San Francisco’s Mission District is home to numerous roving musicians who perform mostly Mexican music for diners and revelers in the neighborhood’s many bars and restaurants. In the episode “Street Art,” Spark trails the guitar duo of Jacobo Palacios and Rafael Potillo, who go by the name of Los Cazadores del Sur, which translates to “the hunters from the south.”
Coming to the United States from rural Central America — Palacios from Guatemala, Potillo from El Salvador — the two began working as manual laborers, but eventually taught themselves guitar to become street musicians. With a repertoire of more than 80 songs, Palacios and Potillo can play something for everyone, having learned songs from their native countries as well as from South American nations and Mexico.
They are versed in a range of styles, from conjunto, which originated near the Texas border, to northern Mexico’s norteño to the Colombian cumbia, and can play rancheras, corridos and boleros, among other types of songs. In expanding their catalog, Palacios and Potillo have opened their own personal borders, transcending their respective nationalities to become Latinos — cultural citizens of the Spanish-speaking Americas.
Like the Mission’s other troubadours, Los Cazadores frequent taquerias, bars and family restaurants, serenading patrons in the hope that they in turn will show their appreciation with a few dollars. In Latin America, finding audiences by moving from place to place is known as working al talon, meaning literally “on the heel,” and demands a keen knowledge of the ebb and flow of crowds as well as the establishment of good relationships with business owners and fellow musicians.
Though it has its rewards, the life of a street musician is difficult. Los Cazadores regularly work three shifts a day — at lunchtime, and dinnertime, then late night for the bar crowds. In addition, Palacios and Potillo are not free to travel in and out of the country at will, and it has been years since they have been able to visit their families. In the meantime, though, they have surrogate families, composed of the people they see regularly in the Mission — the restaurateurs, servers and patrons whom they serenade every day.