The annual Nuestra Música concert will take place at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe on Friday, April 10. Featured musicians will include Frank McCulloch y sus Amigos; Toni Apodaca with Trio Jalapeño; La Familia Vigil; and Roberto Mondragón con Chacho y Victor. (505) 988-7050; lensic.org
New Mexican Folk Music, by Cipriano Vigil (University of New Mexico Press); Hispanic Folk Music of New Mexico and the Southwest, by John Donald Robb (UNM Press); and La Música de los Viejitos: The Hispano Folk Music of the Río Grande del Norte, by Jack Loeffler with Enrique Lamadrid and Katherine Loeffler (UNM Press).
FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
CDs that convey the essence of New Mexico’s Hispano folk music include: La Música de los Viejitos, 93 songs recorded by Jack Loeffler in a 3-CD set (UNM Press); Canciones de Anteayer, In Frank’s Studio, and Así se Cantaban en Nuevo Mexico, by Frank McCulloch y sus Amigos (frankmccullochamigos. com); CDs by Cipriano Vigil (newmexicofolkmusictreasure.com); and tracks on iTunes by Roberto Mondragón.
I’m among the luckiest of men. I not only spend much of my time on this earth listening deeply to music—a stream of rhythmic sound and poetry that passes through the generations and empties into the great sea of cultural consciousness—I get to record it being made. I’ve followed my microphones to distant shores and deep into faraway mysterious mountain ranges. But I’m most content recording the music of my New Mexico homeland, often in people’s kitchens or living rooms.
I recorded my first songs of Hispanic provenance in 1969. Karl Kernberger, my late friend and partner in the Four Brothers Adventure Co., and I were in Mexico City, soon to head into the Sierra Madre Occidental to spend nearly a month documenting the annual peyote fiesta of Huichol Indians in the tiny village of San Andrés de Cohamiata. We’d been visiting Galería Fosado, looking at musical instruments made by Mexican Indians, when the proprietor, Victor Fosado, invited us to spend the evening at his macrobiotic nightclub and record his group. That evening, I set up my reel-to-reel tape recorder on a table in front of the bandstand, placed my microphones as judiciously as I might, and for two hours recorded the strange music that emanated from this most avant-garde group, who took their cue from ancient Indian and Spanish lineages. They performed on both modern and old, handcrafted instruments and sang in strange tongues, transporting those of us in the audience into some other state of mind, not always comfortable but too compelling to resist. Thus I embarked on my maiden voyage into recording Hispano and indigenous music of the New World.
Six years later, Karl and I had received a grant to make a documentary film about a group performing Hispanic folk dances of northern New Mexico. This was how I came to record la Varsoviana, el valse de los Paños, una polka, un chotis, el vaquero, la cuna, y el valse de Don Gorgonio. Some of the dance songs had migrated from the salons of Paris to Mexico City, then up El Camino Real in the mid-19th century, to find a new home in New Mexico. The group was known as Los Alegres (the Happy People), and we used their name as the title for our film.
I fell in love with this music, and for the next several years secured modest grants from the National Endowment for the Arts to continue to record throughout New Mexico and beyond. In return, I’d agreed to produce a radio series of my recordings, to be broadcast on radio stations throughout the region, and make duplicate sets for both the Library of Congress and the University of New Mexico. Came a beautiful day in 1977 when my wife, Katherine, and I were in a senior citizens’ center in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where we were recording two blind músicos, Vicente Montoya, un violinista who also sang in a high tenor, and his friend Margarito Olivas, un guitarrista. At one point, Margarito wanted to play la Varsoviana. Vicente grinned and said, “¡Ah, la música de los viejitos!” or old-timers. And thus I was given both name and theme song for 149 radio programs, a documentary film, as well as a book and a three-CD set of folk songs (both published by UNM Press)—all called La Música de los Viejitos.
