.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mariachi, I need not say more...

Within the borders of our southern neighbor and admist all the turbulence and strife between our country and theirs, I opened my eyes and opened my mind to the ways of a particular people who live, if not just a short swim across a river, but for most of us, just next door. So I've listed the quintessential themes, icons, and subject matter of the Mexican people and I will make an attempt at informing the public of these concepts and I just may tie in a personal story or two. Today's subject is the mariachi.

Mariachi: The ideal of the mariachi is far more prevalent than an American might imagine. Not only are they celebrated as a folk icon, but nearly every vehicle in Mexico blares this type of music from the ritziest teenager to the grittiest bus driver...all have the essence of mariachi ringing out from their speakers. To go to Mexico is to go to the land of the mariachi. And what is the mariachi? The mariachi band first was a group of poor troubadours wandering about haciendas singing from pueblo to pueblo, living and singing the dramatic lifestyle of love and revolution.
This all took place probably before the 19th century when all the mariachi wore the peasant color of white with large brimmed straw sombreros. However, towards the beginning of the 20th century, a shift occurred where these chasers of "wine, women, and song" began to crank up their appearances with more elaborate apparel. Hence, you have the mariachi prototype that the famous "3 Amigos" emulated in this classic film. This new and approved mariachi look borrowed its ideal and style from the "charro" or as we may say the Mexican cowboy with fancy designs and embroidered lace-work. The mariachi then was sealed as the unarguable ideal of Mexico. This ideal is much like our country singers borrowing motifs from our cowboys, but with much broader appeal, even if the music is probably at times just as sad and earthy as our country music.
My first memorable encounter with the spirit of mariachi took place, not in Mexico, believe it or not, but in Arkansas. It was my first week of school at Harding University and I had risen up early and was reading and praying out in the central courtyard when, one by one, nearly a quarter of the entire male hispanic poplution of the college slipped by through the morning mists and all assembled underneath one of the girl's dorms. Then right as the guitar strings were struck they all belted out in unison an amorous song in Spanish intending to serenade some luckless girl at 6 in the morning. It was then that I witnessed it, my first view of this unquencheable spirit. Even far from home, at a quiet college, this couldn't hold back the mariachi that was quaking within these latin souls. But I had room to grow myself for the appreciation for this ideal.
You can go to this street in Guadalajara, for this is the very birthplace of the mariachi, where if you can drive by you can see members of numerous mariachi bands standing boldly and chivalrously in the streets and if you want to woo someone or need a fiesta in a hurry, or you just want to hear someone lament over an instrument then you can have your pick. Most of them puffing on a cigarette, most of them with slick-back hair, but all of them gallant and ready to pick up their guitar or horn and erupt the still air into song. It was at that precise moment that the thought went through my head that one day I will write a novel about these Mexican maestros. I will create such a brotherhood of musicians that America has never seen. There shall be Sancho, the short stout one always laughing, eating, drinking, and holding cock fights. Then Carlos, the sad-eyed wooer of women who can't get over his own broken heart. Then Salvador, the rambuctious fighter of drunks, corrupt politicians, and bulls who always does the high shrill yells that are in every upbeat mariachi song. And then obscure Ramon, who never says a word but smokes his cigarette and always squints into the Mexican sun....and I could go on and on. So yes, I became wrapped up in this idyll. I began to idolize these performers. Whenever I saw one, I would just stare in awe. I wanted to speak to one; to get him to tell me his life story. "How does one become a mariachi?" I would say, "Was it prophesied that one day you should sing ballads and pluck on the heartstrings of an entire nation?" What would he say? Would he squint off into the sun saying "such is life" and then flick his cigarrette somewhere as he walked to his next gig?
While in Mexico, I searched high and low for a pair of mariachi pants. I thought whenever Sunday church rolled around in the states, and if I were sporting some of those mariachi pants, I would indeed be the coolest guy this side of the Rio. -But I couldn't find these pants anywhere. They were just as elusive as the mariachi themselves.


Post a Comment

<< Home