One of the sweetest musics I've been listening to in a long time :-)

Gu-Achi Fiddlers
Old Time 
O'odham Fiddle Music


01. Ali Oidak Polka (3:18)    
02. Bareterro Two-Step(3:03)    
03. Black Mountain Mazurka (3:51)    
04. Blackie Polka (4:05)    
05. Sonora Church Two-Step (4:18)    
06. Hohokam Polka (3:13)    
07. Libby Bird Song Mazurka (4:08)    
08. Memories in Ajo Polka (3:37)    
09. Pinto Beans Two-Step (3:28)    
10. E.J. Special Polka (3:29)    
11. Cababie Two-Step (3:19)    
12. Dawn Mazurka (3:15)

Elliot Johnson - fiddle
Lester Vavages - fiddle
Wilfred Mendoza - guitar
Gerald Leos Senior - snare drum
Tommy Lopez - bass drum



 From Liner Notes:

"This is the first commercial recording of one of Southern Arizona's most unique instrumental traditions - the fiddle band music of the Tohono O'odham ("The Desert People"), formerly known as the Papago. The O'odham fiddle sound is unique in that it is produced by two violins, a guitar, a snare drum and a bass drum playing polkas, two-steps and mazurkas.

Utilizing instruments originally introduced by Spanish missionaries, the fiddle band sound is highly unique utilizing violins, guitar, and drums playing polkas, two-steps, and mazurkas. The result is an exciting sound and one of Southern Arizona's richest musical traditions.

malarz says:

"Many years ago I began my search for just this musical style along with its partner chicken scratch. Found it on cassette and am happy that its been re-released on cd. I truly can saw I love the music, the tunes, the playing, the slightly off-tuning of the violins. Nothing wild nor crazy nor genre-bending but just a wonderful document of a lovely music by musicians who play with an understated and relaxed attitude. Oh yeah, did I say lovely?"


Album Review by Six Water Grog:

I recently happened upon a recording of fiddle-based music called The Gu-Achi Fiddlers, Old Time O'odham Fiddle Music, Volume 1. It is available on Canyon Records, a small label devoted to Native American music. Despite a cover photo which makes it look much older, I believe this music was recorded in the 1980’s so the audio quality is much better than one might expect.

The Gu-Achi Fiddlers hailed from the Southern Arizona town of Gu-Achi in the Sonora desert. They belonged to the Tohono O'odham Nation, formerly known as the Papago. They were led by two fiddlers, Elliot Johnson and Lester Vavages, and backed up by Gerald Leos Sr. (snare drum), Tommy Lopez (bass drum) and Wilfred Mendoza (guitar). All of those guys play on this release.

The music here is a melting pot of Native American, Mexican and European styles: schottisches, polkas, two-steps and mazurkas filtered through the indigenous melodies of the O'odham. The fiddle tradition of Southern Arizona dates back to the days of Spanish colonization, when Catholic missionaries introduced the Native American Papagos to their European instruments and tunes. The Papagos quickly adopted the instruments and absorbed the rhythms, giving birth to a form of old-time fiddle music that is uniquely Southwestern, a tradition that has survived until today.

There is a refreshingly un-polished energy to this “scratchy” and slightly out of tune music...the players rely more on attitude and enthusiasm than any sort of technical virtuosity. It turns out this is a style of music I had been wanting to hear, I just didn’t know it until I heard it! Not quite polka in the German sense, not quite Mexican, and definitely not the same as old-time Appalachian fiddle music. I encourage anyone with an interest in traditional or indigenous music to check this out. It’s guaranteed to put you in good spirits! (If you are a musician try playing some of these tunes - you'll love 'em!)


Alicia Karen Elkins writes:

Old Time O'odham Fiddle Music is the first commercial recording of the fiddle music of this Southern Arizona tribe, the Tohono O'odham ("The Desert People"), who were formerly known as the Papago. It was originally released on cassette in 1988, but this is the first time it has been released on CD. If you like fiddle music, order a copy right away!

