Gu-Achi Fiddlers - Old Time O'odham Fiddle Music
Gu-Achi Fiddlers - Old Time O'odham Fiddle Music
Singer: Gu-Achi Fiddlers
Album title: Old Time O'odham Fiddle Music
Label: Canyon Records ‎– CR-8082
Type: Cassette, Album
Country: US
Date of released: 1988
Category: Folk, World, & Country
Style: Aboriginal, Polka Rating: 4.4/5
mp3 size: 1395 mb | flac size: 1451 mb


A1 Ali Oidak Pola 3:18
A2 Bareterrro Two-Step 3:03
A3 Black Mountain Mazurka 3:51
A4 Blackie Polka 4:05
A5 Sonora Church Two-Step 4:18
A6 Hohokam Polka 3:13
B1 Libby Bird Song Mazurka 4:08
B2 Memories In Ajo Polka 3:37
B3 Pinto Beans Two-Steps 3:28
B4 E.J. Special Polka 3:29
B5 Cababie Two-Step 3:19
B6 Dawn Mazurka 3:15


  • Bass Drum – Tommy Lopez
  • Fiddle – Elliott Johnson*, Lester Vavages
  • Guitar – Wilfred Mendoza
  • Liner Notes – Jim Griffith
  • Snare – Gerald Leos, Sr.*


From Liner Notes:

The Gu-Achi Fiddlers & Their Music

This is the first commercial recording of one of the loveliest instrumental traditions in Southern Arizona - the fiddle band music of the Tohono O'odham (the Desert People), formerly known as the Papago Indians. The O'odham fiddle sound is a unique one with a full band consisting of two violins, a guitar, a snare drum and a bass playing polkas, two-steps, and mazurkas.

The story of this music starts when Arizona was part of New Spain and Catholic missionaries taught the Indians under their care to play European instruments so they could provide music for Mass. By the time such exciting new dances from rhythms as the polka, the shottische, the quadrille and the mazurka arrived in Arizona in the mid-19th century, O'odham musicians had the skills and knowledge to learn them.

And learn them they did. O'odham musicians from San Xavier were playing dances at fiestas in Tucson by the late 1860's. To the European dances listed above, some communities added the melodies for the pascola and matachines, ritual dances that probably came from the Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico.

The fiddle tradition has lasted up to the present day in many deserts villages, submerged by the modern sounds of "Chicken Scratch," but still alive. With the start of the annual All O'odham Fiddle Orchestra Contest at San Xavier in 1984 there has been a revival of interest. This brings us to the Gu-Achi Fiddlers, the first fidddle band ever to cut an album.

Most band member grew up hearing the old time music, like guitarist Wilfred Mandoza, or actually started playing it like bass drummer Tommy Lopez. Fiddler Elliott Johnson learned from his father Jose and his uncle, Charlie, who used to have his own band in Cababi village (Gerald Leos, Elliot's son-in-law, plays an antique wooden snare drum that once belonged to Jose Johnson). This business of family tradition goes both ways; Lester Vavages' sons are Canyon recording artists in their own right with the popular polka band, Three Express. Mr. Vavages himself plays all the mariachi instruments and plays and sings a number of styles of music.

All this experience has paid off with a sound that is popular in their home village of Gu Achi, won first prize in the 1985 fiddle contest, and was enthusiastically received at Tucson Meet Yourself festival the same year. Now it's on this first-ever tape. It's fine music, beautifully played.

Jim Griffith
The Southwest Folklore Center
Tucson, Arizona

Other versions

Category Artist Title (Format) Label Category Country Year
CR-8082 Gu-Achi Fiddlers Old Time O'odham Fiddle Music ‎(CD, Album) Canyon Records CR-8082 US 1997

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