Happy Waila Music

I found an interesting article on Waila Music in the TriValleycentral.com website and I copy it below for your convenience.

O’odham’s waila music passed down through generations

When Ron Joaquin was a child, his father, Angelo Joaquin Sr., used to take his 12 children to all-night dances in the villages where the Joaquin Brothers played waila — the social dance music of the Tohono O’odham (desert people) of southern Arizona.

“I was raised by a man who shared his music and wisdom,” Ron said. “There was just a lot of love from my dad and the way he taught me things. I didn’t know he was teaching me them until later.”

Angelo Sr. gave Ron a job when he was little, carrying his guitar and amplifier to the bandstand. “It was just a really good feeling to know that you were able to go inside that bandstand with the band,” Ron said.

“And it’s still good. My grandkids — I know they feel it, too. ’Cause we let them do that, carry stuff in.”

Ron played the cowbell with the band when he was 10. His father taught him to play guitar when he was 14.

Just after midnight on New Year’s Eve 1976, “after people were partied out” at the Florence American Legion hall, Ron played guitar with the band for the first time.

The song was “Las Mañanitas” (the Mexican birthday song), and his father stood in front of the little stage shouting chord changes to Ron. Ron’s older brother, Angelo Jr., recorded the performance.

“And I can hear my chords,” Ron said. “When somebody’s learning guitar and they don’t press all the strings all the way down, it messes up the chord. I can hear that in the recording.”

Ron’s hands were too short to play all the minor chords on the guitar when he was young, so he learned the bass guitar. When his hands grew larger, he mastered the guitar. And when he started his own band, Southern Scratch, and it needed a saxophone player, he learned to play sax.

Now Ron’s three children — Brandis, Sara and Amy — play waila with Southern Scratch. And when the band plays cumbias, his three grandchildren, Dyrell, 6, Dysean, 4, and Danielle, 2, play a miniature guitar, miniature accordion, maracas and cowbell with the band.

Ron said they were performing at the Sante Fe Bandstand music festival when he realized three generations were playing together on stage. His father’s spirit was there, too.

“When I play songs that remind me of him, I can imagine him just listening and smiling,” Ron said. “I know he’s proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

Before Angelo Sr. died in 1995, the Joaquin Brothers had performed in Carnegie Hall in New York City — as well as all over the United States and Canada. Playing with the band at Carnegie Hall were Ron; Angelo Sr.’s brothers, Daniel and Fernando; and nephews Leonard and Jerome Joaquin, sons of Angelo Sr.’s brother Tony.

Now Ron and Southern Scratch have recorded a tribute album, “How Sweet the Sound,” to honor Angelo Sr.’s music and legacy. It includes 14 of his favorite songs, including two not usually played by waila bands: “Amazing Grace,” which Angelo Sr. said helped him beat alcoholism, and “Harbor Lights,” which he loved and was played at his wake.

The album took 21⁄2 years to record and is a contender for this year’s Native American Music Awards. Performing on the album are Ron, Brandis, Amy and Sara Joaquin; Chris and Daniel Lopez; and Cody Pablo (all from Southern Scratch); and guest artists Melanie Britton, Maria Montaño and Andrea Alston.

Kathy Norris, director of promotions for Canyon Records, said the record company submitted the album in seven categories: group of the year; best instrumental recording; record of the year; best traditional recording; best waila recording; song of the year, “Wild Herb”; and songwriter of the year, Beta Villa.

Ron wrote in the liner notes that his father was a young man when Beta Villa’s Orchestra played in a club in Ajo. “My father didn’t have money for admission, so he stood outside the door and listened all night to the beautiful music.”

Norris said the tribute album captures Angelo Sr.’s kindness and love of music.

“It’s just wonderful. … The music itself that is on that album is just so moving. … Even the cover picture, I think it captures his spirit, his light.”

The album also expresses the connection Ron feels with his father, Norris said. “Every story, he speaks of his father with such love.”

Like his father, Ron has diabetes. Angelo Sr. lost his leg to the disease and played Carnegie Hall four months later.

Ron lost the toes on his left foot last fall. In February, he realized that he had lost some of the feeling in his hands. He no longer can play saxophone or guitar — but he still can play bass guitar.

“The way I got through it,” he said, “was realizing — out of the saxophone, the guitar and the bass guitar, that I have always loved playing bass guitar the most.”

A lot of musicians have amputations and still play, he said, “and that’s what I’m going to do. Music just helps you get through so much, listening to it or playing it.”

Ron also is learning a new kind of music. He heard a guitar and saxophone duo, called Interpolacion, play at a cultural fair in Florence, and the musicians, Ed Curran and Hermalene Wick, invited him to practice with them.

Now he plays music from Mexico, the Beatles, Louie Armstrong — “music from between the poles” — as well as waila.

“So I’m learning, he said, and they’re teaching me. It’s kind of hard, but I’m learning.

“It’s so fun to play. It’s so fun to make music.”

What’s waila?

Waila is a blend of traditional O’odham fiddle band music, European polkas and mazurkas, Mexican norteñas, big band jazz, Latin American cumbias and American rock ’n’ roll, usually played with saxophone, accordion, electric guitar, electric bass, bajo sexto, drum set, maracas and cowbell. The waila musician’s role in the community is to make people happy, Angelo Joaquin Jr. wrote in the liner notes for “How Sweet the Sound.” Dan Golding produced a documentary for PBS about Angelo Joaquin Sr. and his family called “Waila! Making the People Happy.” Ron Joaquin said one day he watched people dance to his dad’s band at the St. Augustine Fiesta in Tucson. “They were swinging around,” he said, “jumping, different kinds of dances — mostly Anglos. I watched one guy on the side. Pretty soon he just started tapping his toe to the polka. Pretty soon he was clapping. And pretty soon he just swung his arms all the way around.” That is how waila affects people, Ron said.“It’s just fun.”

Copies of “How Sweet the Sound” are available from Canyon Records at 800-268-1141 or www.canyonrecords.com.

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Category: Guitar Players

2 Responses to “Happy Waila Music”

  1. That’s a great story. It’s good to hear about a whole family having the same interest in music.

  2. Hey, you used to write magnificent, but the last few posts have been kinda boring I miss your great writings. Past few posts are just a bit out of track! come on!

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