The region is composed of six Mexican states: Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, Hidalgo, Puebla, and Veracruz.
The land known as la Huasteca derives its name from the people that inhabited the area at the time of the conquest, the Huaxtecos. La Huasteca is a multi state region focused at the mouth of the Pánuco River. The region is bounded to the north by the river Soto la Marina in Tamaulipas, to the south by the Cazones River in Veracruz, to the east by the Gulf of Mexico and to the west by the Sierra Madre Oriental crossing through the states of Hidalgo, Puebla and Querétaro in the west.
The distinctive feature of the huasteca region is the music, a style known as huapango or son Huasteco. The terms son huasteco and huapango can be used interchangeably to denote the music of the region, though huapango is the term most popularly used in Mexico.
The huapango is a style of music that is distinguished by the presence of the Trío Huasteco, and the use of the falsetto voice in singing. The Trío Huasteco is made up of three instruments (thus the term trio) - the European derived violin and two guitar variants of local origin - the large guitarra quinta or huapanguera and smaller jarana huasteca.
The guitarra quinta huapanguera (or simply, huapanguera) is a flat backed lute of the guitar family that can be traced back to the 16th and 17th century when it arrived from Spain. It is also known as a guitara quinta: guitarra - guitar, quinta - fifth, five; therefore a guitar with five courses of strings.
The huapanguera is in the shape of a standard acoustic guitar but slightly larger and deeper: the guitar is 36" long and 4" deep and the huapanguera is 38" long and 5" deep. Because of its proportions and lightweight construction, the huapanguera has a resonant, full-bodied tone quality with long sustaining power.
The sound of the huapanguera is strummed in a style that characterizes the region, see figure 2. The huapanguera and the jarana (see below) strum in parallel with the huapanguera taking the low register and the jarana the high register. On occasion the huapanguera will play a solo by plucking the strings during a musical interlude.
The jarana huasteca is a smaller version of the huapanguera (27" long and 3.5" deep). The strings have less tension than the guitar and when combined with its construction and dimensions give it a full, resonant tone quality with slightly less sustaining power than the huapanguera. The instrument is tuned in thirds in a harmonic region of the scale higher than the huapanguera making the two instruments complementary in tone quality.
As with many other guitar-like instruments developed in Mexico, the origin of the jarana is not known. The jarana huasteca is very different from the jarana veracruzano; the word may be a generic term for any small or medium sized guitar-like instrument.
The violin is the standard European style instrument. This instrument was brought to Mexico, as with the guitar, mandolin, and other types of chordophones (string instruments), at the time of the conquest in the 16th century. The violin used in huasteco ensembles is identical to the violin used by the mariachi except the violin is generally tuned ½ to ¼ tone below concert tuning (A = 440 Hz).
The violin introduces the melody at the beginning of each son. Between each set of verses, the violin plays a variation of the melody. When the violin is playing, the dancers are permitted to perform the strong percussive steps of the son huasteco. Once the violin stops and the singing begins, the dancers must perform "resting steps," soft movement where the percussive steps of the dancers does not drown out the verses of the vocalists. Playing the violin in the huasteco style requires a high degree of virtuosity, a great degree of dexterity, and a discriminating ear.
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