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Los Angeles, California, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2013

Los Angeles, California, United States
Established on Jan, 2013
Band Folk Traditional




"He's carved out a musical niche; Mexican native carries on the craft of folkloric instrument-making in L.A."

September 08, 2008|
Kristopher Fortin | Special to The Times

Cesar Augusto Castro Gonzalez found his calling when he went looking for a buddy to play some soccer during recess.

Castro was attending middle school in the Mexican coastal city of Veracruz and was told he could find his friend, Omar, at a workshop that taught young people how to play traditional music known as el son jarocho. Castro found Omar and was immediately drawn to the sound of an eight-string rhythmic guitar, the jarana.

"The happiness of the jarana really just got me," Castro said. He was 13 at the time. In two years, he was giving lessons. Today, at 31, he continues to teach in Los Angeles and make instruments at a tiny workshop tucked behind his home overlooking El Sereno.

Castro specializes in making jaranas and requintos, guitar-like instruments that are key components and the most familiar parts of el son jarocho, or "the Veracruz sound." Castro's experience has made him comfortable expressing pride in his work.

"I make a good instrument all the time," Castro said.

Although Castro grew up in Veracruz, he had never come across the rural folk music of the region, which uses various stringed instruments and percussion to orchestrate a song, or son. To U.S. ears, perhaps the best example of the jarocho style is "La Bamba."

When Castro visited that first son jarocho workshop, Omar was embarrassed. This was country music, most often played by "old people," he said.

But Castro was already captivated by the sound, and he asked to hear more. Teacher Andres Alfonso had Castro play along with the rest of the group. Soon, he started attending the class that spring semester in 1990.

When the school year and class ended, Castro's father enrolled him in workshops taught by members of the group Mano Blanco, champions of the rural son jarocho tradition. When school resumed, Castro continued Alfonso's workshop Tuesdays and Thursdays and Mano Blanco's workshops Mondays and Wednesdays.

He sometimes kept his jarana at his side while he slept, and he played just about everywhere -- waiting for the bus, walking down the street or, once, even in the bathroom. "I was practicing a scale I learned earlier," he explained.

Castro also took up other instruments, such as the bass-like leon, and a folkloric dance, el zapateado. The first lesson he received in lauderia, making and maintaining instruments, resulted when he needed to slim his requinto's neck -- it was hard for him to grip and move from note to note. He asked Gilberto Gutierrez, director of Mano Blanco, for help.

Castro said, "When I asked Gilberto to fix my requinto he said, 'Yes, but you're going to do it . . . and I'm going to show you.' "

But the more time Castro spent with music, the more distant he became with his boyhood friends. Yet he took comfort in becoming closer to his fellow musicians.

"They offered friendship openly," Castro said. "They never made you feel like you didn't belong."
The members of Mano Blanco invited him to play with them at fandangos, jam sessions in the most rudimentary form, in rural areas on weekends.

"I had one foot in the city and one foot in the ranchos," Castro said.

After Mano Blanco broke up, he took over teaching its music classes. With an adult musician in town, Pablo Aboleda, he also taught lauderia, while learning more about the craft from Aboleda. Castro started making and selling small guitars, just 12 inches long, for 500 pesos.

"Working on these small pieces of wood helped me learn how to handle the tools," he said.

In time Castro played professionally throughout Mexico, Latin America and the United States. In 2001, he played a gig at Self Help Graphics in East Los Angeles, where he met local musicians, such as members of Ozomatli, Quetzal and Castro's future wife, Xochi Flores-Castro.

Castro's relationship with her grew stronger, despite the distance. "It was becoming difficult to maintain because I always had to get a visa every time I wanted to come and visit Xochi," he said.

Finally, traveling became too much and he moved to Los Angeles in 2004. "Love made me emigrate. I just fell in love with Xochi," Castro said.

Castro had established contacts in Los Angeles from past visits, so they helped him start teaching el son jarocho workshops at places including Eastside Cafe in El Sereno and Imix Bookstore in Eagle Rock.

"I think he's a valuable asset, not just in son jarocho but in the community," said student Laura Cambron, a former member of the Santa Ana-based group Son del Centro.

Castro demands a complete understanding of the jarocho style and of each son. "He's so good at being holistic," Cambron said. "If you don't know the context and baseline, he makes sure that you learn."

Besides gigs, classes, spontaneous jam sessions, composing and taking care of his children -- 8-month-old Sofia, and stepdaughters Tonantzin, 14, and Luna, 9 -- Castro spends the rest of his time making jaranas and requintos in his wood shop, where pieces of wood, molds and completed instruments hang from the walls.

"He tells me not to be afraid to interrupt his work," his wife said. "If I need help with the kids, he is always ready to help."

She added, "He slaps us out of our madness. He brings a really old way of thinking, like eating dinner together."

At his workshop, Castro demonstrated the early steps of creating a jarana. He drew the outline of the jarana on a solid piece of mahogany, and using an electric saw, cut out the basic shape in five minutes.

"That's the easy part," Castro said.

