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Son jarocho music is a genre that has been passed down in Mexican culture for generations. It’s easy to see why it’s such an important form of expression after watching HBO’s documentary, “Fandango at the Wall.”
The film, directed by Varda Bar-Kar, takes its filmmakers and producers on a journey that deepens the fine and beautiful border between music, culture and unity. “Fandango at the Wall” showcases the power of incredible music and great stories from fascinating subjects.
The documentary centers on the annual Fandango Fronterizo festival, in which musicians come together to perform jarocho soundtrack music on the US-Mexico border in Tijuana and San Diego. In the film, Grammy-winning producer Kabir Sehgal travels to Mexico with jazz musician Arturo O’Farrill, the founder of the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance. Together with the festival’s organizer, Jorge Francisco Castillo, they brought together some of the most prominent figures of classical and contemporary jarocho sound and brought them to perform with the Afro Latin Orchestra.
Right off the bat, “Fandango at the Wall” begins with an impromptu home performance by AndrÃ©s Vega and Martha Vega, two famous jarocho musicians from Veracruz, Mexico. This sets the tone for the rest of the film, with the music and culture guiding the narrative. Several scenes smoothly flow through the music from moment to moment, with scenes of individual musicians playing music by his jarocho flowing into a larger concert taking place in New York City.
The transitions put more emphasis on the music at hand, which is fantastic. The emotion and passion behind each chord makes you want to get up and start playing the closest musical instrument.
Part of that feeling also comes from the subjects and their passions for this style of music. The documentary is made up of a group of talented people from a wide variety of musical backgrounds across Mexico. They all have unique stories to tell and fascinating perspectives on the jarocho sound and its greatest impact on Mexican culture and the discourse of their nation. Not to mention that the film has magnificent cinematography of several cities and towns in Mexico.
The film also touches on the current state of Mexico, and while it doesn’t water down the negatives, it does have a relatively optimistic outlook for the nation’s future. Topics mention Mexico’s relationship with the United States and the negative values âârepresented by having any type of border wall, but the film mainly focuses on Mexican culture and the spirit of its jarocho.
Several musicians and activists explain that the jarocho sound is a form of improvised and active music, like jazz. The title card defines the jarocho sound as “300-year-old folk music from Veracruz, Mexico, which combines indigenous, Spanish and African traditions.” The musicians of his jarocho have an outlet to express themselves in any way they want, be it in the form of a political discussion or a description of their country, as the subjects of the film explain.
This border between social activism and culture, like the music discussed in the documentary, is crossed smoothly. And that’s exactly the kind of conversation that surrounds all form of music. Specifically, the film details how Mexican culture and the jarocho sound are intertwined, and how music serves as a unifier.
“Fandango at the Wall” is a wonderful documentary that combines music and culture, producing a harmony of the beauty of Mexican culture and the lives of the many musicians involved with its jarocho. And, like the style itself, the documentary mixes the expression of improvisation and passion with storytelling to create incredible harmony.
Posted on October 13, 2020 at 11:52 p.m.
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