"Waila! Making The People Happy"

"Waila! Making The People Happy"
Waila Music
Chicken Scratch 
Música del desierto norte SonorArizona 

 A Daniel Golding Film
When filmmaker Daniel Golding, a member of the Quechan Indian Tribe, set out to capture the essence of waila (pronounced "why-la") the social dance music of the Tohono O'odham (Desert People) of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, he focused on the Joaquin Brothers and their descendants who live in Florence Village, Covered Wells and villages across the Tohono O'odham Nation.

 Waila, the contemporary dance music of southern Arizona's tribal communities, is often called "chicken scratch." Played at tribal functions, this fun, lively music offers relief from the hardships of reservation life. Waila! Making the People Happy explores the history of the music and looks at the Joaquin's, a family of musicians, and their journey from a remote tribal village to performing at Carnegie Hall.

 The Joaquin Brothers play at a 1963 prom at St. John's Indian School, a boarding school in Laveen, just south of Phoenix. The band members (from left) are brothers Daniel Joaquin, Fernando Joaquin and Angelo Joaquin Sr.


History of the Waila

Waila is the O'odham word for dance and refers to the social dance music rooted in the desert of southern Arizona.   Previously known as the Papago or Pima Indians, the O’odham comprise two main groups: Tohono O’odham or Desert People and the Akimel O'odham or River People.  Originating in the south with the Tohono O'odham and thenSaxaphone spreading north to the Akimal O'odham, Waila music is now considered the traditional social dance music of the O'odham. Pronounced why-la, it is a hybrid of popular European polka and waltzes with a variety of Mexican influences mixed in. It originated in the 1800's and comes from the word "baile" which is Spanish for "dance".

Waila bands are made up of an accordion, alto saxophone, electric six-string, bass guitar, and drums and play all-night feasts.  Waila performances traditionally last from sundown to sunup without the musicians repeating a tune.  The music is often performed at weddings, birthdays, feasts and other celebrations.  Dancers move counter-clockwise around the dance floor doing a waila, also known as "chicken scratch".   It began as acoustic Tohono O'odham music and absorbed the influences of German immigrants, Spanish missionaries, and Norteño music.

The dances that accompany this music tradition are also a blend European influence with a Native mix. There are five common styles: 1) the waila, which is like a polka dance, 2) the chote (comes from a folk dance from Scotland or Germany), 3) the mazurka (a Polish folk dance), 4) the watersaw (redowa or redova - a Bohemian dance in three quarter time, an older form) and 5) the newest form, the cumbia (which originates from Colombia but came to the AccordionO'odham via Mexico).  O'odham dance waila in ways that connect with older ceremonial music and dance traditions in addition to long-standing cultural values.  Dancers move with a smooth gliding motion using more of a walking-step instead of the hopping steps associated with vigorous European polka-dancing. The O'odham way seems designed to conserve energy when dancing in the blazing sun or in the lingering evening heat of the desert.

The Cisco Band and the Joaquin Brothers are two legendary bands in the history of Waila. Waila has always been viewed as “traditional” music of the O'odham despite using instrumentation of European origin. Often Waila dances are held in conjunction with ceremonial dances, both finding their proper places at the important gathering of the Tohono O'odham.

The basic rhythmic scheme behind the music is solid and simple. There are no showy flashy improvisational guitar or lead instrument solos just the driving drums, bass and guitar chop behind a lively and simplistic melody often with a close harmony played by the other lead instruments either another saxophone or the accordion.


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