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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Latin Sound of Missouri's David Wax Museum: Jaranas Jarochas, Quijadas y Mas

Posted By on Tue, Sep 11, 2012 at 10:17 AM

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David Wax Museum: Will You Be Sleeping, Part 1 from Harvey Robinson on Vimeo.

How long did it take you to go from being a fan of the music to feeling like you could play this music confidently and integrate it with your songs?

It took a long time. I was a fan from 2001 to 2006. And then I went back down after I graduated from Harvard. I had a fellowship to study Mexican folk music and that's when I tried to learn to play it and approach it as a musician. I learned to sing the songs and built up a repertoire of music. That whole year still feels like a daunting enterprise. I didn't grow up with that tradition. I'm just a folk musician, a singer-songwriter. Some parts come intuitively, but it's complicated music, and it takes a lifetime to play well. The deeper you get into it the more you appreciate it.

That led to a realization that there are other ways to be inspired by this music, to have it influence my own songwriting and the music I want to make. There was a transition from the music influencing my songwriting to thinking about new instrumentation in my band, and then introducing that to the musicians, having them develop their own relationship to it. Coming back to Boston, I realized that the most authentic way of interacting with it was respecting the distance between where I come from and what the music is, to let it be a passion and inspire what I'm doing.

One of the critical digs at singer-songwriters is that they lack rhythm. But as a singer and songwriter the folkloric tradition changes that for you. Rhythm becomes central.

We try to embrace that. It takes the music to a different realm. The rhythm becomes a backbone, the record is really focused around percussion. The jarana, which is what I play, it chugs along but in a really particular, syncopated way. Not always, but we layer that on. On a lot of songs it's an army of jaranas, six different sizes, so it's a blast of rhythm. I've always been drawn to that approach. Paul Simon did that in such an incredible way on Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints.

The last track, "Refuge," especially evokes Graceland.

I think the electric guitar ties that in. We're using a lot of different Mexican stringed instruments on that track, but the electric guitar gives it a different energy and tone. There are bands like Vampire Weekend who use that African guitar tone, and we wanted to acknowledge the same source, but we didn't want to duplicate that.

Tell me about your recent trip to Shanghai.

We were invited by the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology. That was because we played a show in Grand Forks, North Dakota. A woman who had heard about our performance there was involved in the American culture center at the University of Shanghai, and she was looking for a band to introduce American music to her students. They brought us over for ten days in March. It was an incredible trip. We'd never been to China, we didn't know much about the culture, but we felt like people connected to the music. The spirit of it really translated. It was a pretty wild experience.

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