This week, amid the blizzard of press notices and music pitches for everything from shoegaze to gospel, I received an announcement for a mariachi band. Not unusual, given that I live in Jalisco, Mexico, the home of the mariachi and the site of the Festival Internacional del Mariachi y la Charreria. , which attracts well over 10,000 people and 500 bands.
What caught my eye was that it was from a British mariachi, and an all female one at that, the Mariachi Las Adelitas.
I had vaguely heard of Mariachi Las Adelitas through other mariachis who had seen or met them on their tour of the states, but I knew nothing about them specifically and I did not know they were British. And frankly I did not know there was mariachi in the UK, although, in truth, there is mariachi in just about every country.
The announcement was for a new song, Back to Black (Huapango). It is a cover of an Amy Winehouse/Mark Ronson song and they did a bang-up job, keeping it eloquent , and classy and moving, perfectly blending the pop jazz of Winehouse into the traditional mariachi form.
After listening to the song, I decided to check out the Las Adelitas. I had spent Thursday night at the unveiling of a block-long mural on the wall of a grammar school (painted by noted artist Efren Gonzales, who managed to paint fully naked men and women on a bigger than life mural on a grammar school across the street from a church) and the event was accompanied by Mariachi Real del Ajijic, and all male group. That reminded me of the many mariachis in Ajijic, so I decided to ask some of them what they thought of all girl bands and of mariachi covers of jazz.
I found mariachis down by the Malecon and asked them what they thought of all-female mariachis and of mariachis doing pop jazz songs. Unsurprising, that set off a heated conversation in Spanish and English. Some of the older musicos frowned and said mariachi should be for men and it should be traditional. The younger musicos (some of whom played in rock or jazz bands, I discovered later), were all for it and pointed out that one of the most popular mariachis in Guadalajara, the home of mariachi, was the all-female Mariachi Mujer Latina, and that an American band, Mariachi Flor de Toloache even won a Grammy.
Now forearmed with a knowledge of the cleavage in the mariachi community over mujers vs. hombres, I decided to learn more about Las Adelitas , named after the female soldiers who fought in the Mexican Revolution.
Las Adelitas are six (originally seven) women who formed the band in London in 2013 to shatter stereotypes within this traditionally male-dominated genre. Band members hail from Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Italy and the U.K and did exactly what they set out to do – shattered stereotypes in Europe , since the they are the only female Mariachi band in Europe.
But how much stereotype shattering is possible now that one of the most popular mariachis in the Mexican home of mariachi is female, (at least in the opinion of one male musician), and an all-female American Mariachi took home a Grammy(actually 2 have sone so, Mariachi Divas also won a Grammy)?
A lot, it turns out, and the evidence is all around me. From the band that played for the unveiling in Ajijic, to the overwhelming majority of the mariachis at the Festival Internacional del Mariachi y la Charreria, to the casual observation that all of the mariachis looking for gigs at Mariachi Plaza in LA and Mariachi Square in Tlaquepaque are men.
Verónica Oviedo the founder of Mariachi Mujers Latina told Laura Kiniry of Atlas Obscura that, “Part of the reason I started Mujer Latina was to open another door for Mexican women. In a culture where ‘mariachi’ exudes machismo, it’s been a difficult thing.”
The members of Flor de Toloache told me something very similar when I interviewed them in LA – they ran into low expectations because they were girls, they were always considered second class, and not always treated with the respect that men got, even when their music was demonstrably better.
I think the announcement from Mariachi Las Adelitas indicates that the tide is turning. When the bastion of male culture know as “merry old England” makes room for a female mariachi that sings covers of Amy Winehouse songs, you know something is changing. I was chagrinned when I started doing some more research on the rise of female mariachis and got directed to my own YouTube Channel where a video of Nancy Sanchez and Mariachi Las Colibri singing at ”Sleepless – Quinceanera Reimagined,” an event Sanchez designed to update the Quinceanera from a parade of marriageable young Latinas to a party celebrating female power, exactly what you would expect from an all-female mariachi.
Unfortunately the announcement I received from Mariachi Las Adelitas did not include a tour in Mexico. While I am waiting for that, I will head back to El Patio in Tlaquepaque and catch and afternoon with Mariachi Mujer Latina. Yep. Things are changing.Patrick O’Heffernan, Music Sin Fronteras
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