A Conversation with Linda Ronstadt
The hugely successful San Jose International Mariachi and Latin Music Festival is upon us again. Now in its seventeenth year, the festival begins on September 7 at the HP Pavilion. This year’s concerts feature a long, impressive list of top mariachi and Latin artists, including names that would be familiar to the average music fan such as Lila Downs, Ersi Arvizu (with Ry Cooder) and Linda Ronstadt, who is also the festival’s chief adviser.
Many music lovers, who know Ronstadt from her string of big country rock hits in the 70s, and perhaps for singing Gilbert and Sullivan operettas or standards with Nelson Riddle, are often surprised to find out that she is an excellent mariachi singer and historian, and a traditionalist as well. In fact, being a musicologist myself, I can tell you that I have never heard anyone speak with as much authority on and historical knowledge of the subject as Linda Ronstadt. Anyone with any doubts about her mariachi expertise can hear for themselves by listening to Ronstadt’s 1987 CD, Canciones de Mi Padre.
Talking to Ronstadt, I immediately understood why this should be so. Mariachi is a representation of her heritage. She is genetically and culturally steeped in all the many diverse ancestral elements that have gone into the creation and evolution of this multicultural musical form. Like her friend and the festival’s producer, Marcela Aviles, Ronstadt is half Mexican and grew up in a bilingual home in Tucson. She is the daughter and granddaughter of musicians and many in her family are also professional musicians. Her grandfather was a “buggy builder” and composer and band leader. Her father “had a beautiful voice and sang Mexican and American standards.” Ronstadt says that everyone in her family sang and she picked it up from an early age and naturally assumed it was the same in every family.
Her earliest musical memory is listening to flamenco records at home with her father, and she remembers listening with her grandmother to recordings of operas sung by Maria Callas, who Ronstadt believes was “the greatest voice of the twentieth century.”
Her great-grandfather was a colonel in the Prussian Army who migrated to Mexico, a very interesting fact when you consider that mariachi music was also born of parents from European and Latin American traditions. In fact, like most of the people of Mexico, America, and the rest of the New World, mariachi is a hybrid of many musical bloodlines, including indo-American, German, Alsatian, French and Spanish.
Mariachi developed over time around the rancheras of Jalisco on the west coast of Mexico, where rural folk musicians adopted the instruments and styles of many European antecedents and synthesized them into a unique cultural expression of Mexico’s agrarian working class.
At first, mariachi was played by traveling laborer/musicians that performed at weddings and other celebrations requiring dance music. The lyrics of the music, which sprang from the trials and tribulations of the simple life, were accompanied by portable instruments brought to Mexico by the Spanish: violins, harps, and a variety of members from the guitar family. (The modal material and melismatic vocal expressions of flamenco are also evident in mariachi.) As the form became more popular, the presentation was urbanized, the musicians became professionals, colorful costumes and dance activity became features, and after World War I, instruments such as cornets, trumpets and woodwinds were added.
It should be no surprise that Ronstadt enthusiastically supports the study of mariachi traditions in training the next generation of performers, and has put that enthusiasm to work in helping to formulate the many workshops and educational events that are a big part of the festival. She is also very keen on the adobe and straw bale construction workshops that explore traditional building techniques, and she hopes to work with the festival to add cooking workshops in the future. All of this fits her view that human life should be rooted in the sustaining of community first and foremost.
We discussed music and politics, a subject that is close to Ronstadt’s heart. Like the music of the mariachi genre, she makes it a point to find the “essence” of humanity and show it through her work as an artist. She believes that musicians have an “obligation to spread the news” of contemporary political and social issues. Musicians should not “tell people how to vote” but “evoke” stories of the plight of ordinary people in their everyday lives that illustrate a social or political point that will help listeners decide for themselves what is right.
Ronstadt is especially interested and active in issues related to the U.S.-Mexican border. She says the situation there is “terrible—a meat grinder. Nobody should be made to endure such suffering.” She believes that if most Americans saw what goes on there with their own eyes, they would be disgusted.
