The new album from Mariachi El Bronx arrives tomorrow, and after giving you a taste of Map Of The World and 48 Roses last month, we’re taking you down the rabbit hole with a little musical enlightenment.
The flipside personas to Los Angeles hardcore demons The Bronx were kind enough to break off a crash course in their own history of mariachi for Antiquiet, on the eve of release of their hotly anticipated sophomore album, Mariachi El Bronx (II).
After getting caught up on Antiquiet’s extensive coverage of Mariachi El Bronx/The Bronx, read below as drummer and percussive chameleon Jorma Vik explains the band’s personal influence in their approach to mariachi music.
From Jorma Vik of Mariachi El Bronx / The Bronx:
Let me start by saying that in no way am I qualified to write this. My ethnicity is Scandinavian. I grew up in Seattle, Washington. everything I knew about mexican music up until the inception of Mariachi El Bronx I learned from living the past 15 years of my life in Los Angeles, having heard it leak out of passing cars and neighbors houses or hearing it played in restaurants and bars. That’s my disclaimer for all of the misinformation to follow.
We use the word “mariachi” very loosely in Mariachi El Bronx. Traditionally the word refers to an ensemble of musicians using specific instruments and playing a specific style of music, all of which we take certain liberties with. I’m pretty sure we got the outfits right though, so we’ve got that going for us. Traditional Mexican music has many classifications depending on region, form and instrumentation.
We’re certainly not the first band to venture outside of our comfort zone and delve into mariachi music. The most popular american artist to do so being Linda Ronstadt when she put out a record in 1987 entitled Canciones De Mi Padre thats sold over 2 million copies in the US alone.
Don’t let what you may know about the music she’s typically known for fool ya, she is extremely legit in the mariachi genre:
Vincent Hidalgo, our guitarrone (bass) player and son of David Hidalgo of the legendary Los Angeles band Los Lobos, is a huge asset to the band, teaching us the proper techniques and rhythms to play and giving us what little street cred we have. He’s also the only member with any hispanic heritage. Los Lobos is a huge inspiration to our band and is the common ground we all had when starting out as we all grew up listening to their music.
Not only was David Hidalgo cool enough to grace our first record with some of his incredible accordion and guitar stylings, he also taught us that you can reheat burritos in a hotel room using the clothes iron!
Here’s a clip of Los Lobos playing a style of song called a “son jarocho” on Sesame Street making it look all too easy:
In April of 2010 we were invited to play “La Linea,” a latin music festival in London, England at the Barbican concert hall. Also playing with us was a traditional 10 piece all female mariachi band from Jalisco, Mexico (where mariachi music originates) called Mariachi Feminil Nuevo Tecalitlan. We were to perform two songs together for the show and had a day of rehearsals to sort them out. Suffering from a language barrier we essentially had to talk to each other through our instruments. The experience was unreal, the band was absolutely incredible and taught us, among many other things, that we need to practice. A lot.
Mariachi Feminil Nuevo Tacalitlan performing a waltz or “vals” song Clown Powder with us:
One style of song you’ll hear us play is called a “bolero” which is a love song. These will often be played by the bands you see at mexican restaurants where white people like to request that they play “that ‘tequila’ song” followed by a high five. This is a very popular style that many of the traditional mariachi songs are written in.
If you play guitar and this doesn’t chub you up you need to check your pulse:
Another style we flirted with on El Bronx II is norteno (also called “banda” when played with brass instruments), originating in the northern territories of Mexico just south of the US border. Those of you who live in Southern California are most likely very aware of this music whether you know it or not. Often you can distinguish it by its “oom-pah, oom-pah” bass line sounding something similar to polka, which is actually where its roots come from.
Theres a sub-genre of norteno that has recently gained attention called a “narcocorrido.” The music is generally the same but the lyrical subject matter is that of drug smuggling and murder, often containing praise of a specific drug kingpin. There’s been many instances of these musicians being murdered by rival drug cartels.
R.I.P. Valentin Elizalde 1979 – 2006:
One last style i’ll talk about that you’ll also hear on Mariachi El Bronx (II) that has become very popular lately in the hispanic community is called “cumbia.” Cumbia is dance music that originated in Colombia, made its way over to Mexico and has evolved into what is now a club phenomenon. There’s all kinds of beef about cumbia between columbians and mexicans – who plays it better and what not.
We put our spin on it. These dudes took a whole different route. enjoy:
So there you have it fellow gringos. A very brief and misinformed guide to traditional Mexican music. But let me tell you, this was only a friendly game of “just the tip.” It gets far more involved the further down the wormhole you go.