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Latin Roots: Canto Cardenche, The Sound Of Sorrow

Los Cardencheros De Sapioriz, a group that keeps the canto cardenche tradition alive.
courtesy of the artist
Los Cardencheros De Sapioriz, a group that keeps the canto cardenche tradition alive.

A naked person walks into a fancy gala. In a world of overproduced, painstakingly packaged and perfectly polished music, that's what it's like to hear Canto Cardenche — a completely a cappella style of Mexican music — for the first time. It's one of the most stunning, honest and unpretentious forms of music I have ever encountered: The singer truly could not care less what you think about his song. For those who sing it, Canto Cardenche is simply a physiological necessity; the need to expel pain through song.

Indeed, the word "Cardenche" comes from a cactus plant whose thorn is even more painful upon removal than it is when it penetrates the body. But in spite of the pain, it can't remain stuck in there; it must come out, just as the Canto Cardenche has to come out.

Often sung in vocal groups of three, and accompanied by alcohol, it's a style that has always been passed from generation to generation in rural areas. It's also in danger of extinction. It is currently kept alive in the small northern Mexican town of Sapioriz, Durango, and by artists such as Lila Downs and Juan Pablo Villa, who recognize its simple beauty.

One of my favorite reinterpretations of Canto Cardenche is by Venezuelan DJ Algodon Egipcio. His rendition of "La Espina Del Cardenche" adds instrumentation to the traditionally a cappella music, but it's minimal and ethereal. Rather than sounding like a music track under vocals, it simply sounds like a man floating in the clouds, singing his heart out. `

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Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.
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