Sunday, December 22, 2013

Viva Mariachi - Week 50

Hello & Welcome Back!  Before we get started, I want to wish everyone "Happy Holidays!"  I also want to apologize for the erratic blogging and posting these past few weeks.  With the holidays upon us and all the year end performances, the blog has suffered.  But do not fear, I am still writing and posting, so please bear with me as we get through this busy season!

A special shout out to Afghanistan this week, thank you for joining in on my blog-dancing journey.  This week's topic is Mariachi.  I haven't really gone into the details of mariachi throughout the course of the blog yet.  I've mentioned briefly performing with them, the charro attire, and that it originated in Jalisco.  That's pretty much the extent of it thus far.  Truth is, you can't get too far into the world of folklorico without coming into contact with mariachi!  It's a wonder how this topic hasn't been addressed until now!  We are already at week 50, so lets not delay any further!

The term "mariachi" is diverse and can be used to refer to:  the type of a music style, a group of musicians that play mariachi music or music set and/or arranged for mariachi musicians to perform, or just one musician. So, how is the term defined?  Wikipedia explains:

"Mariachi is a form of folk music from Mexico.  Mariachi began as a regional style called "Son Jaliscience" in the center west of Mexico originally played only with string instruments and musicians dressed in the white pants and shirts of peasant farmers.  From the 19th and 20th century, migrations from rural areas into cities such as Guadalajara and Mexico City, along with the Mexican government's cultural promotion gradually re-labeled it as Son style, with its alternate name of "mariachi" becoming used for the "urban" form.  Modifications of the music include influences from other music such as polkas and waltzes, the addition of trumpets and the use of the charro outfits by mariachi musicians.  The musical style began to take on national prominence in the first half of the 20th century, with its promotion at presidential inaugurations and on the radio in the 1920s."

The size of Mariachi groups depends upon the availability of musicians.  Similar to the world of folklorico dancers, many mariachi musicians go from group to group to group.  Meaning, they'll perform with this group under this name today and then perform with a different group under a different name tomorrow.  Although some musicians stick to performing with the same group all the time.  Typically groups consist of as many as eight violins, two trumpets and at least one guitar; however, it is common to see up to three guitars.  Mexican folk harp is another instrument that you may see in the ensemble.  As far as the guitars are concerned there is the vihuela, a high pitched round-backed guitar which provides the rhythm, and the guitarron, which provides bass and rhythm. All the instruments are Mexican variations of European instruments.  Vocals are often provided by various musicians in the ensemble, taking turns singing lead.

As far as the term "mariachi" itself, Wikipedia states this about its origins:

"The word Mariachi was thought to have been derived from the French word mariage ('marriage'), dating from the French Intervention in Mexico in the 1860s, related to the music's appearance at weddings.  This was a common explanation on record jackets and travel brochures.  This theory was disproved with the appearance of documents that showed that the word existed before this invasion.

The origin of the word is still in dispute but most of the prominent theories attribute it to indigenous roots.  One states that it comes from the name of the wood from which the dance platform is made. Another states that mariachi comes from the indigenous name of a tree called pilla or cirimo; yet another states that it came from an image locally called Maria H (pronounced Mari-Ache)."

Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitian is recognized as the oldest and most famous of all the mariachi ensembles. It was founded by Gaspar Vargas in the late 1890s.  The ensemble tours throughout the world.  I have personally seen them twice, once at the San Manuel Casino in San Bernardino and the other time at Mariachi USA at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.  Herencia uses many of their musical arrangements to dance to.  

There are many, many groups out there.  Some of the other famous groups are Mariachi Sol de Mexico, Mariachi Los Camperos and Mariachi Divas, just to name a few.  Many groups have received Grammy recognition.  Recently I had the privilege of dancing the Jarabe Tapatio at a private event with Mariachi Los Camperos.  I have also had the pleasure of meeting and performing with several other mariachi over the past couple years.  It's always a highlight at any performance to dance with live mariachi. A personal observation I've made from performing with live mariachi is that they often speed up the tempo of the music during live performances.  I think they enjoy seeing the dancers sweat!

In addition to Mariachi groups, there are several individuals that have gained fame and stardom as mariachi musicians and singers.  It would be impossible to list them all.  In the United States, most people have heard of Vicente Fernandez, he is perhaps the most popular and recognized entertainer here.  A couple other names often mentioned are Jose Alfredo Jimenez - a great composer, and Javier Solis.  I recommend all my readers to spend some time to familiarize themselves with the music and people and groups associated with it.