Finally, I brought up the subject of how a few local self-proclaimed mariachi “purists” have had some harsh words for the way the San Jose festival celebrates mariachi in its greater cultural context. We discussed how they don’t seem to get that the genre is part of a continuum of traditions that is constantly absorbing influences, morphing and spawning new branches. Some who proclaim themselves experts have even said that the festival should not have such artists as Los Lobos and others who have appeared in the past as they believe these artists are not central to the mariachi tradition (even though the members of Los Lobos are excellent Mexican roots musicians and have successfully married traditional forms to rock and blues). The critics also don’t seem to get that part of the success of the festival is that ordinary music lovers are drawn to it by artists well known to them, like Los Lobos and Linda Ronstadt, and these festival goers get their first taste of mariachi that way.
Except for those few ignorant critics, the rest of us can enjoy the first-class offerings of the 17th Annual San Jose International Mariachi and Latin Music Festival. Don’t miss this premier San Jose event. I’ll see you there.
Linda Ronstadt, Lila Downs and Aida Cuevas will perform with Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, Mariachi Cobre, and Los Lupenos de San Jose on September 27 at the San Jose State Event Center at 8 pm.
For complete festival information, go to http://sanjosemariachifestival.com/
Oh that’s just great. Let’s hope the heck she doesn’t dedicate La Bamba to Michael Moore!
The Mariachi Festival is one of the few things I know of that makes some of my friends drive down here from out-of-town (with the exception of Tech Conference).
Thank you Jack! Great job.
On April 1, we celebrated our only sister’s birthday, at her home. Having survived a serious stroke, followed by the death of her husband, she was left with many issues. She had given up on life! Nothing we did seemed to help her mental state.
A trio was present to sing the old ballads, which were popular in the early days of her 74 years of life. A most amazing transformation occurred. The trio sang and played her favorite ballads. Anna immediately began to cry and shed many tears for 20 minutes. I was asked to go to her side to comfort her. I did not. I allowed her to express her emotion, without interruption. The music touched her sprit so deeply, she came to life. Than when the tears stopped, for the next 20 minutes she burst out into gritos, as the Mariachi delivered ballad after ballad of her favorite songs.
Do I understand what happened to my lovely sister’s sprit? Of course I do. We cannot live without our music. Something dies in us when we cannot hear the sounds of our childhood.
Anna found herself that afternoon. Yes she still has to get help in and out of her wheel chair, but now she is getting ready to tend her garden (we built a planter that is wheelchair high), and she walks now to and from the back yard. We seven brothers simply smile and look on in awe. We have our sister back!
Inspiration! Anna reconnected with her youth. What Dr. could have touched her so deeply? Anna photographed our family in the forties and fifties—-thousands of photos of our heritage working in the fields and orchards of our then bountiful Valley of Hearts Delight. She captured our youth and that of our valley forever!
I found myself in envy as Anna cried and as she belted out her gritos. The music found its mark! Viva Mariachi! Viva La Musica de Mi Jente!
Linda and Marcela, you are doing a wonderful job keeping our music alive. Anna’s story is but one of millions, I’m sure!
“The Village Blacksmith”
It has been a year since I posted these comments about my lovely sister. Much to our delight our sister has continued to improve dramaticly. It is as thought she rediscovered her sprit of her youth, thru the Music of Mariachi and Trio Los Panchos.
There is no measurement of the human sprit. It simply exists!
I have no doubt that there will be many changes in our community as a result of the free sprit that abounds when the bonds between the men and women is expressed thru the appreciation and expression of the music of our past.
In these times of so much pain and uncertainty, this wonderful gathering of so many talented and dedicated individuals is a welcome event.
For me , it has become a celibration of life. We have witnessed the power of music in the almost magical recovery of our Sister Anna.
Take the opportunity and bring the family, Granny and GrandPa to this years Mariachi Festival. Allow your mind to be blessed with the Music of the Past.
With your best and loudest “Grito” will emerge in flight the sprit of your past.
Truly this is our,
“Fountain of Youth”
The Village Black Smith
I am so happy to hear about your sister! You are all in my thoughts and prayers!!
Thank you Kathleen. That is very thoughtful of You.
My sister Anna was placed in a care home after her stroke.. How I learned of this is I entered a music box store in Solvange ca. I happened to open a familiar music box and when I opened it, a ballerina treweled as the lovely song played. I began to tear up as I remembered so many years before, My sister allowed me to play with Her ballerina music box.
