Artemio Posadas

2016 Bess Lomax Hawes NEA National Heritage Fellow
Headshot of a man.
Photo by Maria Virginia Prieto Solis

Music Credits: “El-Fandanguito,” composed by Artemio Posadas and performed by Trio Huasteco de Valles, from the album, El Viento que Murmura.

La Llorona” composed by Artemio Posadas and performed by Trio Huasteco de Valles, from the album, El Viento que Murmura, used courtesy of Artemio Posadas.

Jo Reed: You’re listening to the sound of son huasteco played by the 2016 Bess Lomax Hawes NEA National Heritage Fellow Artemio Posadas and this is Art Works the weekly podcast from the National Endowment for the Arts I’m Josephine Reed.

The musical tradition son huasteco began in the late 19th century, in the Huastecan region of northeastern Mexico—and the place where Artemio Posadas was born and raised. It’s a tradition filled with many musical components: first, it’s performed by a trio consisting of violin, jarana huasteca (a small guitar), and the quinta huapanguera (a large guitar). The musicians will sing short, often improvised, lyrics that follow traditional poetic forms. Melodies are punctuated with high falsetto as the violin often tears off into wild ornamentations. Finally, it is embedded in social interaction; there’s not performers and a passive audience. Rather, at son huasteco gatherings, people dance on a wooden platform, their footwork creating a rhythmic conversation between dancers and musicians. So it is both a musical event and a social and cultural practice. In fact, practice is a word Artemio Posadas returns to again and again.

Artemio Posadas has dedicated his life to keeping this musical tradition vibrant. During the 1970’s he would visit the United States and conduct workshops for Mexican-Americans eager to embrace their heritage. When he emigrated to the United States and made the bay area his home in 1979, he brought son huasteco with him—taking on apprentices and bringing Mexican musicians to the United States to play and teach. One those apprentices, musician and anthropologist Russell Rodriguez, translated for Artemio Posadas when I spoke with him in Washington Dc soon after he received the Bess Lomax Hawes Award. And though the Bess Lomax Hawes Award is given in honor of a significant contribution to the preservation and awareness of cultural heritage, Posadas is also a fine musician in his own right playing jarana huasteca, the quinta huapanguera and most spectacularly the violin. But then Artemio Posadas grew up in a musical family.

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> My father played violin an ensemble that played music which is called Huapango Arribeño.

Jo Reed: And did he teach you? Was he your teacher? Did you pick up the violin first?

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> He didn’t really teach me. Nevertheless, growing up with him I felt it was like spiritually he influenced my direction.

Jo Reed: Because there was always music in your house too.

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Jo Reed: When did you first learn to play?

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> It was during my last year of high school when I entered into a musical and dance ensemble at the university of San Luis Potosí that was in 1967. The director there at the university group bought a bunch of different instruments accordions, marimbas. He named them. I can’t remember. And for some reason I gravitated to the violin.

Jo Reed: When did you become interested in Son?

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> It was in that same year of 1967. When the director of the group, Juan Antonio, Armendares [ph?], began to take me to go share space and time with a lot of the different musicians of the region that played the Son Huasteco.

As I mentioned son huasteco consists of many elements of music, poetry and dance coming together, but Artemio Posadas is quick to point out that the tradition itself is a hybrid of different cultures

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> So the Son we should think about is in this way of thinking about these what he called “aires” and I think it’s these influences, these kind of breezes that kind of end up confluencing [ph?] together be them Arabic and Spanish and making their ways to the Americas and mixing with all of these other groups and also with Africans that are brought to the region. And it’s how people kind of satisfy and develop an expression that is proper and typical and theirs.

Jo Reed: So it’s both kind of…

Russell Rodriguez: In thinking about time, in a process of time and experience and I think we’re thinking about colonization and a lot of different historical experiences.

Jo Reed: Son huasteco brings together all these various cultural influences but then the music is expressed distinctly in different times and different places.

Russell Rodriguez: Yes, I would think so because the same-- these same influences occur in different spots throughout Mexico and they are distinct to these different communities. you start to have like different feels in the rhythm, even if the rhythm is like three-four meter or six-eight meters there’s still these different actions and feels and sentiments. But also instruments, which instruments end up emerging in the different communities. And it just depends on that type of creativity and the way it just formulates. And, I guess, also what are the resources, what’s available to them.

Russell Rodriguez: <speaks Spanish to Artemio>

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

I asked Artemio to talk about the different components of son huasteco

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> So in the Son Huasteco there’s various components that create this matrix. But it would be the rhythm which we call Huapango. The dance, the footwork, it’s kind of a harder stomping footwork. The improvisation of verses.

Jo Reed: You’re talking about spoken verses?

Russell Rodriguez: Sung verses.

Jo Reed: Yeah, but I mean with words.

Russell Rodriguez: Yeah, narrative. Mm-Hm. Text. And then the improvisation of the violin.

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> Oh yeah, and the Huapanguera also will play some improvised melodic lines.

But because son huasteco is so multi-facted, so rich and immersive, it struck me that it would be very hard to pass along the tradition—there are so many moving parts to it.

