Young Cajón Player Wins Hearts

ChicoSol contributing editor Lindajoy Fenley is traveling through Mexico, exploring influences on traditional music. She files this report from Mexico City after visiting with the well-known group Yolotecuani that plays the music of Tixtla, a small mountain town in central Guerrero state on the Pacific coast.


by Lindajoy Fenley

Years ago, 2-year-old Osvaldo Peñaloza captured my heart as he adeptly beat syncopated Tixtleco rhythms on a small wooden box — one open palm delivering solid sounds, while the other, gripping a wood block, created sharper accents. On this return trip to Mexico, I watched him play again. At 13, he’s an integral part of his parents’ band, Yolotecuani (Heart of the Tiger).

But now, instead of leaning over the small box traditionally used in Tixtla, Guerrero, Osvaldo perches atop a Peruvian cajón, a tall wooden box that doubles as a percussionist’s chair.

The cajón, first developed by African slaves in Peru’s coastal areas over 200 years ago, has a broad repertoire of sounds. In the past few decades, musicians around the world, including some in Mexico, have begun using it in diverse ensembles. In addition to the box, musical groups from Tixtla, a mountain town in central Guerrero, play small guitars called vihuelas and a harp.

Osvaldo also studies baroque guitar. But his talent as a percussionist, developed since toddler days, has tagged him as Yolotecuani’s cajón player.

“Nobody else can do what he does,” says Osvaldo’s father David, who gave his only son his first music lessons. “Even when I play percussion, I feel something is missing.” Ana Zarina Palafox, a Mexico City musician who has witnessed the young musician’s development over the years, comments that with such great talent, Osvaldo could have become full of himself. Instead, he’s unassuming and sincere.

One day, Osvaldo may choose a different instrument or another style. For now, he’s well rooted in the music he’s learned from his parents – a traditional style with historic and rhythmic connections to the sones de artesa of Mexico’s Costa Chica and the cuecas of Chile.

Hear more from Yolotecuani on Myspace here.

Lindajoy Fenley founded Dos Tradiciones, a Mexican non-profit that promotes the traditional music of that nation

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