This musical and cultural extravaganza will light up the night with Mariachi Music. Old music will find new voices as members of Mariachi Cardenal Infantil, Mariachi Cardenal Juvenil, Mariachi Pantera, Mariachi Sol del Valle, Mariachi Luna de Plata and Mariachi Paisano del Valle present their favorite songs for a concert at the Memorial Middle School Gym this Saturday, June 28, starting at 7 p.m. Baile Ilusion will dance to their set of traditional Mexican folklore songs.
So what is this mariachi music all about? Make it big singing mariachi? On this side of the border? While it may be hard to imagine a mariachi minstrel giving Britney Spears a run for her money, this traditional music of Mexico is growing in popularity. And it’s happening among the most unlikely group of listeners.
No longer is mariachi music simply for first-generation Hispanics longing for memories of their homeland, Mariachi is hip with the youngsters here — in contrast to Mexican adolescents’ feelings about the music. As this music, born a century ago in the pueblos around Guanajuato, becomes old-fashioned and uncool among youngsters in its country of origin, our teens and adults as well, are embracing it and moving it forward.
Many teens are attempting careers in this challenging genre.
Highlands University and now Luna Community College offer courses in mariachi music. And competitions, such as the one in Albuquerque in a few weeks, are spreading across the country as more and more young Hispanics reach for their roots.
“A lot of the younger people in Mexico don’t listen to mariachi music, or only do so when they’ve had too much to drink or are melancholy,” says Martin Sena, the director of Mariachi Paisano del Valle and the newly formed Mariachi groups at the Las Vegas City Schools. Part of the problem within Mexico is its media’s current focus on musical style rather than substance, he said. “Their modern media [have] done a great deal to deteriorate the collective taste of the country. Not here! Our media is very supportive of the music and programs and have done a great deal to promote the positive influence of the mariachi.
It’s with any group of youngsters, raised on their parents’ and grandparents’ passion for the mariachi, that Sena sees the future of the music. “With them, it will be a new and continued fashion,” he says. “And hopefully they will give it vitality for a very long time. They are changing the very syntax of the music.”
But for those learning to play and sing, it’s about more than form and function. It’s about feeling. When some are singing songs, it may feel like telling a story. There are sad songs, and happy songs, and love songs - all different kinds of stories to tell.
Some of Sena’s students were just 11 years old when he took them to hear a professional mariachi for the first time 10 years ago. It was love at first sight — and sound. They have developed into recording artists and have won several prestigious awards. He now has student that have just about begged to let them learn to sing and play the music and parents have no hesitation about footing the bill.
“We need to do our part to preserve our culture,” says Sena.
In many Mexican-American homes, Spanish is not spoken. Both parents have a working knowledge of the language, but are not fluent. That means many Hispanic children are learning Spanish through mariachi music.
Mariachi music got its start as pure folk music and included several instruments brought over from Spain in the 16th century. Nobody knows exactly when the first mariachi band was formed, but scholars say there are references to the music as early as 1852. But after the Mexican revolution of 1910, the genre exploded in popularity.
As mariachis made their way to Mexico City in the 1920s and ‘30s. The groups grew in size and experimented with a variety of instruments.
Today a traditional mariachi group may include trumpets, violins, a vihuela (a traditional Spanish stringed instrument), a guitar, a guitarrn (oversized guitar), and a harp. All members are usually accomplished singers as well.
Learning to play an instrument or train a voice for mariachi is no small task. It takes dedication, so children have to be serious about pursuing the music. Many take music lessons from trained teachers, and begin learning to sing and play an instrument in elementary school.
Jeff Nevin, a professor of music in Texas and mariachi arranger, is working to offer the nation’s first mariachi degree at Southwestern University. A number of colleges offer mariachi programs, though not degrees. And many predominantly Hispanic school districts offer mariachi programs in addition to band and choir programs.
“This musical genre is absolutely not dying. If anything, it’s experiencing a resurgence,” he said. “That’s evident in the surge of mariachi programs in schools all over the United States.”
Joshua Hidalgo was not so culturally motivated when he first started playing the guitarrn. “I had to learn to like the music,” he said. “My grandpa plays the guitar and sings. And when he found out I was playing in a mariachi band, it surprised him a lot. “Don’t ask me why, but when I’m playing, I feel a lot closer to my roots.”
Originally the music of country people, mariachi was never meant to be mere idle singing, according to “Mexico, The Meeting of Two Cultures.”
Rather, it drives a foot-stomping, floor-splintering dance technique called the zapateado, in which dancers pound their boot heels into the floor in a loud, clipped rhythm stressing the songs’ weak beats.
A complete mariachi group includes six to eight violins, a guitar, and two trumpets, along with Mexican variations on the instruments: a round-backed guitar for catchy rhythm (vihuela), a deep-voiced guitar for bass (guitarron), and a Mexican folk harp for both bass and melody. The contrast in sounds combines with a shifting beat and syncopation for lively music and a swift, driving pace.
The public is invited to attend this year’s Mariachi Extravaganza, a benefit for Mariachi Cardenal Infantil and Mariachi Cardenal Juvenil.
Proceeds will help fund for the Mariachi Conference they will attend in Albuquerque in a couple of weeks. Tickets may be purchased from any member of the group, Sena’s Music, or at the door for $10.