by HAP MANSFIELD
Pretty much everyone in Texas knows that Mariachi music with its high spirits and precise musicianship is a fundamental part of the culture of the state.
However, a deep and thoughtful listen to Mariachi music will reveal textures and subtleties that can be overlooked in the flood of its powerful rhythms and buoyant songs. There are hints of waltzes, polkas, folk music and jazz in those brassy crescendos. There is the history of a culture swimming around in the violin and guitar sounds. Then, too, there is a sad note in the most joyous lilt of a tune and a hopeful happiness in the sorrowful ones. Mariachi music is full of both sweet and salty dimensions.
If you go…
Feria del Mariachi’s student competition starts 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 2, with a multi-level competition at the San Marcos High School cafeteria. The competition is free to the public.
The finale concert will take place at the Embassy Suites Convention Center at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 3 and will be hosted by celebrity emcee Valente Rodriguez of the George Lopez show.
Tickets for the event are $5 for students with valid Texas State identification, $15 for general admission, $20 for preferred seating and $50 for the Noche de Gala Dinner and preferred seating during the Feria del Mariachi concert.
For information, visit the festival’s website here.
“A big part of Mariachi is the Ranchera songs and basically this is the country music of Mexico. Mariachi is the Country and Blues music of Mexico,” said John Lopez, a Texas State associate music professor.
Lopez, one of the directors of the university’s highly lauded Mariachi Nueva Generacion is also one of the primary organizers for the school’s Feria del Mariachi taking place this weekend, March 2-3, at Texas State University, San Marcos High School and the San Marcos Convention Center.
What exactly is Mariachi? Technically, it is an ensemble of musicians which, in contemporary times, include trumpets, violins, a vihuela (a large round-backed guitar), and a guitarrón (a bass-like guitar.)
The music originally consisted of folk songs called rancheras, coming from western Mexico. In the 1800s musicians wore peasant garb but now don the garb of the horseman, the traje de charro, the ornamented pants, short jacket, boots, wide bow tie and sombrero.
“Mariachi performers. as opposed to other bands, are both instrumentalists and vocalists and every performer must be both,” said Lopez.
At one time it was said that the word Mariachi came from the French word for marriage, presumably because Mariachis often entertained at weddings during the French occupation of Mexico but etymologists have found that the word is actually indigenous to Mexico and was used long before the French set foot there. Mariachi music, in some form, can be dated back to the 1500s.
Lopez said one of the biggest misconceptions about Mariachi is “assuming that every mariachi ensemble is the same — the Mariachi in restaurants as opposed to Mariachi in concert. They are not the same, they are all different.”
The Feria del Mariachi is in its 13th year and each year the festival gains support, popularity and respect.
“Our crowds have been big and every year the festival gets bigger and better,” said Lopez. “It’s great to be able to bring such great stuff to the public. … Of course every year it gets more complicated to organize. But it’s great.”
The two day event features a variety of activities, concerts and workshops including a competition for students on starting at 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 2 at the San Marcos High School auditorium. Categories for the competition include colleges/universities, high school (both varsity and non-varsity), middle schools and community ensembles.
One of the featured ensembles at the competition’s finale concert concert Saturday, March 3 will be Mariachi 7 Leguas (7 Leagues) who also performed last year at the event. Siete Leguas was the name of Pancho Villa’s favorite horse.
“They are from the Rio Grande Valley,” said Lopez. “And recently won a contest, ‘Sones de Mariachi por el Mundo,’ as the Best Mariachi in the world. They gave such a great performance last year that we brought them back again.”
Also performing at the concert will be Texas State’s award winning Mariachi Nueva Generacion.
The event is more than just a competition and a concert. In addition to workshops on Mariachi the event garners funds for students by gathering donations for education which helps to preserve the tradition of Mariachi. Texas State is one of the few places where students can study the form.
Said Lopez, “The donations provide for a student scholarship fund for students to major in Mariachi. These students can then be better teachers of Mariachi in their communities and this creates better and better students of the music.”
As for that sweet and salty mix of sounds in Mariachi music, Lopez sums it up succinctly. “A lot of music from Latin America comes from the heart. I think it could best be termed a ‘celebration of life’. “