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Staging one of the world’s largest music festivals online: the 2020 International Mariachi Festival

How do you virtually stage a 10-day,  UN-recognized Intangible Cultural Heritage music festival that attracts 500 bands from over a dozen countries,   hundreds of thousands of attendees, and features rodeos, Guinness World Book of Records demonstrations of farming skills, religious services, parades, floats,  opera houses and street performers spread throughout a city of 8 million?

Well, I was going to tell you in this week’s LA LA Land, but as of today, details for the 2020 Encuentro Internacional del Mariachi – the International Mariachi Festival – in Guadalajara, are not yet available. But I anticipate them by next week’s LA LA Land, and I have contacted the organizer, the Camara de Comercio (Chamber of Commerce) of Guadalajara, and hopefully will get the information next week.  It opens in mid-September, so it is getting close. 

In the meantime, if you don’t know about what is one of the world’s largest music celebrations, even if you have not become a mariachi fan, the sheer scale and joy of the event make it worth knowing about. I attended last year and was overwhelmed.  I was also shut out of a number of major events because tickets and hotels were sold out months and in some cases years in advance.  Who knew? Apparently, a lot of people.

Mariachi is Mexico’s national music and the symbol of its soul in many ways. Most people in the States are familiar with the restaurant version of mariachi:  large (or small) bands of men in costumes with large sombrero hats, silver-studded pants, short vests, embroidered ties, and a  range of instruments that includes giant guitars, horns, violins, regular guitars and small guitars, sometimes harps, and romantic tenors. This is the tip of the iceberg.

Mariachis come in male, female and mixed versions. Last year an all-female mariachi from Brooklyn, Flor de la Toloache, won the Latin Grammy for best mariachi. Mariachis play everything from classical Mexican music to rap and rock and blues. There is even a mariachi dedicated to the music of The Smiths. Mariachi is an art that is handed down from father and mother to son and daughter. It is taught in schools and special music centers, and many children play professionally in their relatives’ bands.  And there are mariachis as far away as the UK, Scotland, and Japan.

Mariachi, most likely an indigenous word, evolved as peasant music played by farmers after Cortez arrived in Mexico in 1519, bringing Spanish musicians with him. No one knows the exact birthplace of mariachi, but it may be native to a region of western Mexico that today includes the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Colima. It originally featured the guitarrón (large 6-string bass guitar) violin, vihuela (a small five-string guitar), and a traditional guitar.  Horns were added later as were the elaborate costumes drawn from the Charros, Mexican cowboys.  Mariachis play at charreadas, the Mexican rodeos to provide music for dancing horses.

Originally hired by wealthy hacienda owners, after the Mexican revolution (NOT Cinco de Mayo) mariachis wandered the countryside looking for work, not only providing music but also carrying news from town to town, and developing songs about the daily lives of people. It was adopted for official functions by President Porfirio Diaz in 1905 and after the Revolution of 1910 mariachi became urban music and was widely adopted as a symbol of nationalism.  When radio and cinema began broadcasting it, mariachi spread across the nation and established itself in Los Angeles and other parts of the States. 

 Jalisco state, whose capital is Guadalajara, has become the center of Mariachi in Mexico, especially the area known as San Pedro Tlaquepaque.  Today you can go to a vast complex of restaurants in the Tlaquepaque tourist area where multiple mariachis compete for tips or perform shows in the central gazebo.  

The Encuentro Internacional del Mariachi is a major event in Mexico and is Guadalajara’s largest event every year – in a city with as much going on as Los Angeles or New York. Moving it online will be both a challenge and an opportunity.  While many of the bands that play at the live Mariachi Festival are also broadcast on YouTube and Facebook, livestreaming some of the major events will increase the audience worldwide as well as in Mexico.  I will let you know next week how they are going to do it and how you can attend online

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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