Around 1980, I was asked to show the documentary that my old friend Jack Parsons and I had recently produced. The audience was a gathering of the New Mexico Folklore Society at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. I was introduced by Jenny Wells Vincent, the grande dame of folk music, who continues to play and sing every Tuesday in the Taos retirement community where she lives—at the age of 101. I spoke my introductory remarks, then found a seat at a table near the rear of the room. Across from me sat a man who was to become one of the greatest friends of my lifetime. He introduced himself as Enrique Lamadrid and said that he had listened to some of my radio programs. He was a professor at Northern New Mexico Community College in Española and was fascinated by the folk music of his native Hispano culture. We instantly hit it off and gradually began to collaborate. He, Parsons, Cipriano Vigil, Roberto Mondragón, and I co-produced four folk music concerts at the Museum of International Folk Art beginning in 1984.
Enrique and I were invited to provide music and commentary for an exhibition of sacred Hispanic art at the Taylor Museum, in Colorado Springs. And thus of an Easter Week in Abiquiú, we recorded the Penitente alabados y ceremonias at the morada, or gathering place, with the complete blessings of the hermandad, the Penitente lay brotherhood of Catholics who traced their religious tradition to an earlier time when there were too few priests to go around. In order to record with the lowest amount of interruption, I set my microphones up in the morada and ran the cables out the door and into the front seat of my pickup truck, where I plugged them into my Nagra recorder; I spent the next few very chilly nights listening through my headphones. Enrique sat inside the morada taking notes and following the procedure with the expansive concentration that is his trademark. He also ensured that no one kicked over my microphone stands. At one point, we were invited to march in a procesión along with the hermanos. We pledged that our recordings would not be used for anything beyond the sound collage we were preparing for the Taylor Museum, and that they would be marked as available to be heard solely by Penitentes visiting my sound archive, now donated to the New Mexico History Museum, at the Palace of the Governors.
Enrique accepted a position in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at UNM (from which he later retired as department chair on January 1, 2014). Thereafter, one day in 1988, we were offered the opportunity to create an extensive sound collage for the Museum of International Folk Art that addressed the history of Hispanic culture in this region using folklore and folk music. As Enrique’s teaching schedule allowed, we spent many days traveling throughout New Mexico recording music and lore that we edited into a collection that filled three CDs. The project became known as Tesoros del Espíritu: A Portrait in Sound of Hispanic New Mexico. Through a grant from the New Mexico Humanities Council, the sound collage became a bilingual book by Enrique Lamadrid.
By then I had recorded well over 2,000 Hispanic folk songs, some first performed in deep antiquity on the Iberian Peninsula, others of more recent vintage that hailed from Mexico and New Mexico. I had also recorded a body of Hispanic lore and had gained some insight into the love of the land that continues to prevail among la gente who live in the villages and flood their gardens with water released from acequias, those irrigation ditches that have long remained as the basis of politics in rural New Mexico.
At some point early on, Jenny Wells Vincent had introduced me to John Donald Robb, a classically trained cellist who had given up a successful law practice to become the dean of fine arts at UNM. For more than three decades, Don Robb had recorded a great collection of Hispanic folk songs. He authored a hefty book with transcriptions of many of them, and wrote commentaries about the musical forms that he was able to identify with the help of his friend, the great Mexican ethnomusicologist Vicente Mendoza. This book, Hispanic Folk Music of New Mexico and the Southwest, has recently been re-published by the UNM Press.
