LSR MEXICO REPORT

Mariachis and their fight to survive the pandemic

The groups of musicians and mariachis go through one of the worst crises in history

  • REDACCIÓN
  • 22/01/2021
  • 10:15 hrs
  • Escuchar
Mariachis and their fight to survive the pandemic
Foto Cuartoscuro

The mariachi union has faced the worst crisis in recent times due to the loss of its job market thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and the enormous challenge of overcoming this situation. 

They are the same in a baptism, birthday, anniversary, commemoration, wedding, or funeral ceremony. The simple pleasure of interpreting those melodies that shake the body cause tears, joy, sadness, is a fundamental part of Mexican culture.

Today, they cannot work with face masks. Although they resist their instruments and voices being silent, reality forces them to reduce their work activity, carried out by approximately a thousand people, according to recent figures from INEGI.

Camilo Camacho Jurado, ethnomusicologist and teacher at the Faculty of Music (FaM) of the UNAM, says "they are going through a critical situation, because in addition to suspending festive activities and all kinds of meetings, they have to sing without masks, and this puts them at higher risk."

The violinist and part of a mariachi group that brought Mexican music to Taiwan a few years ago express that today the reality is different and, above all, complicated for those who dedicate themselves to this work.

"At the moment in Mexico City, it is not so much that the fees have been reduced, it is trying to charge the same, but there is no work, it has decreased by more than 50 percent, the musicians are playing 25-30 percent less" he highlights.

With amazement, he comments that some musicians he knows send messages through social networks: "wish me luck, I'm going to work, I got a gig." They are aware that they are risking their lives, but they have to bring something to their families, and there is no other way than to dare.

"I must say that, even with a red light, opportunities are there for them to be hired in meetings with fewer people. It is still a risk," says Camacho Jurado.

WORLD PHENOMENON

Currently, the mariachi is found from Japan to Chile, passes through the United States and Europe; Although in Africa there is still no certainty, it is likely that they also exist, says Camacho Jurado. "It is important to point out: the mariachi became a worldwide phenomenon."

In a virtual interview from the United States, Alejandra Vega-Rivera, head of the Communication Department of the UNAM headquarters in Los Angeles, clarifies that mariachi enjoys excellent prestige in that country.

"I am originally from Guadalajara, there we have the Plaza del Mariachi, but both here in Los Angeles and other latitudes, this music is established internationally. Many groups charge well, up to a thousand dollars an hour, although there is a slightly cheaper, ranging from 250 to 500 dollars an hour, there are groups of only women, mixed and Asian, " he says.

Raúl López Parra, Liaison and Communication coordinator for the UNAM's Center for Mexican Studies (CEM) in Beijing, recalls that every year, on the occasion of the Independence festivities, the Embassy of Mexico invites a mariachis group from Mexico to participate in different Chinese cities' celebrations.

An example of this collaboration, in an unprecedented event, was the efforts of this UNAM entity for a mariachi group to perform at the Central Conservatory of Music of China.

"Also in the south of China is a group called Mariachi Mezcal, which participated in the 2020 national festivities with the Consulate General of Mexico in Guangzhou," he adds. The Asian public, he continues, appreciates Mexican culture and its music. Some articles explain this musical tradition in the Asian nation's social networks; mariachis are a well-known symbol.

TRADITIONAL AND MODERN MARIACHI

The mariachi is considered as a fundamental element of Mexican culture, generally made up of four or more musicians dressed in regional clothing, inspired by the charro costume, who play a vast repertoire accompanied by instruments of violins, vihuelas, guitarrones, and trumpets,

In 2011 it was declared by UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Camilo Camacho emphasizes that it is essential to distinguish between the traditional mariachi, formed towards the end of the 18th century, and the modern one that emerged between the 20s and 30s of the 20th century.

The first is related to the very common instrumental endowments during the Baroque, with rubbed, plucked, strummed strings, which occur in different country regions. A fandanguera tradition dancing is essential, on a stage, trough, or a table.

Meanwhile, the modern mariachi, which emerged in Mexico City with those who migrated at the beginning of the last century, sought a niche where they could work and improve their living conditions. They appeared in a post-revolutionary country where there was a need to create an identity abroad to show a face and generate national unity.

"The mariachi tried to account for all this diversity, the charro figure became important, which was the gala dress of the landowners because the peasants and musicians did not wear that luxury, but rather a blanket and a zoyate hat. ", Explain.

The specialist adds that mariachi women dabbled, first, as singers, as was the case with Lucha Reyes, and eventually, they began to take up the instruments.

"First there were the violins, then the guitar, and then they went with the harp and the guitarrón, which is a powerful instrument. It causes blisters. If there is someone inexperienced who begins to play it, their fingers will burst, but their participation's formidable".


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