Mom never allowed us to even get close to her things. That love and kindness she showed me as a 5 year old surfaced for me 65 years later in that music store. I called to thank her still in tears and found out she was not even at home any more. When I returned home we went to visit her at the care home , only to find that she had been given up as to far gone to rehabilitate. My brothers and I took action and as a result after that Little Music box appeared to me in of all places Solvange California. She is now living in her home well cared for and now goes to church every Sunday and Loves to have parties at her home. Several weeks ago we surprised her with a music box and of course we all cried tears of happiness. It was her expression of Love to a 5 year old little brother that saved her Life. As I’ve said, there is no measurement of the human sprit, it’s just there. She will be at the Mariachi Festival,with a “GRITO”!!!!!!!!!!!!! She has become that little Ballerina.
Viva San Jose. It’s a great place to be Family. Family is every thing. We must let go of all differences and forgive.
Well, thanks for reading my thoughts. I’m going to practice my “GRITO” now!!!!! Go on,try it!!
The Village Black Smith
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. Your sister is very lucky to have you. My family means everything to me too. Your story made me cry. It reminded me of my favorite brother Butch. He flew out here from the East coast to see me some 20 years ago, and guess what he gave me? A beautiful music box! I still have it!
He will be coming back here with his wife, this year, for Thanksgiving! I can’t wait!!! He has always been my protector, my biggest fan, and supporter. Yes, there is nothing like a brother to watch over and love you. You two are what every sister needs in their lives to know the true meaning of what a loving man can be to women. It gives us a great example of what a good man is, so we will know how to chose the man we love and grow old with!
Thank you for your wonderful story.
I would like to invite our readers to share their stories of the “healing” power of music here too.
The City of San Jose always seems to find enough money to prop up the Mexican Heritage Corporation but there’s never enough to upgrade the storm sewer system in my neighborhood because of the “structural deficit”.
I guess the idea is that some stormy February day when we get deluged with 8 inches of rain in 3 hours, we can enjoy the mariachi music while we wait for our FEMA trailers.
San Jose is following the lead of New Orleans by pandering to ethnic communities while ignoring it’s infrastructure.
Don’t get me wrong. I love mariachi music. But it would be thriving anyway without the financial aid of the taxpayers.
#7 Gil- You occupy a unique spot on SJI due to the perspective you have from your varied life experiences and your long heritage in The Valley of Heart’s Delight and so your story about your sister is doubly touching and I honor you for it;
“He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.
It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.”
What a lovely post, Jack. Thank you!
Thanks Jack for your embrace of our culturally perfect celebration.
Looking back to July 10-12 1992, when we started to show case the music of Mariachi in San Jose, Salinas was already doing their annual event. Started in 1991 by our local Harpist William Faulkner. I attended their first Mariachi Festival. Jose Hernandez and his Mariachi Sol de Mexico were performinig.
I was completely captivated as I watched Jose Hernandez and his Mariachi perform New York New York while playing and Jose belting out the Frank Sinatra classic and the Mariachi’s doing the can-can in unison. That was it for me.
I did a search that year at the local libraries and found no material to be found on Mariachi and it’s music. I brought that energy to the table of the MHC and along with Dr. Tony Carrillo the rest is history.
Dr. Tony Carrillo became our Director consultant to the MHC and our First International Mariachi Conferance and Festival. Having a nephew Randy Carrillo who founded Mariachi Cobre undoubtly had a lot to do with our first successful Festival. So many people gave of their time to make this annual celebration a reality
The finest San Jose Mexican artists that were a part of Sand Fire & Imagination Gallery San Jose’s first Mexican owned Gallery, gave much talent to the Fesitival.
The city of San Jose has done a wonderful job of nurturing the energy and raising the level of self esteem that was no where to be found but in the homes and parks where Mariachi music was found and played by those that kepted this tradition alive, Now there are many local Mariachi groups formed to carry on the tradition so loved by all.
The sprit of 1992 lives! San Jose International Mariachi Festival, is just that, International. Congradulations San Jose! Viva Mariachi! Viva San Jose!
Thank You Marcela Davison Aviles.
The Village Black Smith
Thanks for the column; Linda’s background is fascinating. I fondly remember seeing her perform back in the early 70’s at Chuck’s Cellar in Los Altos.
Thank You John Galt.
Your verse and your validation touched my sprit.
“How unkind the hands of time that change your features with such ruthless art, yet make no alteration on your loving heart!”
