"El Querreque" from A La Rumba Rumba

Photo by Steve DePino

Photo by Steve DePino

I first heard "El Querreque" during the summer of 2001. I was volunteering with the American Friends Service Committee in a small, rural village outside of Xilitla, San Luis Potosi, Mexico. I knew next to nothing about Mexican folk music but had found myself fortuitously spending a summer in a town with a thriving huapango scene. This rustic music captivated me -- I loved the lilting falsettos, the virtuosic violin flourishes, the percussive strumming, and the communal dancing. The music was woven into daily life in the villages in a way I had never witnessed or been a part of before, and it profoundly changed the way I thought about folk music and the role of a musician.

Our strange version of "El Querreque" started during a soundcheck in Madison, Wisconsin at The Frequency, a divey but charming music venue a few blocks from the capital. Greg and Philip were still dialing in the bass and drums and were jamming out this funky groove. I started singing the verses to "Querreque" and it somehow jived, and then Jordan jumped in on the harmonies. At first, it seemed like a gimmick, an over-the-top funk beat for a traditional folk song. But over time, we all came to love this irreverent approach. It felt light-heartened and also true to the joie de vivre of the original. Perhaps in a nod to the already stylistically mutated version and as an inside joke of sorts, Jordan suggested we sing the refrain in Nahuatl, the indigenous language of the La Huasteca region.

During the Guesthouse sessions, we set out to record our version but ran into the all-too-common problem that the live version just didn't translate in the studio. We had to reimagine the approach yet again. As we embraced the song as a funhouse mirror version of "Querreque" and let the ghosts of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," Aaron Copland, and the Seinfeld theme lead us on, we were able to unravel the song and crack the code.

To listen to this song, check out my Song of the Week playlist on our DWM Spotify. I also included a traditional version of "El Querreque.”

David Wax