Russell Rodriguez: <speaks Spanish to Artemio>

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> It’s like anything else. At first sure it’s going to be complicated and it’s going to seem like overwhelming. But with practice and I think what he’s bringing up is the idea of having a space to practice. Or continued enthusiasm and energy to practice meaning having a place to gather and bringing people together, a reason to be bringing people together. And then when you see the musicians play, that other musicians can see what’s going on and how people are playing so they can start their process of imitating and practicing. But it’s within the social gathering, you know, what they call the fandango where this occurs and it’s this engagement and this interaction to see people already practice and a space for others to learn.

I was curious about the traditional uses of the son huasteco—where would people have the opportunity to experience them? Were they associated with particular holidays?

Jo Reed: That was really going to straight to my next question where and how are Sons traditionally used in Mexico. Where are they done? Where are they performed?

Russell Rodriguez: <speaks Spanish to Artemio>

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> So it’s in that-- and I used the term fandango before but he was using the term huapanguiada and basically that’s the social event.

Jo Reed: And what does fandango mean?

Russell Rodriguez: It’s the same thing.

Jo Reed: Okay.

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> And the huapanguiada use because the Son that the rhythm is called Huapango. So he’s saying it’s that event that can occur in somebody’s backyard. It can occur in a basketball court at a school.

Jo Reed: At half time.

Russell Rodriguez: No, no, no you need space. No, you need space. You need time.

Artemio Posadas: More hours. More hours.

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> The open plaza in a municipal or in front of the church. It’s a public event in which people are expected to engage, participate. And this is where the musicians, this is where the dancers come and are being fluid with their ideas and inspired to in their improvisations of verses, inspired in their footwork, inspired in their performance, in their presentation, which it’s not performance presentation. It’s practice. It’s everybody knows what it’s going on.

Jo Reed: So what’s at the heart of this is that it’s a social community event. It’s not something that is-- or it can be, but the heart of it isn’t you’re on a stage and the audience is here and everybody politely claps at the end?

Russell Rodriguez: Well, actually, he did say at the very beginning which I missed is the max kind of the most-- he said the maximum event or meaning the practice at its best is exactly what you’re saying as a social engagement.

Russell Rodriguez: <speaks Spanish to Artemio>

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: Expression.

Jo Reed: Just in thinking and I know your work aside from teaching this tradition of Son is also clearly making it clear that it is a social event. But I wonder because I think about Mexico and Squares in Mexico are where there are public gathering spaces. And in the United States that’s far and few between where that can happen.

Russell Rodriguez: <speaks Spanish to Artemio>

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> You bring up the good point, the right point that it is-- he just ended with it. It’s very much more difficult here in the United States. Nevertheless, we do make them happen, these gatherings happen. And they occur, for instance, in the garage of the Beltran [ph?] family that live in Santa Clara right next to the 49er Stadium. One hundred meters from the 49ers new stadium. Or at the East Basin or in the esplanade of the theater. But the children they do invite us to have a huapanguiada [ph?] at their homes too. So it does become a much more almost private even though it’s open and people are invited and we try to encourage a lot of people to participate. It shifts.

Jo Reed: And that’s the other part that I wanted to talk to you about because you began practicing this in Mexico and then moved to the Bay Area in the late seventies. And I’m just wondering how it translates? What the difference is in terms of practitioners, in terms of audience, between California, the United States and Mexico.

Russell Rodriguez: <speaks Spanish to Artemio>

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> It was adapting to new cultural rules or even laws and thinking about how in the United States you can’t have an event that goes throughout the whole night, especially in a public space. So now we have mini fandango’s and mini huapanguiada’s [ph?] that are shorter in time, you know, to accommodate how things are done in the United States.

Jo Reed: How long were they typically in Mexico traditionally?

Russell Rodriguez: <speaks Spanish to Artemio>

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> Yeah, they can start at like seven at night until the dawn, next day morning. And there’s actual fandangos that are scheduled to occur throughout a weekend or days. But they have different lifts and rests and lifts and rests.

Jo Reed: Artemio Posadas has been teaching the practice of son huasteco since the 1970s. We’re now in the 21st century and everyone’s attention is pulled in many different directions. especially young people. Was there an interest in son huasteco among young third or fourth generation Mexican-Americans

Russell Rodriguez: <speaks Spanish to Artemio>

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> Yes, so we can say that there’s-- obviously there will be different responses. Some people are drawn to it and others not so much. And there’s a cultural issue because the youngsters, especially those that were born in the United States. It’s not really their cultural practice or they’re not growing up within a context of that cultural practice, you know, but maybe the parents did. However, there’s times when you do see this connection between the generation, between the parents and the children where they find a common interest in it and that’s when it’s very beautiful.

Jo Reed: Now, if I got this right that Son’s had almost fallen out of practice in Mexico or it was on the decline. And since the seventies it really has been revived. Is that true? Or did I completely misread that?

