Trío Chicontepec Brings Music of Mexico To Rio Hondo

Sep 19, 2019

World-renowned Trío Chicontepec introduced their unique sound and skill to students in the Wray Theater on September 23. The trio (comprised of founder Rolando Hernandez, his son Jorge Hernandez, and Dr. Edgar Hernandez) shared the history and technique of Son Huasteco, a type of Mexican folk music.

Photo By Megan De Lara
Son Huasteco group Trío Chicontepec: Founder Rolando Hernandez, Jorge Hernandez and Dr. Edgar Hernandez.

Dr. Angelia Andrade and her organization, Nuestras Raíces, brought the master class in rhythm to Rio Hondo.

“We wanted to…give you the opportunity to talk to these maestros and to get to pick their brain a little bit,” Dr. Andrade said. “They are by far the best known and the most talented of all Huasteco groups, not just nationally, but internationally.”

As a native of Chicontepec, Hernandez learned how to play violin in his hometown before making his way to Mexico City. Once there, Hernandez formed Trío Chicontepec in 1952 and has had tremendous success since. In addition to recording and touring, the group has also appeared on television and in films such as Academy Award-winning Roma.

“Mexico has a lot to offer, musically speaking,” Professor Xocoyotzin Herrera, who translated for the trio, said. “Sometimes people think it’s just mariachis, it’s just banda, it’s just norteño…but there’s a lot more, including Son Huasteco.”

Seemingly Simple, Very Complex

The lineup of instruments needed for Son Huasteco seems simple. There is a violin on which the melody is played, a huapanguera used for rhythm and basslines, and a jarana also used for rhythm. However, while the basic structure only requires 3 instruments, the music focuses on complex rhythms and requires altered tuning for the huapanguera.

“They tune half a step lower because the singing is so high pitched,” Professor Herrera explained. “[This] allows the vocalist a lot more comfort…you can sing for hours and hours.”

Other characteristics of Son Huasteco style are sliding on the huapanguera’s fretboard, bowing upwards on the violin (as opposed to downwards, like in classical music), and playing counter rhythm. The most important attribute, though, is the muffling effect. It is the trick that gives the distinctive “dun-dun-ch” sound and without it, the music would not be Son Huasteco. Hernandez emphasized the sound “marks the presence of Huasteco rhythm,” as described in Herrera’s translation. Without the muffling, the music would sound very generic.

Photo By Megan De Lara
Rolando Hernandez teaches students the “muffling effect,” a significant trait of Son Huasteco music.

Students then joined Hernandez and the rest of Trío Chicontepec on stage. The group taught participants how to achieve the muffling effect on their own instruments, noting the importance of playing with the wrist instead of with the arm.

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