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Collective Musical Activism: Son La Lucha Uses Traditional Mexican Music as Catalyst for Social Justice

By Charlie Maybee

Combining a grassroots approach to social justice issues with a traditional style of Mexican music, Son La Lucha is a collective of musical activists who amass community gatherings and political protests through their music.

Their founder, Alfredo Castro, describes the group as “a space to learn and share the tradition of son jarocho; to organize and resist as a group; to strengthen ourselves, our youth, and our community; and to support social justice efforts.”

The collective, which can span from 5-30 people at any given time, specializes in a specific regional style of folk music and dance called son jarocho, a type of musical tradition that originates in the southern Veracruz area of the Sotavento. Son jarocho falls under the larger umbrella category of Mexican son.

Son La Lucha
Son La Lucha – Daniel Martinez

It is a style of music that has been startlingly unchanged since the 17th century, including the influence of Spanish baroque music, African percussion, and indigenous elements of Mexico, most notably the stomping of the feet as one of the forms of percussion.

The genre had a burst of popularity in 1958, when a traditional son jarocho known as “La Bamba” was adapted by the rock musician, Ritchie Valens, to critical acclaim. While the reach and influence of Valens’ version of the song is undeniable, it has been contested by traditional practitioners of the genre as being inauthentic and distorting its roots.

Castro shared that Son La Lucha’s approach to the distribution of these musical traditions is very different from Valens: “We, as a group, are not trying to make money off these traditions, so we don’t release the music as our own because we do not own this music.”

And it’s true – most of Son La Lucha’s music can only be heard live or through videos that are freely accessible on social media platforms. They do not turn a profit from any music distribution, which is admirable in this digital era when streaming is such a popular method of building a fanbase.

Son La Lucha

Instead, true to form, they are focused on in-person community building to get their message across. Traditionally, communal celebrations known as fandangos are where son jarocho lived and breathed, and Son La Lucha harnesses that collective energy for use in ongoing political battles, specifically around immigration and pathways to citizenship.

Castro notes, “We are not recreating the wheel, just continuing traditions mostly for protest events and fundraisers – bringing people from Veracruz, Mexico to D.C. to bolster our community.”

While the idea of combining of music and activism is not necessarily new, they make good use of the creative, community-building tools at their fingertips to ignite people’s awareness of political issues. The connectivity they strive for is steeped in a desire for authenticity and a physical space to share their music and dance.

Castro asserted proudly, “When there is a community member who needs help, Son La Lucha is there to support them.” This kind of empathy and care is desperately needed, especially in the political spectrum where immigrants are often erroneously reduced to statistics.

Son La Lucha - Hispanic Heritage Performance

This qualitative approach to taking care of their people is just as integral to their growth as is their music, and their boots-on-the-ground mentality is truly driven by a sense of community. While there may not be as much internal structure, the collective manages many events and performances on a volunteer basis, offering opportunities to network and connect people in need to appropriate resources.

One of their most recent projects was participating in the Welcome Back Congress: March for Citizenship, Care, and Climate on September 21, in Benjamin Banneker Park, which pushed to include a clear path to citizenship for immigrants as part of the new congressional budget breakdown. Along with other political protests, Son La Lucha is clearly dedicated to being loud about the injustices toward immigrants. Whether that’s through music or through chanting, there is no space for silence among this collective of social justice warriors.

For those interested in becoming one of these warriors themselves, Son La Lucha hosts regular workshops on the style of son jarocho, and its members practice at 7 p.m. most Thursdays at Lamont Plaza in Washington, D.C.

“If people are looking for a space to make connections, friendships, and music – please come because we’re here for you! We are ready to make our community bigger with you as a part of it.”

Son La Lucha is clearly mobilized and ready for anything with their can-do attitude and desire for social change, and these workshops are a wonderful opportunity to get involved and make a difference in the community through music – and possibly make some lifelong friendships and connections along the way.

Be sure to follow Son La Lucha on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up with their ongoing efforts to uplift the traditions of son jarocho and fighting the good fight toward immigration rights, all within our local DMV community.

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Charlie Maybee

Charlie Maybee is a dancer, musician, educator, and writer based in Winchester, Virginia who currently teaches in the Dance Division of the Shenandoah Conservatory. His primary work as an artist is with his performing collective, Polymath Performance Project, through which he makes interdisciplinary performance art that centers tap dance as the primary medium of expression. He also currently fronts local hard rock band, The Aftershakes, and releases music as a solo artist under the name Nox Eterna.

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