Don Robb invited my wife and me into his home on several occasions. He provided the names of some of the músicos he had recorded who were still living and recommended that we follow part of his trail through New Mexico. Thus it was that we met and recorded Edwin Berry, himself a lore trover living in Tomé, near Belén. Born Edwin Baca, he had changed his name to Berry in the hope of achieving mainstream success. Though he was a fine singer with an enormous repertoire of Hispanic folk songs, his fame never crept beyond central and northern New Mexico. Over the years, I recorded about 300 songs sung by Berry, as well as his commentaries about the songs and the cultural circumstances of their provenance. One time he sang a song titled “Don Gato,” una relación, a generally humorous musical form related to the romances, narrative ballads of Iberian yore. The song tells the tale of an amorous cat who falls down and dies, much to the delight of the local mice. Señor Berry actually ended his performance by assuming a feline countenance and meowing like the stricken cat. Abruptly, a black cat hopped up through the open window behind where he was sitting. I realized that I was in the presence of a man with shamanic capabilities. Berry regarded Tomé Hill as a sacred place, and to this day one can see the three crosses that he and his friends placed atop it as an act of sacralization.
Edwin Berry sang at each of the four folk music concerts that my amigos and I produced at the Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe in the 1980s. I saw Don Robb one final time after the last of those four concerts, in 1988. We were standing in the parking lot, and he was about to get in the car to be driven by his daughter back to his home in Albuquerque. We shook hands and said, “So long,” somehow knowing that this was the last farewell, and also knowing that we held something very powerful in common, a great love of Hispanic culture into which neither of us had been born, and for that great folk music that bears Hispano-ness through the centuries.
For some time we had heard of a legendary música named Rafelita Martínez, who lived in Rociada, several miles northwest of Las Vegas. For well over a generation, Señora Martínez, who was born in 1895, and her husband, Damasio, performed throughout the area. After he passed away, Señora Martinez continued to perform on the button accordion, an instrument that wended its way northward along El Camino Real in the late 19th century. We recorded her performing several dance songs, and over the years, Katherine and I visited her several times. But then one day in 1981 we knocked on her door and it was answered by a younger woman who introduced herself as Antonia Apodaca. She invited us in and told us that her mother, Rafelita, had passed away earlier that year.
However, she said that she herself was a musician who performed on the button accordion and the guitar, and that she and her esposo, Macario “Max” Apodaca, still performed for traditional bailes. Several weeks thereafter, we recorded Toni and Max performing with José Geraldo Martínez on the front porch of his house in Las Vegas. They were both spirited músicos who later performed at three of the La Música de los Viejitos concerts at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. Then in 1987, Max passed away, and for some time, Toni stopped performing. But soon she took up her accordion and guitar, and performed for folk music festivals in places as far-flung as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1992, Toni Apodaca was presented with the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. At the age of 91, she still performs with Trio Jalapeño, and appears annually at Nuestra Música concerts at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe.
There came a time when Cipriano Vigil, who is indeed one of the greatest folk musicians ever to emerge in New Mexico, received a grant to document a musical form known as the entriega, a sort of rite-of-passage song that is sung for special occasions. It takes different forms—la entriega del bautismo, la entriega de los defuntos, la entriega de los matachines, and perhaps the best known, la entriega de los novios, the rite of passage into marriage. Cipriano invited Lamadrid, Parsons, and me to accompany him throughout northern New Mexico and south-central Colorado to document these songs for posterity.
It was a wonderful adventure, the four of us traveling to remote Hispanic communities, meeting elders whose demeanors reflected a wisdom rarely perceived in mainstream American culture. Their lives had been spent in reciprocity with this homeland of twenty generations, a harsh, demanding environment of extraordinary beauty into which their ancestors had tapped roots beginning in the final years of the 16th century. The songs expressed their longevity in place; their countenances reflected their love of homeland; their cultural practices revealed that mighty mestizaje, or intermingling of culture and blood with Native peoples that sets La Raza apart, unique on this planet earth.
I recorded Cipriano singing la entriega de los novios following a wedding ceremony. The entriega provided the secular bonding within the community at a fiesta, after which the young couple danced to the wedding waltz. The bride was thereafter asked to dance by many of the other men in the community, who would pin dollar bills to her wedding gown to provide the newlyweds with cash for their honeymoon. Cipriano sang without stopping for nearly an hour, remembering to include the name of every member in the community in his entriega. To forget even a single name was to commit an effrontery, the recollection of which might last for a generation.
