Lake Chapala’s Modern Muralists II – The Lopez Vega Brothers

by Judy King 22. May 2010 18:37

DCP_2005"I am one of the very lucky people,”  Ajijic artist Jesús López Vega told me.

“I was one of the kids in the art classes sponsored by Neill James. I’ve grown up and now live being able to express some of my inner feelings and dreams and confusion through my art.

“Neill James recognized that we were capable of art. She knew that if the people of this area had been creative back to the time of the Aztec, then we had that creativity, too. We just needed someone to motivate us, to show us the way.”

Neill James was a travel writer and had traveled and lived in many far-flung areas of the world before she was injured climbing Popocatépetl (the volcano near Mexico City) and then, when she was nearly recovered, was injured again when she sped off to Michoacán in 1943 to see the eruption of Parícutin (the volcano the emerged from a cornfield  in full view of the startled farmer).

She later selected Ajijic as the perfect spot to completely recover her strength. She not only stay on (until her death in the 1990s) she hired a teacher, Angelita Aldana to tutor local children.

Jesús explained, “We got to go to class every day after school. First we had to study our school lessons for an hour, then our reward was the painting. Neill James had a mission for us, and we have to continue that mission for today’s children.

"That's why I return week after week to help the kids in the Saturday children's art program that is co-sponsored by the Lake Chapala Society and the Ajijic Society of the Arts -- to give the next generation the help I received.”

Then Jesús repeated, nearly word for word something he'd told me in an interview with Ajijic muralists back in 2002: "Art is a way of communication that comes through from our soul, from our spirit. It speaks the truth. That may not always be pretty, but it needs to be heard, and it needs to be shared."

Jesús López Vega is no stranger to designing and painting murals. By the time he was 15 years old, Jesús had completed his first mural entitled "Gladiators" at Giano Junior High School in La Puente, California. In the intervening years, he's painted four murals in Chapala area schools, and another in a Portland, Oregon gallery, the mural of Michicihualli (the spirit of the lake) on the side wall of his Ajijic studio, and his most recent major work, The Birth of Michicihualli – a giant stairway mural in Ajijic’s Casa de Cultura. Jesús began painting private murals in homes in the United States, and here in Mexico (like this lovely Virgin of Guadalajara) in the 1980s.

There are three Lopez Vega brothers – Jesús, Antonio and Margarito are all artists and all alumni of the Neill James classes for the children of Ajijic 50 years ago. (Some readers may also know sister Margarita – Rita who has helped visitors and local residents at the front desk of La Nueva Posada for many years.)

Neill James selected two of her most promising students to attend the art institute in San Miguel Allende. Brother Antonio not only succeeded in the classes there, he eventually was selected to be on the respected art school’s faculty. He remained in that position until he returned to Ajijic a couple of years ago.  You’ll read more about the other Neill James student who attended the Art Institute – Javier Zaragosa --  in our next post about Ajijic’s muralists.

While Antonio was working in San Miguel, Jesús has built a following of admirers here in Ajijic – and in the United States where he lived for several of his younger years. Meanwhile , more of the Neill James students, combined their efforts on a patriotic mural featuring Miguel Hidalgo in the entry of the school across the street from the Templo de San Andrés on Marcos Castellaños (pictured at left below).

murals4marcoscastellonas murals2jesuslopezvega

In the center shot taken about 7 years ago, Jesús was putting the  finishing touches on Education and Culture in the Saul Rodiles Piña school on Hidalgo in Ajijic. His other school murals include two in his high school, the old Prepatoria Chapala building on Pedro Moreno in Chapala, and in a California junior high school.

At right above, Jesús shows the design and plans for the huge recent mural he completed in Ajijic’s new Casa de Cultura. That painting entends up through two stories and onto the ceiling as the spirit of the lake emerges from the waters produced by her father, the rain god Tlaloc.