Catholic Spanish missionaries first taught these Native Americans to play European instruments so they could perform at mass. The Papagos quickly incorporated the instruments into all their music. The music here is produced with two fiddles, one guitar, a snare drum and a bass drum.

In the mid-1800s, new dances and rhythms made their way to the Tohono O'odham. Among them were the polka, mazurka, schottische and quadrille. Some communities added the native traditional melodies for the Pascola and the Matachines, ritual dances of the Yaqui of the Sonora, Mexico region. The European dances and rhythms were undergoing radical changes in the hands of the indigenous peoples.

Over time, the fiddle music began to die away. Fewer and fewer young people cared to learn the art. But in 1984, a new contest started, the All O'odham Fiddle Orchestra Contest. Interest in this lost art was renewed and it has been making a slow comeback. There is a strong effort to preserve this historical music style for future generations.

The Gu-Achi Fiddlers are named after the town of Gu-Achi in Southern Arizona where they reside. The band is Gerald Leos Sr. (snare drum), Lester Vavages (fiddle), Tommy Lopez (bass drum), Wilfred Mendoza (guitar) and Elliot Johnson (fiddle).

Selections on this CD include "Ali Oidak Polka," "Bareterro Two-Step," "Black Mountain Mazurka," "Blackie Polka," "Sonora Church Two-Step," "Hohokam Polka," "Libby Bird Song Mazurka," "Pinto Beans Two-Step," "Cababie Two-Step" and "Dawn Mazurka."

Every tune on this CD is a knockout! 

It had me on my feet dancing during the first few measures and kept me moving through every tune. It is beautiful music with a fast beat and lots of lively movement. It is distinctly Spanish in origin, but with characteristics of its own. This is fiddling at its best. There is no way to select a favorite from these tunes. All are fabulous dance pieces!

This is a must-have for any Native American music collection. It is a unique sound that will quickly embed itself in any fiddle lover's heart!


Shlomo Pestcoe writes:

The Tohono O’odham are the largest Amerindian nation in the state of Arizona. Tohono O’odham  means “Desert People” in the Uto-Aztecan language of the O’odham, a reference to their homeland in the Sonoran Desert regions of southern Arizona and the northern Mexican state of Sonora. They were dubbed the Papago (Papahvi-o-otam, literally, “Bean People” in the language of the neighboring Akimel O’odham [Pima] who are closely related to the Tohono O’odham) by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino (1645-1711), the famed Jesuit missionary/cartographer/astronomer/explorer, who established the first missions in the region in 1686. In 1986, the tribal government legally replaced the sobriquet “Papago Indians” — long considered to be derogatory– with the term Tohono O’odham as the official name for this First Nation.

The O’odham fiddle tradition of stretches back to the earliest days of Spanish colonization. Catholic missionaries introduced European string instruments into the region for use in church services.

In the mid-19th century, Tohono O’odham fiddlers picked up the latest “pop” dance music forms to come over from Europe– the waltz, polka, mazurka, etc.– and adapted them to fit their musical culture. The music they created was dubbed “waila,” (pronounced “wy-lah”) which comes from the Spanish word baile (lit. “dance”).

Waila fiddle bands provided the music for religious festivals, community celebrations and social dancing until the 1950s, when the fiddle was overshadowed by the button accordion and saxophone.  This was result of the pervasive influence of norteño music from Northern Mexico, in which the 3-row diatonic button accordion and the alto sax are the main lead instruments. A new O’odham style featuring those instruments emerged called chicken scratch, a reference to a traditional Tohono O’odham dance in which dancers kick their heels high in the air like chickens scratching. Today, the terms waila and chicken scratch are interchangeable and are both synonymous for contemporary O’odham vernacular social dance music.

read Rod Stradling  

and nothing left for me to say but:
listen, listen
and get your copy


if I say sweet I'm talking about mountain honey and not white sugar ;-)


beetor said...

Thanks Miguel. This is great - our family just had a silly breakfast dance party! :)

Miguel said...

...must have been the harvest dance to the Müesli Manitou :-)