A Mariachi Tradition is Born

Mariachi music fills the Cerritos Center with a wide range of traditional and holiday tunes

By Abelardo de la Pe??a Jr.
Published on LatinoLA: December 30, 1999

 A Mariachi Tradition is Born

This past holiday season was filled with time-worn family traditions ? the last-minute buying of gifts at Olvera Street, working the tamale assembly line at my mom's, the off-key singing of Christmas carols in English and Spanish, and the excitement of my youngest daughter begging me to get up early Christmas morning to see what Santa left for her (and for me, too!).

After attending Jos? Hern?ndez's Mariachi Spectacular the day after Navidad, a new cultural tradition will surely join this list. Hern?ndez hosted a lively show at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts which featured not only his stellar Mariachi Sol de M?xico, arguably the premier mariachi based in the United States, but also the all-female Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, Ballet Folkl?rico del Pac?fico and Mariachi Voz de M?xico.

As Hern?ndez explained, he was there not only to present both traditional and contemporary compositions, but also to show that "mariachi is not just five fat guys playing in a cantina." Indeed, the dashing figures in the tight charro outfits sounded at times like a miniature symphony. Not to mention a big band from out of the 40s. But more on that later.

The colorfully lighted, multi-leveled stage was made to look like a street in a Mexican pueblito. Luminarias, the decorative lights brought out for special occasions, rimmed the front of the stage. Hern?ndez, the trumpet-wielding leader of Sol de M?xico, was a splendidly gracious host, introducing the various performers and their performances in English and Spanish. As a sixth-generation mariachi master, he gave a historical context to the proceedings with humor and humility.

The headliners began with a medley which included "Cielito Lindo" and "Guadalajara," familiar even to those who think of El Torito as being fine Mexican cuisine. With the bows of the violins skittering in fast motion, he introduced an original composition, "M?xico Vive en Mi Coraz?n" (M?xico Lives In My Heart). With an invigorating chorus and quick-changing tempos, the song joins the pantheon of other classics extolling pride and nostalgia for the la tierra del sol.

"Jesusita En Chihuahua," a well-known piece popularized during the Mexican Revolution, was accompanied by the superlative dancing of Ballet Folkl?rico del Pac?fico. In French-inspired costumes -- ladies wearing bonnets festooned with tall feathers and men in tuxedos -- the foot-stomping lead to eager handclapping from the crowd.

Throughout the concert, various members of the group, violinists and guitarists alike, took turns in interpreting the vocals. Some voices were high, others lower, but all expressed themselves in tear-jerking, gut-wrenching emotion. No silently macho Mexican men in this group. In fact, Sol de M?xico already boasts the next generation of mariachi, with two 16 year-olds adding youthful vigor to the proceedings.

One of the night's highlights was Hern?ndez urging the crowd to join in on what I like to call the unofficial Mexican anthem, "Volver." He pitted the women in the audience against the men, and although I think the women did better, he graciously gave us this one, this time.

In the midst of our merry Mexican mood, the maestro threw us a curve-ball, as trumpets blasted the familiar sounds of Glen Miller in a medley which included "Moonlight Serenade," "Stormy Weather," and "In the Mood." Although nobody got up to jitterbugging, this tribute to a decidedly American musical form was a crowd-pleaser.

Finally, in deference to the season, Mr. Hern?ndez introduced nine-year old Adriana Jim?nez, who astounded all with her big-voiced recreation of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." This was followed by a rousing rendition of another holiday classic, Jos? Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad."

All four groups -- the white-suited Sol de M?xico troupe, Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles en falda, Voz de M?xico and the dancers -- crowded the stage, the audience joining in with enthusiasm, and this writer, for one, felt that Christmas was indeed complete, having enjoyed the gift of musical merriment, mariachi-style.

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