Visit the gallery of Jesús López Vega at the intersection of Ocampo and Rio Zula in western Ajijic, We know you’ll be as enchanted with his work as we are. From time to time he teaches print making, and often you can also meet his brother Antonio in the gallery or studio. 


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Mariachi Vargas Surprises Ajijic Moms

by Judy King 12. May 2010 13:08

vargas  Wow…All over Lakeside today, folks are shaking their heads in disbelief at the wonderful surprise some of mothers of Ajijic received yesterday when they showed up at their children’s annual Mother’s Day school program.

Most school programs for Mother’s Day feature kids in costumes reciting poems, singing “Las Mananitas” and performing traditional folk dances. During the afternoon events, the mom’s are often entered in a raffle and awarded sets of coffee mugs, or drinking glasses, along with the occasional small appliance.

So you can imagine the shock and amazement to moms and grandmothers arrived for their annual salute at the  school above the highway in Ajijic and to find that along with the kids, they were being treated to two hours of music by Mexico’s best and favorite mariachis – Mariachi Vargas de Tecaltitlan. Those women are still reeling with pleasure and surprise today – and most of the other women of Lakeside (along with many of the men) are green with envy.

When Mariachi Vargas played in concert to a full house earlier this year in Ajijic, not only did the tickets go for a whopping $350 pesos ($30US), the famous band didn’t take the stage until after 11 p.m. for a two-hour show.

Mariachi_Vargas_Con_Lázaro_CárdenasNo One is as Special as a Mexican Mom

We told you a couple of days ago that no one is as special as a Mexican Mom…and these special moms watched their own private two-hour concert – free! No wonder they are still breathless with excitement!

Mariachi Vargas is one of the oldest mariachi groups in this state of Jalisco, which is the birthplace of the familiar groups of 10 or more musicians. It was Don Gaspar Vargas who gathered the first ensemble of musicians in his Jalisco hometown of Tecaltitlan – still the modern groups home base. (Here’s a shot of the group about 50 years ago with Mexico’s then president, Lazaro Cardenas)

No All Mexican Music is Mariachi – Not by a LONG Shot!

Not all Mexican music or musicians are mariachi – traditional mariachi features five violins, 2 trumpets, three guitars in varying sizes and sometimes a Jalisco harp. Most musicos (musicians) today, especially those who perform in top notch groups like the world famous favorite – Mariachi Vargas de Tecaltitlan – are so well-trained and proficient that they could play in any symphony orchestra.

Good Mariachis are VERY Good Musicians

Here’s proof – this UTUBE video shows Mariachi Vargas performing in concert with the Philharmonic Symphony of Queretaro. In this bit, you’ll hear a good sampling of the incredible voices of this group, and their professional musicality.

Next, there’s a PBS video clip of Mariachi Vargas performing “Cascabel (The Rattlesnake) in concert. If the violins and trumpets don’t impress you, the guitars and voices will!

Vargas white

Ah the Mexican Song We All Know – Cielito Lindo

Here’s a Mexican song beloved by everyone – Mexicans and foreigners – love “Cielito Lindo”. We’re betting you’ll seldom hear it done better than this UTube rendition which includes a short medley of other favorite Mexican tunes. (See the running Japanese script across this video? that’s because mariachi is exceedingly popular in many countries around the world, including far-flung places like Japan, Switzerland and Croatia

visav3Linda Ronstadt with Mariachi Vargas

You probably already know the sound of Mariachi Vargas. Have you heard Linda Ronstadt’s Grammy-winning 1986 CD of traditional Mexican music? Not only did “Canciones de mi Padre” feature Mariachi Vargas, Linda Ronstadt and the group toured the US. Here, from the DVD of the same name, is Linda explaining and introducing Mariachi Vargas performing the song you know as rock and roll from back in our day, which actually had it’s roots as a courtship song from Vera Cruz -- “La Bamba.”

Linda and her niece Mindy sing “Y Andale” with Mariachi Vargas on the same DVD. Listen to old Mexican drinking song (and Linda’s introduction of it)from the DVD “Canciones de mi Padre” from UTUBE.

