'For the most part, this stuff is high energy and high emotion. This is not lullaby," says director of the Chula Vista International Mariachi Conference Mark Fogelquist. The conference includes three days of workshops at Otay Ranch High School. On the fourth day, Sunday, June 26, the Mariachi Showcase and Festival Concert will be held at Rancho del Rey Middle School. Modern mariachi music can be dissected into four categories: Son, ranchera, bolero, and polka. "The signature piece of the mariachi is called 'El Son de la Negra' [The Song of the Dark-Skinned Woman], and the genre is mentioned in the song's title. Like most sons, this piece "embodies the driving rhythms, the brilliant trumpet sounds, and the festive character of Mexican culture. Many, many shows will either start or end with that one." Fogelquist adds that the son is always "upbeat, energetic, and rhythmically complicated -- these are the real folk-based songs."
"'El Rey' is often requested," says Fogelquist. "El Rey" [The King] is a ranchera song. According to Fogelquist, "Some of these songs are tearjerkers about love that has been betrayed." "El Rey" is a "personal statement of the songwriter," who wrote, "I have no throne, I have no queen, I have no money, but my word is the law."
Bolero defines those songs that some might call "hopelessly romantic." For example, in "Sabor a Mi" (Taste of Me) the singer croons, "So many years we have enjoyed this love, that I have the taste of you and you have the taste of me."
In one of the conference's workshops students will learn a polka song called "Rosas de Mayo," or Roses of May. The most interesting thing about this song may be the man who wrote it, Miguel Martinez. "Now in his eighties, [Martinez] is the most famous mariachi trumpet player in history," says Fogelquist. "He appeared in 250 films and recorded thousands of songs for 40 years with all the top singers in Mexico." Fogelquist likens Martinez to Louis Armstrong and points out that "he wrote many, many of these polkas."
The trumpet is one of several mariachi instruments. Most groups will also have violins and classical six-string guitars. The vihuela, a small rhythm guitar, "cuts through the ensemble so that you can hear the driving rhythm." The vihuela is accompanied by the guitarrón, a large, six-string, bass instrument. Most professional groups include harps.
"Today you do not have a lead singer who does nothing but sing," says Fogelquist. "Everybody sings, and the lead singers play an instrument." In an accomplished group like Mariachi Sol de Mexico from Los Angeles, who will perform, there are seven or eight solo singers and everybody will sing on choruses. There are many performers who are famous for their gritos, which means to yell or cry. "The grito is a spontaneous outburst, an expression of joy or of emotion at the sounds that the listener is hearing," says Fogelquist. The grito is "one of the things that makes a musician attractive to a group leader, and it adds excitement to the whole atmosphere."
A full-time mariachi instructor, Fogelquist directs the Chula Vista Mariachi, composed of Chula Vista High School students. "They are in so much demand [in San Diego], last year we did 175 performances." The group plays primarily for private parties such as weddings, birthdays, and baptisms for $300 an hour.
Coed members of Chula Vista Mariachi all wear the same outfit, known as the traje de charro, or gentleman horseman's suit. Such suits, modeled after the Spanish horsemen's attire with tight-fitting pants, short coats, gold or silver buttons, and elaborate embroidery, are part of the mariachi experience. Sombreros are also part of this ensemble, "although a lot of groups don't wear them while playing anymore, because it's hard to play the violin -- the bow knocks the hat off." -- Barbarella
Mariachi Showcase and Festival Concert
Sunday, June 26
11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Rancho del Rey Middle School
1174 East J Street
Rancho del Rey
Cost: $10 adult, $5 children under 12
Info: 619-585-4405 or