Afromestizo Musical Tradition Falters

In her third in a series of reports from Mexico, Lindajoy Fenley explores the Afromestizo traditions of southern Mexico’s Costa Chica that includes parts of the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca.


               video by Lindajoy Fenley

by Lindajoy Fenley

Silvestre Tiburcio Noyola is one of the few remaining son de artesa musicians on the Costa Chica of southern Mexico. I recently sat with Tiburcio in his front yard in the dusty town of San Nicolas Tolontino near Cuajinicuilapa, Guerrero, on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. “You don’t know my life story,” he said, and then, as if he could summarize it this way, he added, “In 2001, I won the Premio Nacional [the national award for science and the arts.]”

Tiburcio is a member of Los Cimarrones, an Afromestizo group I had seen present the Costa Chica’s version of son in Mexico City a decade earlier. A large percentage of the Costa Chica population is Afromestizo, and many are the descendents of escaped slaves. Son is that music particular to Cuba, Mexico and other Latin countries with a 6/8 count.

Tiburcio’s aunt, doña Cata, had danced gracefully atop a large hollowed parota tree trunk called an “artesa” when I saw the group perform. She passed away two years ago. Others, Tiburcio said, had stopped playing Afromestizo music because there was no money in it. He had run out of recordings featuring his style of son, and I left after buying a CD of corridos and ranchera songs.

The next day, however, he sang a few songs in the style I wanted to hear, accompanying himself by either strumming guitar or pounding a rhythm on a wooden box. Tiburcio recalled how local blacks had performed their traditional music before a road connected the town to the main highway, and television and amplified music became readily available.

On my last day in the Costa Chica, I tracked down one more son de artesa musician across the state line in El Ciruelo, Oaxaca. Primitivo Efrén Mayren allowed me to record the son he composed for President Barack Obama before he performed at a Smithsonian festival in Washington, D.C., last June. He’s now awaiting confirmation of an invitation to perform in France. Tiburcio, meanwhile, is hoping to spirit support for their music by creating a non-profit organization, Los Negros y su Fandango.

My desire to see the people of Costa Chica singing and dancing son de artesa remained mostly unfilled. Fandangos and festivals celebrating this tradition happen infrequently, and didn’t happen at all during the two weeks I visited the area.

The son de artesa is related to son Tixtleco, covered in the first report in this series. Lindajoy Fenley founded Dos Tradiciones, a Mexican non-profit that promotes the traditional music of that nation.

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