Russell Rodriguez: <speaks Spanish to Artemio>

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> So, I think, you’re right and I think it is complicated too because there was the idea of the ballet folkloricos that were kind of international and performing this music. But like you were talking about earlier, you can’t present it and perform it. However, what the practice of the kind of convivial sharing of the space and music and the practice was something that around that time people were seeing that the elders that were musicians in the smaller towns were getting old and passing. And so there were people that made efforts to rescue and make sure that their knowledge wasn’t lost. So it’s in that time that you see different kind of phenomena of people kind of practicing more or movements of people practicing. But it was mostly men that used to play. And now with this kind of resurgence you see women who are being recognized as really important practitioners and young girls engaging it.

Jo Reed: That’s great. I know you’ve organized tours of this and performances. And I also know that it’s often on a shoestring budget. And this has a lot of moving parts. Can you just talk about how you go about organizing something like this and presenting it on a tour when there just isn’t a lot of money to do it?

Russell Rodriguez: <speaks Spanish to Artemio>

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> So it’s the love for the practice of the Son of Mexico, especially the Son Huasteco. And yeah, he paid out of his own pocket and his savings to make things happen. And then when started working with the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts they were able to help out-- they had other resources development and grant writers to get a little bit more funds. And this is kind of how he did it to bring the musicians that we wanted to see. And to do these projects and create these events. But I want to also I think we just want to add here it’s what small organizations do with very little is tremendous.

Jo Reed: Yes, I agree.

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> Yeah, and it’s just the efforts and the enthusiasm and the energy they spread to others to contribute in some way or another.

Jo Reed: I completely, completely concur with that. You sing. You play instruments. You dance. You organize and arrange tours. And you teach. I’m just saying that's a lot. How do you juggle all of this?

Artemio Posadas: And I run half-marathons.

Jo Reed: And you run marathons. Yes.

Russell Rodriguez: And he has a fulltime job aside from that.

Jo Reed: And you have a fulltime job aside from that.

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> Again, I think it’s just the love for it. And it’s the investment of-- with the children, with the youth, with adults that I work with. It’s not only working here at this level in the Bay Area but understanding that it connects. It connects back to Mexico to where he learned. And for example, Artemio has been kind of-- he goes and visits one of the indigenous-- he visits some of the indigenous communities quite often. And from what I understand he’s kind of like a godfather figure, padrino [ph?], patron, figure. But it’s he-- of the little bit that he has finances he’ll invest in that community with some finances to make sure that what they do does not stop. And for instance, the last time he visited just recently there was a young man, an eighteen-year-old that told him I do want to learn the indigenous harp that’s practiced in that community which is something very rare. And so Artemio said, “Okay, I’ll send the money to get the harp for you. And I’ll send money to the musician that plays so he’ll teach you.” And it’s understanding how it’s circular. You know, how much he’s gotten from that community. Now, it’s time for him to invest back to it. And now with actually with this award it will really help to make sure that certain things continue. And it’s something that he thinks is incredibly important because it’s not only just to keep a practice going. But it’s because how people formulate their identity.

Jo Reed: And hold on to their history. And then finally, National Heritage Fellowship Award, not only what does it meant to you to get the award, but what do you think it says about the place of Son in the United States, in the Mexican American community?

Russell Rodriguez: <speaks Spanish to Artemio>

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish>

Russell Rodriguez: <translation> So receiving this award really means that it’s time for me to really dig in and continue my studies and be more prepared so that I can continue to share in this what I know to others. And like I said last night, we have to utilize these expressions, we have to utilize this knowledge to contribute to the idea, to contribute, to formulate a society that’s more just and humane.

Jo Reed: Amen. Thank you. Congratulations.

Artemio Posadas: <speaks Spanish> Gracias.

That’s 2016 National Heritage Fellow Artemio Posadas. Musician and anthropologist Russell Rodriguez translated.

Today the National Endowment for the Arts announced the 2018 National Heritage Fellows---they range from an R and B singer to a day of the dead altar-maker to an old-time fiddler. This is the nation’s highest award for folk and traditional artists. The concert honoring them takes place in Washington DC on September 28. It’s free and open to the public. Go to arts. gov for more information. You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. My thanks to Victoria Hutter for her finely-written article in NEA Arts about Artemio Posadas.

You can subscribe to Art Works where ever you get your podcasts—so please do and leave us a rating on Apple—it will help people to find us. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I'm Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

2016 Bess Lomax Hawes NEA National Heritage Fellow Artemio Posadas has spent his life keeping the musical tradition of son huasteco vibrant. Son huasteco is a rich and complicated musical tradition. Beginning in Northeastern Mexico in the late 19th century, it combines distinctive rhythms, musical solos—with the violin taking a major role, poetry and dance. Improvisation is key; but so is participation. This isn’t a tradition that separates musicians and audience, and the dancers feet provide beats and rhythms in response to the music. Artemio Posadas grew up with son huasteco , and he brought it with him when he moved to the Bay area in the 1970s teaching this tradition through the generations. In this music-filled podcast, we’ll hear Artemio talk about his love of son huasteco in all its multi-dimensionality. Posadas’ apprentice, musician and anthropologist Russell Rodriguez serves as interpreter.