This is Why I Love Mexico and Mexican Music

I suspect it was polka-flavored songs like “Y Andale” that helped cement not only my love of Mexico, but my love of Mexican music. in this song you hear the influence of Mexico, mixed with the polka band rhythms and moving bass parts brought to the border by South Texas’ German settlers. As a child, I fell asleep on summer nights hearing German bands playing in the town’s Polka Hall  four blocks away; songs like this still take me right back to that carefree time and cozy place.

You Should Own this CD or DVD!

Linda-Ronstadt-photo If you love Mexico you owe it to yourself to own this classic CD and/or DVD (whether you love Mexican music, and especially if you think you’ve heard it and don’t like it.) Hearing Linda’s explanations of the various songs, turning on the DVD’s translated text and lyrics (or reading the lyrics in English in the liner notes) helps bring a new appreciation to these old songs, many of which were popular in the early days of Mariachi popularity – the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

With this year being the centennial of that hard-fought civil war, (and the bicentennial of Mexico’s fight for Independence which began in 1810, it’s time to learn a bit more about Mexican culture.

Mexico’s Mariachi music is a great place to start!

Visit the Mariachi Vargas de Tecaltitlan section of your CD store or of your favorite online outlet of Mexican music and give yourself a purely Mexican treat—hurry home, pour an icy margarita, settle back, gaze into the distance – envisioning sunset over Lake Chapala. Ooooh, now that’s Mexico!


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Skip “Happy Birthday;” Give me “Las Mañanitas!”

by Judy King 19. February 2010 20:08

fatherI have a mission. I’m determined to help Mexico’s English-speaking residents and guests learn to recognize and appreciate the traditional celebratory song, “Las Mañanitas.”

Do you know the melody? Can you recognize it when you hear it in a restaurant or at an event? Would you have known what song the congregation was singing, accompanied by the organ and two guitars at the end of the special mass in Ajijic’s Templo de San Andrés honoring El Señor Cura Father Alfredo on his 73rd birthday this week?

There’s a You Tube clip featuring one of Mexico’s premier groups, Mariachi Vargas de Tecatitlan performing the music of “Las Mañanitas” with a slideshow featuring a birthday girl.

I see it happen all the time…a friend alerts the restaurant staff of a birthday being celebrated at the table. The waiters approach the table bearing a candle-topped piece of cake and singing the lovely lyrics of “Las Mañanitas.” “How beautiful is the morning, we’ve come to greet you, We’ve gathered with joy and pleasure to congratulate you….”

Judy-60  The friends chatter on, oblivious of the traditional music and unaware that their friend is being honored with the country’s traditional birthday song which includes a verse, “On the day you were born; also were born all the flowers. The nightingales gathered to sing at your baptismal font.”

When the waiters or musicians switch into a chorus of “Happy birthday to you…” all of the guests suddenly take note and join in the song. What shame. They don’t even know that they’ve missed participating in a lovely Mexican tradition.

I’m about to celebrate my 65th birthday (it’s my 20th celebration in Mexico) and the last thing I want to hear this weekend is the boring repeated refrain, “Happy Birthday to you.”

Think about it a minute…wouldn’t you prefer a beautiful melody and lyrics that say, “I wish I could be to be the sunbeam shining through your window. I could be the first to wish you good morning while you are asleep,” or  “Of all the stars in the sky, I need only pull down two; one with which to greet you and the other to wish you goodbye.”

judycake There are a number of verses and variations for “Las Mañanitas.” The basic verses, sometimes referred to as Mañanitas Tapitias (Guadalajara Mañanitas) are often the only verses used for birthdays. There are other variations called Mañanitas Morenitas or Virgencitas. These are designed to be sung in a just after midnight serenade for the Virgin of Guadalupe on the night of December 11-12. 

Serenatas

Some of the more romantic verses were written generations ago when young men turned to hiring musicians to back them as they proclaimed (through songs)  their love for carefully chaperoned young ladies.

