Sones de México were nominated for a Latin Grammy last month for their third CD, Esta Tierra es Tuya (This Land Is Your Land). They didn't get it, but for this rising Windy City conjunto it was a door to the major leagues. From Chicago to Mad City, damas y caballeros, the Overture Center's Capitol Theater brings you Sones de Mexico.
Sones got their auspicious start in '94 at a gallery opening in the city's boho-Mexicano Pilsen neighborhood, says Juan Díes, the band's executive director. Since then the group's gone on to create a revolution in Mexican folk music.
Sones' four regular members play over 50 traditional instruments - folk harps, an impressive array of guitars, percussion from congas to quijada, marimbas and tarima (a small raised dance platform for folk tap dancing, without metal taps). Sones are dance tunes that come in hundreds of regional variations across Latin America, Díes says. Son's always danceable, but Cuban son montuno sounds very different than son jarocho from Veracruz.
Sones de México's traditional repertory includes lively songs from the Costa Chica of Guerrero and Oaxaca, and the Mexican Gulf Coast - two regions where Spanish-based son met the African diaspora. But this innovative band can turn any tune into son.
They do the "Brandenburg Concerto" as a son jarocho. "Our music director, Victor Pichardo, was driving around listening to it with a friend from Veracruz," Díes says. "The friend says, 'This sounds just like a zapateado,' and Victor started thinking. It wasn't hard to adapt. We recorded it with a brass quintet from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. They play exactly what Bach wrote. We just built the jarocho around it."
Díes' arrangement of Led Zeppelin's "Four Sticks" features Aztec drums and conch trumpets. "At Conchero [modern Aztec] dance sessions those instruments can sound like heavy metal," Díes says, "and the guitars we use are what the Concheros play. The 5/4 rhythm evokes Aztec dance."
Plus, it packs a jazzy punch.
Díes arranged "Esta Tierra es Tuya (This Land Is Your Land)" as a norteño, with typical accordion and bajo seto instrumentation. "I admire Woody Guthrie and how he revived folk music in the States, got people to value the songs of the people, the salt of the earth. I saw similarities between Mexican immigrants today and the Dustbowl Okies who fled to California looking for work in Guthrie's songs. They just wanted to feed their families. They asked for an opportunity and got turned away. I thought, why not sing that in Spanish?"
Sones de México's in town all week for a series of educational events planned by an advisory board from Madison's Latino community with Overture education and outreach coordinator Beth Racette. On the calendar are elementary school visits, a teachers' workshop, matinees for the K-12 set and a fiesta at Centro Guadalupe. (For the full, bilingual schedule go to www.overturecenter.com/edu_outreach/sones_residencies.htm).
Alfonso Zepeda-Capistrán, a member of the advisory board for the Sones residency, calls it a fine example of outreach.
"For once, the concert's accessible in price. Overture's recognizing our community, and the community needs to know that the Overture Center is a great resource."