Once during the 1990s, I recorded Cipriano performing a song of his own composition, “Se Ve Triste el Hombre” (How Sad the Man). Earlier on, he had studied a musical form that is thought to have had its genesis in Chile in the 1960s, Nueva Canción, which is political protest put to music. His new song was a powerful New Mexican addition to this genre, and one of my personal favorite songs of all time. This song expresses the deep sadness experienced by la gente as newly arrived Anglo culture appropriated their right to the wood of the forests, the water in the streams—their right to the homelands where they had been rooted for centuries—as the U.S. Forest Service and other government agencies marched to the beat of new legislation that was foreign to Hispanic cultural perceptions. The melody to this song is haunting, the song itself a masterpiece that has now wended its way into the repertoire of Hispanic folk music of New Mexico.
This song sanctioned an epiphany that had been working its way through my mind—that indeed music is a mnemonic means of adhering culture to homeland, a powerful expression of the urge to unite people within their prevailing environment. The song itself becomes a source of enormous power that enables cultural evolution to proceed.
It was nearly 15 years ago that my telephone rang to a call from author Carmella Padilla, who asked if it was possible to put together a folk music concert to be held at the Lensic Performing Arts Center that would celebrate both the newly refurbished Lensic and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. I immediately called mi compañero Enrique Lamadrid to see if he wanted to collaborate, and of course he went for it. And thus we began to put together the very first Nuestra Música concert.
Carmella asked if I’d ever met Frank McCulloch, an Hispanic folk musician born in Gallup over 80 years ago. I’d heard of him. He’s the culmination of mixed Hispanic, French, and Celtic ancestry that has resulted in a unique fellow human. Frank started on the PhD trail in one branch of science or another at Princeton, but dropped out to become an artist. He returned to New Mexico, attained a degree from Highlands University in Las Vegas, and taught art in different locales for many years. He also performs folk music at the drop of a hat. John Donald Robb had recorded Frank performing over 40 folk songs 50-odd years ago.
Enrique and I have now produced 14 annual Nuestra Música concerts at the Lensic, and Frank McCulloch y sus Amigos have performed at many of them. Frank has also become a dear friend, and we often sit and drink coffee and tell lies as old-timers tend to do to celebrate their dotage. Over the years, I’ve recorded Frank and his friends Melody Mock and Luís Campos for a number of CDs in which each song reveals yet another aspect of cultural interplay in New Mexico. Two years ago, UNM Press published yet another book, this time put together by me and my daughter, Celestia, entitled Thinking Like a Watershed. Frank allowed us to use one of his beautiful paintings for the cover, a depiction of the Río Grande Gorge, that great rift in the landscape that sunders the plateau between the Tusas Mountains and the Sangre de Cristos.
That painting is an expression of deep understanding of the nature of New Mexico homeland that is shared by its indigenous peoples. This high-desert homeland cradled between great mountain ranges—a landscape typical of our state that has less surface water than any other, a habitat that ultimately shapes its human and other cultures to meet its own needs—has refined the consciousness of those whose many generations have become indigenous to this place. Their music celebrates the spirit of this sacred homeland. The collective cultural consciousness of our native Puebloan, Navajo, Apache, and Hispanic peoples is itself an expression of the life force that contributes to the flow of nature at this time in human history. There is a great cue to be taken by mainstream American culture from that aspect of New Mexico.
Years ago I recorded Enrique Lamadrid, who spoke to me about querencia, a state of mind that exists among Hispanos native to New Mexico. “Querencia is a folk concept,” he said. “It’s a sense of belonging, it’s a sense of rootedness. Querencia is the place where you know you belong. ... People who are from New Mexico want to be in New Mexico. If they’re not here, they’re trying to figure out how to come home. Querencia means all of those things. It’s a place that you love. It’s the place you want to be. It even has the sense of the place you want to die in.”