Mariachi music is performed all over at all kinds of events.  Musicians are often expected to take and play requests, requiring the musicians to know hundreds of songs in their repertoire.  You can see them perform at festivals, fairs, religious celebrations, Catholic Mass, weddings, parties, Quinceaneras, and for private serenades - only to name a few places.  As I've mentioned in several of my blogs already, folklorico is part of the California culture.  Since folklorico and mariachi go hand in hand, the same can be said for mariachi music - it's part of the Californian culture.

Here in the Los Angeles area, several restaurants have drawn clientele by providing Mariachi entertainment for guests while they enjoy delicious Mexican cuisine. Sometimes they even have folklorico dancers accompany them for the shows.  Some of the local favorites include Casa Sanchez, La Fonda, Guadalajara Grill, Fiesta Mexicana, Pancho Villa's and La Paz.  The Sunday Mariachi champagne brunch is another favorite event Southern California's enjoy. And on weekend nights, it's always fun to go with a group of friends and watch the shows while enjoying drinks from the bar. Salute!  I have personally danced at Fiesta Mexicana Restaurant with the Mariachi there!  It was an unforgettable experience.  Richard and Herencia Mexicana was the resident dancers for Pancho Villa Mexican Restaurant for over four years.  You can still see them in the television commercials for the restaurant today.  Head over to the Pancho Villa's Mexican Grill & Entertainment website and view them!

In Los Angeles you will also find the Mariachi Plaza (Boyle Heights, specifically) that has gained much popularity for the mariachi that gather there and are for hire.  I have spoke of this landmark on several occasions during the course of my blog and look forward to performing there one day.  And yes, I'll blog about it and post pictures when that happens!  I believe it will very soon!

Another local event of great fame is the Mariachi USA concerts that happen at the Hollywood Bowl and are televised.  Visit Mariachi USA on their website or on Facebook to get all the information and updates for future events.  I attended the show this year for my first time.  Hopefully one day I'll go and see Richard perform there!  In addition to the concert at the Bowl, there are other events that take place in Las Vegas and a new one for 2014 in Cochella Valley!  You can also check out Mariachi USA Radio and enjoy the music 24/7!

What we see today of mariachi and the music is a modern development.  Wikipedia state this:

"The common perception of the music and look of mariachi developed in the 20th century, as the music was transformed from the regional folk music to an urban phenomenon that came to represent Mexico.  The music was first introduced in Mexico City in 1905."

So how did Jalisco become known as the birthplace? From my reading the origins of mariachi come from a variety of areas within Mexico.  Jalisco was very popular for the son style called son Jaliscience.  The song "La Negra" is among the most famous.  Son music featured string instruments and was divided into various regional varieties. Wikipedia states this as to origin:

"The distinction of mariachi from the older son Jaliscience occurred slowly sometime during the 19th century. The music originated in the center-west of Mexico.  Most claims for its origin lie in the state of Jalisco but neighboring states of Colima, Nayarit, and Michoacan have also claimed it.  However, by the late 19th century, the music was firmly centered in Jalisco.  Most legends put the origin of the modern mariachi in the town of Cocula, Jalisco."

As I wrap this week up, I want to touch on one last topic.  That topic being dance of course! Wikipedia says this:

"Mariachi's beginning as a son meant that it was originally a form of dance music and dancing is still important to mariachi.  The most common dance technique found with mariachi is zapateado, a kind of footwork from Spain with pounding movements into a raised platform that often provides the percussion rhythm of mariachi and son music.  The dance performed varies by region.  Another dance style associated with both son and mariachi is jarabe, including the Jarabe Tapatio or Mexican Hat Dance."

Although mariachi music is Mexican folk music, I see a growing trend of mariachi groups removing the dance element from live shows.  It has been expressed that dancers upstage the mariachi and people focus on the dancers more than the musicians.  How sad.  The two are one, but more and more I see mariachi and folklorico being separated, although the dancers still perform to mariachi music. Dancing always adds to a show in my opinion.  I think that we need to set aside any barriers and have more shows with both being represented.   That's my opinion anyway.

That's it folks!  Viva Mariachi!  Come back next week for Viva Navidad!  Until then, Wedo out!

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Note: Looking for your own adventure or journey? Herencia is a great place to find one!  Folklorico lessons and performances are both available. Herencia Mexicana performs for private & public events of all kinds. Book your event today! Herencia Mexicana welcomes new students. No previous folklorico or dance experience required.  All are welcome.


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