Music And Film

February 14, 2013

Grupo Americanto

2009-12-31 23.00.00-56

Prior to founding Grupo Americanto, Francisco “Frank” Rocha and his wife Lolis Vasquez de Rocha were starting a new life together in the beautiful colonial City of Guanajuato, Mexico. They both attended the University of Guanajuato where Frank was part of the University’s Estudiantina – a student minstrel band whose tradition originates in mid-1600′s colonial Mexico.

Upon immigrating to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, Frank and Lolis began singing as a duet in 1989 at local restaurants and private parties. Frank penned the name Americanto because the band’s repertoire consists of varied music from Latin America. “Es el canto de America – it is the song of America,” said Frank. “It is music from the Rio Grande to the Rio de la Plata in Argentina.” As time went by, and the couple met other local musicians, the group grew to its present seven member band which includes one of the Rocha’s offspring; Jose Rocha.

In 1992, Grupo Americanto was formed and is currently one of the few local bands who perform the traditional tunes of Latin America. The collection of instruments each band member plays is as diverse and multifaceted as the tunes they perform.  

Frank is the band’s front man and lead vocalist, but he is also a multi-instrumentalist, for he plays 80 different percussion and string instruments.  Frank is also responsible for selecting the band’s repertoire, and is the band’s instructor. He composes all the musical arrangements while assigning each band member the instrument best suited for each music composition. Frank and the group carefully select music from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala and the Andes region among several others.

Lolis is Grupo Americanto’s songbird; her voice is especially pleasant when singing native classic melodies in Zapoteco and Purépecha dialects. Purépecha indigenous people live in the region of the Mexican state of Michoacán while Zapotecos are the indigenous ethnic tribes of a region known as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec which includes parts of the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Veracruz and Chiapas. Lolis’ melodic voice enhances the traditional 19th and early 20th century music.  She also plays the Argentinian Bombo, the Puerto Rican Cuatro, the piano and the accordion. The Argentinian Bombo is a drum made of a hollowed tree trunk covered with cured animal skins from goats, cows or sheep. The Cuatro is the national instrument of Puerto Rico. It has ten strings in five courses, and according to some experts, the Cuatro has been present on the island for at least 400 years.  

Isidro Mendoza, a native of Ciudad del Maíz, San Luis Potosí, México, is an experienced violinist. Prior to joining Grupo Americanto, Mendoza played with a local Catholic Church choir in Harlingen, Texas. The European violin was incorporated into Latin music as colonists and natives jammed at local plazas all over Mexico, Central and South America. The violin became part of Mariachis and smaller musical groups all over the new world. Thanks to Grupo Americanto valley residents are bestowed with Mexican classic serenades.

Martin Godinez, originally from Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico, and his son Martin Godinez Jr., say they have music in their blood, for most of their family members play a musical instrument and sing. Martin Sr. sings like a troubadour, and he also plays the guitar and the vihuela. The vihuela is a guitar-like instrument that was a very popular in the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Vihuela was also played in some parts of Italy during the renaissance where it was called Viola de Mano. Like the violin, it made its way into Mexico during the colonial period which began in the late 1500′s where it was eventually transformed into the Mexican Vihuela in the 19th century. Most Mariachi bands include a Mexican Vihuela.

Martin Godinez Jr. is a present member of the Harlingen High School Cardinal Band and the school’s Marimba band. He plays the base drum and, like his father, he also plays the Vihuela.

Jesus Cano Piñón immigrated to the Rio Grande Valley from Mexico City where he was an avid Spanish Rock and Roll Musician. He joined Grupo Americanto in the early 1990′s.  He plays the guitar, the Jarana, the Quena and the Zampoña. The Quena is the traditional flute of the Andes and considered the oldest wind instrument man has conceived.- the ideal material to create these flutes is cane, but people can find some made out of  llama  or pelican bones, and even human bones. The Zampoña is a South American panpipe. The Zampoña is native to the areas surrounding Lake Titicaca between the countries of Peru and Bolivia.

Jose Rocha plays the Tololoche, the Charango, the guitar and the base. The Charango is a small South American guitar, often made from the shell of an armadillo. The Tololoche is a musical instrument form northern Mexico very similar, but smaller than the European double bass. It is large enough to produce low sounds. The Tololoche is purely a folk instrument, and is not used in classical music.

Grupo Americanto performs for Mexican Independence celebrations organized by the Mexican Consulate office in Brownsville, Texas, and participates annually in the Harlingen Arts & Heritage Museum Día de Muertos celebrations.

They have also performed at the University of Texas in Brownsville and at UT Pan American in Edinburg in addition to performances in Dallas, Texas, and Guanajuato, Mexico.

For now, it looks like the band is forging a bright future with the next generation. Talented musician Martin Godinez Jr. and Illary Rocha, Lolis and Frank’s 10 year old daughter, will lead the way.  Illary inherited her parents’ intonation and voice; she amazes churchgoers with her petite frame and powerful voice. “Illary loves to perform in front of audiences,” said Frank. At her tender age, she has already participated in several talent shows and performed with the group. When asked about his thoughts on such a talented family, Frank says he could not be prouder.

Lolis, Frank and most of the members of Grupo Americanto enliven the Sunday Spanish mass at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Harlingen, Texas.

Grupo Americanto is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. They look forward to recording an album that will include a combination of original songs and the traditional Latin American melodies that have been part of their unique repertoire for the past two decades.

To contact Frank Rocha and Grupo Americanto please call 956-893-0426

This article was published in the December issue of the RGV Beyond Arts & More Magazine.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: – Wikipedia – Encyclopedia Britannica. 

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About the Author

Tapia - Gonzales
La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Life, art and culture, poetry, prayers, travel, and camping! yes, that's my new thing. I blame the heat and high humidity for the madness. Contributions and comments are always welcome .


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