The just-after-midnight love serenades were also called gallos (roosters) a humorous reference to the crowing and going on of young men outside the homes of young women. Both the gallos and pre-dawn birthday, saint’s day or wedding day serenades usually began (and still begin) with “Las Mañanitas.” The song’s name, literally translated is “The Sweet Little Mornings.”

By the way, while “Las Mañanitas”  signaled the beginning of a serenade, the second song is usually the famous “Cielito Lindo,” the country’s most famous declaration of love song.

Mexico Insights Spanish Tip:  

Adding “ita” to the end of a word creates a warm, sweet, loving or small aspect to the base word. Examples: Cielo (heaven or sky) Cielito (little sky- sunrise or sunset sky) Casa (house) Casita (guest house, granny flat), Abuela (Grandmother) Abuelita (Grandma or Grammy), Juana (Joan) Juanita (Joanie), Gata (Cat) Gatita (Kitty).

Heart-throb and movie star Pedro Infante of Mexico’s 1940s Golden age of Cinema sang “Las Mañanitas” in several films. We found a clip of Pedro Infante in a You Tube serenade scene from one of those movies. This scene is a serenade with a twist. (See it here.)

Mother’s Day

You’ll also hear “Las Mañanitas” performed sporadically all during the night before Mexico’s May 10 Mother’s Day as roaming bands of musicians (and children) serenade moms. These scenes are repeated in the towns, neighborhoods, and villages all over Mexico, and in the other countries where Mexicans have settled.

Días de los santos

tuba-in-churchAnother time when this traditional song is guaranteed to be featured is on the feast day of patron saints. Everyone and almost everything in Mexico and other Latin American countries has a patron. Towns host novenas (nine-day celebrations of prayer and festivities) for their patron saint – and when the band marches into the church belting out a tune, you can be sure it’ll be “Las Mañanitas.”

Santa Cecelia is the harp-playing patron saint of musicians. On her November 22 feast days, musicians gather in plazas, squares, pavilions and shrines to honor their saint with “Las Mañanitas.” A 2008 event in Los Angeles brought 100 or more mariachis together to honor Saint Cecelia with a mass performance of the traditional song.  (Click here)

The Lyrics? Tomorrow!

Are you ready to learn the lyrics of “Las Mañanitas?” Come back tomorrow, we’ll have a few more pictures and video clips of “Las Mañanitas” and the lyrics, in both Spanish and translated into English.


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

The Scenes of Carnaval

by Judy King 15. February 2010 17:24

Kinder-2005 In the last post, we explained Ajijic’s tradition of the Sayacas – the elegantly dressed masked men and boys who appear in several local celebrations including the Carnaval (Mardi Gras) parade.

There are other fun and colorful participants in the annual parade; we thought you’d like to see some pictures of what you can expect in tomorrow’s parade.

When the Carnaval parade arrives at the DIF center on Ocampo near Seis Esquinas, the children from the Kinder are waiting, wearing masks and face paint, excite and anxious to see the sights.

These pictures are a combination of shots from 2003, 2005 and 2007. Enjoy!

  small-charro princesses

Children have as much fun in the Carnaval parade as do the Sayacas. Above left is a giggling small charro. These princesses are students at one of the Kinders in their normal life.

Swan-float mardi-gras-dancers

The 2005 parade featured several beautiful floats. In order to get pictures of all the scenes I wanted, I watched the parade near the beginning, again on Ocampo near Seis Esquinas and again on Hidalgo as the merry troupe headed back to the plaza.

little-boy horse-and-cart

This tiny tot is securely tied in the saddle, and enjoying the whole experience. I’ve taken pictures of this man and his horse and cart in several parades. You saw him in the last post with a bride.

 girl-2005 2005-truckload

 

Not just the boys are riding on horseback. This little girl heads down Constitución in a colorful costume. Oh my, it’s a whole truckload of Sayacas heading for the parade lineup and start around 11 a.m. on Fat Tuesday – Mardi Gras – That’s tomorrow, February 16.

