Radio Jarocho - Café Café
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Radio Jarocho
Café Café
Chido Records ( )

It’s pretty gutsy when a young band commits to a style of music that isn’t likely to result in mega-sales or hitting anything resembling the big time. Radio Jarocho has nonetheless done just that, choosing to specialize in son jarocho, a folksy mix of indigenous Mexican, Afro-Caribbean and Spanish elements played on acoustic instruments and based on a longstanding traditional repertoire. But wait. As far as that last point goes, New York City-based Radio Jarocho is versed in and perfectly capable of performing that traditional repertoire, though on Café Café they choose not to.

With the exception of “Bemba y Tablao,” itself an original written by son jarocho veteran Patricio Hidalgo, every track is the band’s own and written specifically for the album. I don’t know what son jarocho purists think about such an arrangement, but I like it. Respecting tradition while creating your own take on it is seldom a bad idea. Plus the songs are catchy and energetic, built around the precise picking of the 4-string jarana, decorated with additional unplugged instrumentation and woody percussion, sung in refreshingly raw call-and-response manner and at their best wielding the drive of Gnawa trance music (if you think that’s an odd comparison, listen closely to the percussive bass thump that’s usually at the core of the songs and then imagine it played on a sintir) or the homey ease of any number of folkloric styles. The Hidalgo track is the last and punchiest of the lot, showing that son jarocho can rock when those who play it decide it should. So head on down to this doubly named café and have a shot or two of some very fine Mexican roots music. You’ll be better off for it. - Tom Orr

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