Mitote is an Austin-based ensemble that, as vocalist and guitarrista Alex Chavez puts it, “seeks to explore the vast musical terrains of Mexican traditional son but with a Chicano sensibility.” Their focus is on son jarocho, the traditional sones and instruments of southern Veracruz, Mexico.
“We are inspired by both the grounded yet virtuostic musicality of the groups emerging out of the movimiento jaranero, groups such as Mono Blanco, Son de Madera, and Chuchumbé and the efforts to maintain and renew the musical traditions of the Sotavento,” Chavez says. In addition to playing traditional songs, the sextet has written sones of their own, which they say they feel represent a “musical archive of a Chicano re-imagining of community across borders.”
Chavez might be more familiar to you as the lead singer and keyboardist of Maneja Beto, a modern-sounding indie band that blends cumbias with spacey tones and Smiths-era alternative rock. Mitote, then, is clearly a departure from his main gig, but not a surprise. Chavez is the kind of musician who can’t stay still and is never satisfied to do one thing. Always challenging himself, he also recently started playing old-school soul and R&B in a band with Grupo Fantasma’s Beto Martinez. The project is called The Downtown Rulers Club.
Asked how he finds time for all these projects, he’ll tell you, “I make time. Simple as that.” It’s that no-nonsense attitude and creative spirit that makes all of Chavez’s projects potent and worth paying attention to.
As for Mitote, the sextet has a CD release show on Saturday in the East Austin bar Rabbit’s Lounge to celebrate the release of the nine-song album II.
The album was recorded at Ohm recording studios in Austin with the engineer Chico Jones. II features musical contributions by Austin notables Martín Perna and DJ Chorizo Funk, as well as spoken-word contributions from Rene Valdez (executive director of Resistencia Bookstore) and Erika Gonzalez (co-director of PODER).
Featuring instruments like the guitarra de son, cajon, quijada and jarana, this is clearly not your typical Austin band with guitar, bass and drums. But that’s the point: maintaining tradition. The name Mitote comes from the Nahuatl word mitotli, which refers to indigenous ceremonies meant to maintain culture in the face of colonial rule.
Ian Morales contributed to this article.