This week we celebrated the International Day of the Mariachi (Jan 21st). Mariachi music is still up there as the music of Mexico although one cannot ignore the immense popularity of Banda music. The most iconic songs from Mexico are mariachi classics: “El Son de La Negra”, “Volver Volver” “El Rey” “Guadalajara” are not fully enjoyed unless accompanied by the voices, the strings, the horns, the harps, and the guitars that make up the mariachi.
I grew up surrounded by mariachi music. My father has been a musician his entire life. Before he had a band or a trio, before he taught Mexican music to college students and young children, before any of this, Mike Torres was a mariachi. In fact, I remember many times that the mariachi would actually rehearse in the living room or the yard of our house. Some dads go to work at an office, in the fields, driving trucks, and mariachi music was (and is) our father’s job. We were those kids whose parents dressed up in traditional Mexican clothing at the fiestas and holiday celebrations. Even then, I would have liked to sing with a mariachi. Hmm…bucket list.
This week, I also listened and listened to mariachi music sung by women. Songs that were traditionally sung by men and, don’t get me wrong, the gentlemen work it but, then again, so do the girls! I must have repeated some of these songs like 5 or 6 times and you better know that I was singing at the top of my lungs. The really good mariachi songs cannot be sung half-ass, even if you’re singing in the car, or in karaoke, or with a live mariachi, you’ve got to get into the emotion and put it all out there.
Mariachi bands are usually all-male with one or two women members. Thankfully, there are some great all-women mariachi bands. On this day, however, I wasn’t really concerned with the bands as the songs and you’ll likely recognize these classics. I’ve only featured four songs when we all know that there are thousands that I could have chosen. I dare you to listen and NOT sing out loud or let out a grito. In my mind, I can sing just as good as these ladies, in reality, not even close.
Enjoy…and sing your heart out with these mujeres!
“Aca Entre Nos” — the classic Vicente Fernandez tour de force, where he puts down the microphone and sings loud and proud. I never thought that anyone could touch this song. That is until I heard this version by Las Tres Grandes (Guadalupe Pineda, Tania Libertad, and Eugenia Leon). Same song, with a woman’s touch, and you can tell by the reaction at the beginning of the song, and all of the gritos, that this is a super classic, and I was hoping that these ladies would bring it, and bring it they did.
“La Cigarra” another classic, sung only by the greatest female voices in mariachi music among them, Linda Ronstadt on ‘Canciones de Mi Padre’ – her groundbreaking Ranchera album that brought up the mariachi music profile so much in the US and in Mexico. A few weeks ago, when Ms. Ronstadt was honored by the Kennedy Center Honors, THIS is a performance that should have been included with women’s strong mariachi voices and the full-on mariachi (yeah I’m still bummed about that). This spectacular performance is Spain’s Natalia Jimenez and the great Lila Downs from Oaxaca, Mexico. These ladies left everything vocally on that stage.
The GREAT Lola Beltran was one powerful singer and she worked it until well into her 70s. Ms. Beltran set the standard for so many female ranchera singers – to be authentic, powerful, and to sing “con madres”, that is, letting loose with all feelings and vocals. She starts this set with Juan Gabriel’s “Ya Para Que”. His version is so great but Lola La Grande handles it easily live. “Paloma Negra” is classic Lola and you should also check out the Lila Downs version of the song, so powerful. The legendary Miguel Aceves Mejia joins Lola on “CuCuRuCuCu Paloma”, her signature song, and he too still works it, old as he is.
The exceptional Linda Ronstadt. I was lucky enough to see this performance at the Orpheum Theater with my family and remember my father was so into it and wouldn’t let us even breathe LOL as the world class Mariachi Vargas de Tecatitlan was onstage, and, at that time, this mariachi was not performing that much in the US, so it was like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. “Los Laureles” is a very difficult song to sing and I was beyond emotional letting gritos out left and right watching Ms. Ronstadt, one of my favorite singers ever, who struggles with her Spanish as many of us do, grab hold of each of these ranchera classics and NAIL it vocally after each song. Love that she wanted to bring our music to the masses and she deserves all of the accolades she gets. She now sets the standard for female mariachi singers.