Mexican troupe comes to Ames to bring its music and culture

Los Utrera will perform at 7 p.m. Friday at Stephens Auditorium. Photo: Courtesy/Iowa State Center

Los Utrera will perform at 7 p.m. Friday at Stephens Auditorium. Photo: Courtesy/Iowa State Center

Alissa Atkinson

Los Utrera celebrates the cultural diversity of Mexico by combining the rhythms, instruments and movements from West Africa, Spain and the indigenous cultures of Mexico.

Los Utrera, an international family ensemble from Veracruz, Mexico, will perform at Stephen’s Auditorium on Friday.

Inspired by the fiestas of Mexico, Lindajoy Fenley, Los Utrera company manager, said the ensemble’s music is community music passed down from generation to generation that dates back to Spain.

“They are very proud of their culture and are thrilled to share it,” Fenley said. “They like people to know about Mexico and what Mexican people are like.”

A family of musicians and dancers, the group has been together for 16 years, but individually, they have been playing music much longer.

The ensemble has toured throughout Mexico, Europe, the Caribbean and South America, offering the vibrant sounds of several generations, which include an uplifting mix of sights and sounds from different cultures.

Sara Compton, outreach coordinator for the Iowa State Center, said at their home in Veracruz, Los Utrera hosts fandangos — ritual celebrations full of music and dancing that intermix those cultural traditions, similar to the environment of their performances.

“It is very participatory, with everyone taking part,” Fenley said. “Community fandangos are a part of every day life for them.”

Compton said the ensemble will discuss how music is truly part of their community culture.

“The Utrera family has always been involved in music,” Compton said.

The group uses a variety of folk harps, guitars and percussion instruments, such as jarana, requinto, quijada, pandero and leona. All of the stringed instruments played by the ensemble were handcrafted by a member of the team.

“The instruments are fashioned from a single piece of wood, which is hollowed out for resonance,” Compton said.

In addition to the music, the ensemble demonstrates “zapateado,” which is percussive dancing on a wooden platform.

The group is touring as a part of the Arts Midwest World Fest, a program dedicated to fostering greater appreciation for cultures around the world. Eleven communities throughout the Midwest will host international performance groups representing four different cultures.

The Arts Midwest selects groups with strong cultural roots that have the ability to relate to audiences.

“The week-long residencies enable the ensembles to perform at schools and at community venues. They conduct dozens of workshops about their culture, music and language,” Compton said.

The chance to have Los Ultrera here is a chance to bring culture to Ames.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to share in the culture of our Mexican neighbors,” Compton said. “In Iowa, we are somewhat isolated by our geography, but we certainly don’t need to be culturally isolated.”

Although members of Los Utrera perform to share part of their culture with other societies to help us best understand their lives, while touring in the United States, they too get to experience a new culture.

“The youngest member of the group is 8-year-old Miguel,” Compton said. “His grandfather founded the ensemble and still performs with them. Elementary students have enjoyed their workshops and adults will certainly enjoy the music, dance and energy.”

Enjoy the authentic cultural experience as you watch several cultures interact through song and dance.

“You’ll be drawn in by their rhythms and sounds,” Compton said.

Los Utrera Performance

7:30 p.m. Friday

Stephens Auditorium


Tickets available at the Iowa State Center Ticket Office and Ticketmaster locations.

Los Utrera Youth Matinee Performance

10 a.m. Friday

Stephens Auditorium

$4 for reservations

Reservations available only through the Iowa State Center.