Go!  The whole parade is a giant “Kodak Moment.”  It’s one of the reasons we love Living at Lake Chapala.


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Ajijic’s Carnaval Tradition: Los Sayacas

by Judy King 14. February 2010 19:47

DCP_1837 Many of the mundane world's events pale as the techicolor madcap festivities and excesses of Carnaval (Mardi Gras) culminate Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. In the old days Mardi Gras was the last great hurrah before the hard and colorless days of Lent.

Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans and Vera Cruz are famous for their extravagant annual pre-Lent events which were patterned after the elaborate costumes and masked balls in Venice. In spite of those opulent celebrations, I prefer the homespun hilarity and madcap mischief of the traditional sayacas in Ajijic’s Mardi Gras parade.

Some things, like Ajijic’s sayacas, are better experienced than explained. Once folks experience the pure joy and mischief of the dancing, flour and confetti-throwing sayacas, explanations no longer matter.

Sayacas are masked men and boys costumed as ever-gracious, well-endowed women. Preceding them in the parade is a band of younger boys who taunt the sayacas and then run to avoid being showered with fistfuls of flour. Sayacas wear everything from elegant gowns to tawdry sundresses over a few well-placed balloons. Accessorized with make-up, wigs, hats, gloves, and handbags, the outfits still are less than stunning.

flour sayaca-2005 throwing-flour

A few of the sayacas dance through the streets with their masked escorts who don ill-fitting, out-of-date suits, giant worn shoes or boots and dapper hats. When they stop to dance to the rhythm of the parade's banda, the effect is altogether delightful and zany.

The slapstick fun of a US or Canadian mock wedding with the men portraying the bride and her attendants, while the women served as the preacher and groomsmen is the mindset and tone of the sayaca tradition.

A group of Ajijic residents resurrected the ancient tradition of the sayacas about 10 years ago. As Dale Hoyt Palfrey wrote in a 2003 Guadalajara Report piece, the custom is based on an event which is said to have taken place shortly before the arrival of the Spanish.

sayacas-lowcut sayacas-dancing sayacas-2003

Visitors to Ajijic were welcomed by an old woman called Cicani or Cicantzi, the curendera (shaman) who cared for a man and a woman suffering from mental disorders.

The oddly attired pair trailed along performing crazed pirouettes when the medicine woman went out to meet the first Franciscan missionaries. The villagers taunted the pair, calling them sayacas or zayacas—a name which seems to have evolved from the Spanish word for slip or elaborate dress.

In a slightly more recent version of the legend, the old woman (whose name is spelled Xicantzi) is the deranged one. She burst from the hospitalito (the hospice adjoining the old chapel at the plaza) when strangers came into town. Wearing an odd combination of clothing she’d follow the men, trying to kiss them. When they refused she showered them with the face powder in her purse.

DCP_1854 This year’s February 16 riotous Carnaval parade will be, as always, filled with bands, charros on horseback, carros alegóricos (floats) and led by the comical sayacas who alternate promenades with fending off the taunting village boys. The parade is set to begin at 11 a.m. on Calle Revolución (the tianguis street) and then follow the sayacas along Calles Constitución and Ocampo to Six Corners, and then back to the plaza on Hidalgo around noontime for the judging of sayacas for cash prizes.

There’ll be dancing and fun in the plaza. At 4 p.m., the entertainment continues with bull riding, live music, and frequent refreshment at the Lienzo Charro back on Revolución. Evening concerts stretch into nighttime dances, with the young people partying on until the pre-dawn hours.

On the first day of Lent, the frivolity of Carnaval gives way to the subdued season of sacrifice and devotion. To commemorate the beginning of Lent, villagers attend church on Ash Wednesday to be marked with the sign on the cross.

Bookmark this page and return tomorrow to see more pictures of previous Carnaval parade fun in Ajijic. Then plan to attend the parade on Tuesday. See you there!


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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