic times was its relatively large population density and its function as a commercial ‘corridor’, with land trade routes connecting peoples north of the area with those further south. In addition, since at least the fourth until the sixteenth centuries CE, a large part of this region was under Nahua influence and fell under the tribute system of the Mexica. Economically, the inhabitants dedicated themselves principally to fishing and farming, especially growing corn and cotton (González 2002).

The arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the early sixteenth century created huge societal and, more important for the present text, musical changes to what is today south-central Veracruz. The harvesting of trees for the construction of houses and boats received major attention with the resulting augmentation of the plains contributing to a rise in cattle raising and sugar cane cultivation. After the port of Veracruz was constructed it became, and continues to be, a central point of exportation of goods to Europe (Hoffman and Velázquez 1994).

Contact with the Spanish, however, also resulted in a large number of deaths among the indigenous population due to disease and overwork. This, in turn, resulted in a population reduction in the region which was augmented, in part, by the importation of African slaves. At the same time, large portions of land were accrued by a few hacendados [land holders] which lasted until well into the nineteenth century and resulted in a sluggish and exclusionary economy.

During the period when it was considered part of Spain up through Mexico’s independence in the nineteenth century, cities and towns of the region – such as Alvarado, Cosamaloapan, Xalapa and Coatzacoalcos – grew though they often lacked services and trustworthy communication. Some became hubs of specific activities such as Otatitlán as a religious centre and the port city of Veracruz as a commercial centre (Hoffman and Velázquez 1994).

During what is today known as the Porfiriato, roughly 1880 to 1910, the exploitation of certain products such as lumber and rubber declined and the production of others like tobacco, coffee and bananas increased. Another activity which began during this period and which gained greater importance later in the twentieth century was the production of oil; however, it was not until the mid-twentieth century that the region became more fully integrated into the national economy, and communication systems were better established via the construction of highways and the introduction of electricity and phone lines to rural areas (Hoffman and Velázquez 1994).


XVIII, 184
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2023 (July)
Mexico’s renowned regional music Son jarocho's musical history Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico La Casa de Nadie La Música de Todos en La Casa de Nadie Veracruz son jarocho
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2023. XVIII, 184 pp., 38 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Randall Kohl (Author)

Randall C. Kohl is on the Music Faculty of the Universidad Veracruzana (UV) in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico and a member of Mexico’s Sistema Nacional de Investigadores (National System of Researchers). He received his BA in Music from the University of California at Santa Cruz, an MA in Ethnomusicology from the University of Hawai´i at Manoa and a Doctorate in History and Regional Studies from the UV. He has published widely on the son jarocho tradition, the late nineteenth-/early twentieth-century Mexican guitarist Octaviano Yáñez and Hawaiian slack key guitar.


Title: Reflections on the Veracruz son jarocho