Mariachi music, the deeply-rooted tradition that refuses to die
By Mariana Gonzalez Marquez
Guadalajara, Mexico, Aug 28 (EFE).- Mariachis, icons of the Mexican music tradition, are joining forces to defend their tradition and stay vigilant against challenges like the change in musical tastes and the loss of renowned singers like Vicente Fernandez.
The musicians have faced a number of challenges in recent years with the arrival of rhythms like reggaeton, which have captivated the younger generations, and also from the impact of the isolation resulting from the coronavirus health crisis and the deaths of icons like Fernandez, one of the world’s best-known mariachis.
Juan Gonzalez Ruiz, the director of the “Alma tapatia” band, told EFE that despite the difficulties, the mariachi tradition is staying alive in large part because this musical style is indispensable in the lives not only of Mexicans but of the Latinos who hear it at parties and celebrations for their entire lives.
“Mariachi music is mariachi music, the tradition continues wherever one goes. It’s the music that’s playing (everywhere), mariachi starts to play and people get up (to dance). We play our music for everyone: weddings, people who are leaving, there’s nothing like Mexican music,” he said.
“Alma tapatia” is one of the 25 bands from 10 countries gathering at the 19th International Mariachi and Charreria Meeting in Mexico’s western Jalisco state, known as the cradle of mariachi music, and the gathering of bands strives to spread and keep the musical genre alive at public concerts.
Outfitted in his impeccable gray mariachi suit, Gonzalez Ruiz said that although at parties and in neighborhoods you can always find mariachis and their music, it is played very little on Mexican radio, in large part due to the arrival of other genres and because there are fewer and fewer mariachi singers.
“Mexican music is internationally known, but it needs a little more dissemination in our country. In other countries there are radio stations that play Mexican music and here there are practically none. I don’t know if it’s the lack of some promoter but it’s not heard very much,” he said.
Rubi Corona Ruiz, the head of the female mariachi band “Flor de agave,” told EFE that the music is surviving because it’s deeply rooted in Mexican culture, parties, traditions and customs and it’s “difficult for it to die overnight.”
She said that the Covid-19 pandemic was “a tough blow” for those who make their living from Mexican music due to the restrictions imposed on parties or large gatherings, which are some of the main activities where mariachis make their money.
Nevertheless, the pandemic also has brought good news and that is that families and friends have valued even more the chance to get together, to socialize and loudly sing the songs that are indispensable at parties like “El Rey” and “Cielo rojo” and to dance “El mariachi loco.”
“There’s been a good response after the pandemic, people still want to party, to hear mariachi music and, personally, we’ve done very well at our events, above all because we have the social networks, which are an open window for us to get known in other places,” she said.
The mariachi concert convention has promoted this kind of music not only in Mexico but also in other countries. Each year, dozens of groups come to Jalisco from places as far away as Japan, Ukraine, France and Israel wanting to play their songs in the heartland of mariachi music and tequila.
These groups are proof that the music remains alive and is very popular among the public, said Mauricio Rodriguez, a Mariachi Juvenil Primera Clase singer from Bogota, Colombia.
“In Colombia it’s a tradition. You’ve got to have mariachi music at celebrations, on Father’s Day, on Mother’s Day, for everything. There are (musical) genres for everyone, but this is something that at gatherings or if one is heartbroken or is on the rebound (from a failed relationship), you’re going to devote yourself to traditional singing. Mexican music is always going to stay alive.”
The group, which includes mainly 20-something young people, has been playing Mexican music for 11 years with the aim of performing the songs to which their parents and grandparents listened.
Mariachi music “is very special because since I was a little boy I’ve listened to it. I have memories from my whole life of listening to mariachi music and for me that’s (what’s significant),” he said.
The Mariachi performances will run from Aug. 25 until Sept. 2 with scheduled activities like gala celebrations at the Degollado Theater, where three well-known mariachi bands will join their music with the Jalisco philharmonic orchestra, along with free concerts at public and commercial venues.