Unlike a guitar, which has the bottom and top attached to the curving sides, Castro's jaranas are mostly one piece. He carves out the middle and attaches a top later.

Tuning pegs, the bridge and fret board are carved out of a hardwood known as African padauk. The top is either dark cedar, which lends a "sweetness" to the sound, or spruce, for "a little brighter" sound.

His aim, Castro said, is to make every instrument like the first one he made. That instrument, a jarana, was completed when he was 14 and under the supervision of Gutierrez.

"I still own it, and it is still one of the best guitars I have ever made," he said. "All the work I've done, it's turning back and saying here's your prize." - Los Angeles Times

"Greetings from L.A.! Global Village Picks Local Favorites"

By NPR staff
August 7, 2011

When Weekends on All Things Considered calls upon Betto Arcos to share the music he’s been playing on his KPFK program Global Village, the conversation usually takes place in separate studios on opposite sides of the country. This week, however, the show is coming to you from Los Angeles and the whole gang is together.

It’s only natural, then, for this week’s picks to have an L.A. theme. Arcos chats with guest host David Greene about some of his favorite new releases from Angelino musicians.

El Siquisiri

Artist: Cambalache
Album: El Siquisiri (later named El Historia de Fandango)

Cambalache is a group of musicians from East L.A., playing roots music from Veracruz, Mexico. This song is a standard of son Jarocho music from the Gulf Coast, a cultural region shaped by indigenous and African culture, as well as Spanish. It’s usually the first piece that musicians will play in a set to get the party started – very emblematic of what you do when you want to start a fandango. Son Jarocho has been popular in Los Angeles, going back to 1950s with Richie Valens, then Los Lobos. Today is a part of the regular - National Public Radio

"Sounds of Los Angeles, Cesar Castro"

Cesar Castro and Cambalache
by the Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Spotlight on Cesar and his band. - Smithsonian Folklife


Una Historia de Fandango - Cambalache - 2013

Constelacion de Sonidos -2017



Cambalache is a Chicano-Jarocho group based in East Los Angeles. Founded in 2007 and led by Cesar Castro (sonero, maestro and luthier from Veracruz, Mexico), Cambalache plays and promotes traditional son jarocho through performance, music workshops, and educational demonstrations. In the spirit of the fandango, a traditional celebration of music and dance, Cambalache engages its audience through participatory performances. In 2010, Cambalache (whose name means "exchange") organized an important fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Karl in Veracruz, thus strengthening decades of social and cultural exchange of the Chicano-Jarocho network. Cambalaches educational mission involves demonstrations from elementary school to universities, museums and music festivals. The music of Cambalache was featured on August 7, 2011 on NPRs All Things Considered stating: Son Jarocho has been popular in Los Angeles, going back to the 1950s with Ritchie Valens, then Los Lobos. Today, its a part of the regular soundtrack of Latino music in East L.A.

Cesar Castro began studying son jarocho at the age of 13 with renowned harpist, Andres Alfonso Vergara in Veracruz. Soon thereafter, he proceeded to study with Gilberto Gutierrez and was invited to formally join Grupo Mono Blanco, the corner stone group of El Movimiento Jaranero, at the age of 15. With Gutierrez and Mono Blanco, Castros education was not limited to the music. It was his mentorship with Gutierrez that rounded out his education in instrument making and teaching pedagogy. However, as a musical participant, Castro learned the great importance of sharing a tradition, community engagement, and creating active citizenry through the son jarocho and fandango. To date, Castro is the only Jarocho sonero residing in the U.S. who teaches the music and tradition in formal and casual settings, and is also a traditional luthier, and performer. He is a valuable culture bearer and asset to the Chicano-Jarocho family he has helped build over the last twelve years.  He has participated in groups like Quetzal, Ozomatli, Son de Madera, Dan Zane and Zocalo Zue (which was a son jarocho and son cubano hybrid).


Xochi Flores began studying son jarocho in 2001 under the auspices of Maestro Cesar Castro, and teachers Quetzal Flores and Russell Rodriguez in Los Angeles,  SHe is co founder of fandango sin fronteras, the bi national dialogue between Jarochos in Veracruz and Chicanos in Los Angeles.  She has played with other groups in Los Angeles, like Candela, Las No Que No and has collaborated  on projects with Ozomatli and Quetzal, Laura Rebolloso and Entre Mujeres. 

Juan Perez is the Chicano bass player who has played with every band in LA from Los Lobos, Ozomatli Quetzal and now with Cambalache.  Juan has studied bass for over 25 years and is considered the US most knowledgeable bass player in the son jarocho and Chicano music genres.  He was also named one of Boyle Heights Community Treasures by the Alliance for California Traditional Arts.

Chuy Sandoval studied classical guitar in college and upon his graduation bagan studying jarana and son jarocho with maestro Cesar Castro.  Three years into his apprenticeship, Chuy was integrated into Cambalache and has since been one of LAs best jaraneros.  Chuy also teaches jarana now at local community centers in Los ANgeles and the San Fernando Valley.

Band Members