The Queen of Los Portales

La Negra Graciana
Sones Jarochos con el Trío Silva


01. La guacamaya
02. El pájaro cú
03. El torito
04. El siquisirí
05. La bamba
06. El pájaro carpintero
07. La tienda
08. La iguana
09. La tuza
10. El butaquito
11. El jarabe loco
12. La vieja
13. El canelo
14. El ahualulco
15. La María Chuchena
16. El balajú
17. El cascabel
18. La morena

 The Queen of Los Portales 
Now in her late sixties, Graciana is the first lady of son jarocho, the traditional music of the state Veracruz. This music, together with the mariarchi music and the sones from Jalisco, is the most popular in Mexico. Graciana, who plays the harp and sings, comes from a small village near Medellin de Bravo in Veracruz and made her album-debut ´Sones Jarochos´ with Trio Silva in 1994. Till then she had never left her own region; but she then toured Europe and the USA often and appeared for the first time in Mexico City. In 1999 she issued ´La Graciana En Vivo´, a live recording of a concert in the renowned Theatre de la Ville in Paris.
The fairytale curriculum vitae of the singing harpist who rose from rags to riches in her sixties recalls that of Cesaria Evoria from Cape Verde and that of the blind singer Dona Rosa from Portugal. La Negra Graciana spent half a century in lugging her harp along streets and performing there. As a child she had begun by playing with her father and brothers at family and folk festivals in the locality then had later played mostly as a soloist in Los Portales, a borough with many terraces in Veracruz harbour, where street musicians play nearly all day.

One day Eduardo Lleranas, very fond of traditional Mexican music and owner of the label Corason, pricked up his ears. Greatly impressed by Graciana´s archaic yet fresh way of playing the harp and her energetic singing, he decided to make a recording and soon came back from Mexico City to Veracruz, to set to work with La Negra Graciana, her younger brother, Pino Silva, who sings and plays the little Jarana guitar, and her sister-in-law Elena Huerta. Elena is likewise a harpist and owns, outside the city, a small turkey-farm which they used as an improvised studio. In this country idyll they recorded 18 pieces - many traditional and sometimes very old sones jarochos, which Graciana´s father had loved in his own day, like ´El siquisin´ or ´El balaju´. This first recording also included the piece ´La bamba´, which is known in many versions, like one from the rock-band Los Lobos.

But not only Graciana´s interpretation of these widely known evergreens won her the hearing of listeners outside Mexico. It was her special way of playing the harp ´a lo antigüito´, as she herself says. Her way is slower and less ornate than that of several of her colleagues, who since the 50s have been trying to make the son jarocho prettier and more commercial. Yet though the special colour of the harp´s sounds may be the most notable feature of Graciana´s music, she seldom uses the harp as a solo instrument. Rather it accompanies the décimas, the improvised song verses, in which the singer and her brother Pino reflect on anything and everything.

On hearing Graciana in 1997 in Mexico City, Ry Cooder was as delighted for her sones - the combination of the harp with cheeky and shrill singing. By then Graciana Silva was already used to presenting her music to an alien public, be it in other parts of Mexico or even abroad. As soon as her debut album appeared in 1994 she was invited to various festivals in Europe and the USA.

For her performances, La Negra Graciana appears with a typical son-jarocho ensemble. Besides her arpa jarocha there are two smaller percussive guitars, known as jarana, and also a requinto, a four-stringed guitar, which is plucked in a rhythm counter to the harp´s. Mexican sones have always been associated with certain dance-traditions, so Graciana´s concerts include dancers whenever possible, who contribute to the rhythms with their huapangos and zapateos.

The concept ´son´ stands in Mexico for a wide and various repertoire of traditional music with regional differences. The sones from Veracruz are called jarochos like the town´s residents. If La Negra Graciana is asked about her style of playing, she calls it ´very jarocho and veracruzano, since the whole area round the coastal town Veracruz is simply a place where jarochos have come together´.

Veracruz, the ´harbour of the New World´, in the Gulf of Mexico is where Cortés troops landed to found the first Mexican town. Its music´s rhythmic accents and echoes of call and response recall the African extraction of part of its population. And even the dark-haired Graciana Silva has this mixture in her own blood, which has brought her the affectionate nickname ´La Negra de Veracruz´.
Graciana Silva, La Negra Graciana, is a unique artist in Mexican popular music: a harpist and singer from Veracruz who plays the classic repertoire of sones jarochos in a style that is difficult to hear in Mexico today. Her direct, impassioned vocals and the complex counter-rhythms that she plays so effortlessly on the harp suggest the West African influence in this music. Graciana, who's been playing professionally since she was 10 years old, is accompanied by her brother on jarana guitar and by Elena Huerta on the second harp and chorus although on several tracks she plays, as she prefers, alone.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

a much loved Cora♥on Mi