The Origins Of Waila


The Cisco Band & The Joaquin Brothers: Popular Music of the Natives of Southern Arizona

Tonight I ride with Canyon Records release of The Origins of Waila loaded to the I-pod and it’s perfect for the ride through downtown as Hennepin Avenue is an ocean of motion. A river of people on the street looking for the dream that lies hidden in the yearning eyes of the street corner preachers and poets on a Saturday night and I’m riding toward the light of the dance hall for a night full of legendary flirtations and mythical surprise. And I think of Sandy.

The Cisco Band and the Joaquin Brothers are two legendary bands in the history of Waila, popularly known as ‘Chicken Scratch’. The energetic dance music of the Native peoples of southern Arizona.

Waila has always been viewed as “traditional” music of the Tohono O’odham despite using instrumentation of European origin. Often Waila dances are held in conjunction with ceremonial dances, both finding their proper places at the important gathering of the Tohono O’odham.

The first half of this CD features 12 lively and up-tempo songs by The Cisco Band consisting of Francis “Cisco” Enriquez (saxophone), Marvin Enis (accordion and guitar), David Narcho (drums), Frank Joaquin (guitar), and Leroy Martinez (bass Guitar).

The titles of the songs are; Mountain Chair, Where Were You Last Night?, Love Of My Life, Why Not?, Marsa, How About Queen’s Well?, Trophy, Did You See?, Felipe, Who Knows, Like It Was, and I Remember.

The Cisco Band plays a style reminiscent of every polka band that I’ve ever heard, not that I’ve actually listened to that many, but I have some experience with two step waltzing and polka’s from elementary school.  

The basic rhythmic scheme behind the music is solid and simple. There are no showy flashy improvisational guitar or lead instrument solos just the driving drums bass and guitar chop behind a lively and again simplistic melody often with a close harmony played by the other lead instruments either another saxophone or the accordion. The norteno influence is clearly evident.

The second half of the CD is 12 songs by The Joaquin Brothers featuring Daniel Joaquin (saxophone & accordion) Fernando Joaquin (saxophone), Leonard Joaquin (bass Guitar), Angelo Joaquin (guitar) and Jerome Joaquin (guitar).

The song titles are; La Pachuca Polka, Hohokam Choti, Hohokam Polka, You Are My Sunshine Polka, El Changolaso Choti, Estamos En Texas Polka, No Sabemos Polka, El Ebanto Choti, La Pecosita Polka, Never On Sunday Polka, Corazon Corbarde Polka and La Manana Choti.

There seems to be a closer connection with the Norteno style of music in this band’s material and it sounds more traditional as indicated by the fact that most of the titles are in Spanish slang lingo.

Two songs, Hohokam Choti and Hohokam Polka, refer to an ancient paleo-Indian culture. Hohokam (ho-ho-KAHM) is one of the four major prehistoric archaeological traditions of what is now the American Southwest. Hohokam is a Pima (O’odham) word used by archaeologists to identify a group of people that lived in the Sonoran Desert of North America.  The two saxophones trade licks on the verses, play harmony on the choruses.  

There is nothing maudlin or grief-stricken about this music. This is a real good time. I never thought I would listen to Polka and like it. It must be a sign that I’m getting older. This is back in the day when things were simpler. This sound is the sound of home and I ride with it in my head and my heart. Now if only my legs would cooperate.

Sandy loved to schottische. Oh she knew how to polka waltz and mazurka but the schottische was Sandy’s move.  Sometimes we go in a horrible stupid accident or degenerative debilitating disease, yet the end is always sudden.  The thing that I understand is that there are lots of polka bands and they don’t do no ballet in heaven and Sandy schottisches around in the clouds right now with the fire still burning brightly behind those eyes and a smile. Hey, Sandy save the next one for me.

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