The Village Black Smith
Mr. Van Zandt, you have an obvious bias and that’s ok but I find some of your statments to be off kilter. While Mariachi music has absorbed influences and evolved within its own genre it has not “morphed” or “spawned”
new branches. Had it done so it would no longer be Mariachi music with its “traditions” that Linda Ronstadt ( whom you call a “tradionalist”)supposedly “enthusiastically supports” the Mexican Heritage Corp. teaching the “next generation of performers” As for Los Lobos, whom I like, or Los Tigres or any of the other non-mariachi musicians who have “excellent Mexican (note: NOT “mariachi”) roots musicians who have “successfully married traditional forms to rock and blues”, what in the world does that have to do with Mariachi music? It is totally irrelevant! There really is a huge difference! I am not disputing the veracity of your statement nor criticizing your bias but these groups did not “morph” from Mariachi music nor are they branches of it so what’s the point? As for “getting” that the success of the festival is that “ordinary music lovers” are attracted to artists well-known to them like Los Lobos and Linda Ronstadt and get their first taste of mariachi music that way I don’t agree at all. People have been going to mariachi festivals for over thirty years without needing anything to attract them but the mariachis. The first Mariachi Festival Linda Ronstadt sang at had been popular for years and people did NOT go to see her, they went to see Mariachi Vargas, Cobre, etc. because they already had a taste for the music. She just happened to be the headliner that year. She did a good job but then so did Lola Beltran and Lucha Villa when they were the headliners. It can be argued in reverse that the Mariachi Festival attracts Mariachi music lovers who then get a little taste of these other folks who can then expand their audiences. By the way the people you say have “proclaimed themselves experts” really ARE experts who have spent decades studying, archiving, teaching and playing the music and seem to have a deeper understanding of and reverence for the genre.
And it is inaccurate to call the upcoming festival the “17th International Mariachi and Latin Music Festival”. It only mutated (morphed, spawned)into that recently. Most of the previous festivals really were “International Mariachi Festivals” NOT “…and Latin Music”
At least this year the title more honestly states what it really is. Maybe this particular festival will never again be only a Mariachi Festival. The idea does not disturb me because I know if someone wants a “pure” Mariachi festival they don’t need the city’s money to do it. As for this one I would hate to see anyone pit musicians or audiences against each other because their type of music isn’t this or that. I hope everyone has a great time that is one big love fest and a financial success and even though I am scratching my head at having Los Tigres and Mariach Cobre at the same festival this might be a good thing, who knows. As a mariachi I spent my first night in Garibaldi Square in Mexico city listening to a conjunto (taca-taca) who I hired to play “El Chubasco” about twenty times ( and no, conjuntos did not “morph” from Mariachi music either)
One last thing. Since you never heard anyone speak with such “authority and historical knowledge of the subject” (mariachi music) as Ms. Ronstadt I hope you would consider doing another interview with her in which she can share this. I would also appreciate it if you could direct me to her musical works that have spread the news of contemporary social and political issues. I have always been a fan (loved her in the Mikado) but I seem to have missed out on a significant body of her work. Thanks!
Patricia 11 and 12
Thank you for your views. I am not sure what you mean by my “bias.” This was not an opinion piece or an interview. I was merely relating the substance of my conversation with Linda Ronstadt, an engaging and respectful discussion between two musicians. I expressed my opinion only once in my final paragraph with regards to a few critics of the festival. I did not mention any names so you would have no idea who I was talking about, yet you seem certain that you know who they are. Indeed, it was hardly worth mentioning these critics in my conversation with Ronstadt except that I felt in order to do my job properly for the purposes of writing my column, I should discuss them briefly with her. And it was extremely brief. So if you mean that I am biased against the type of small-minded political maneuverings attempted by such critics, then you are right. I think that you and I would agree that any “expert,” whether through self-proclamation or as recognized by an academic “jury” of peers, fatally undercuts their credibility as an expert by engaging in political manipulations in an attempt to obtain such things as personal power, authority or financial reward. I have no patience for such people or use for their “expertise.”
Your musicological critique shows that perhaps you did not understand what I was saying. I use the verb “morph” as derived from morphology, the study of structure and form originally from biology now appropriated by other academic disciplines. It is especially useful in studying the evolutionary process that is constantly taking place in all music (therefore “morphing”). Like the human “tree” of genealogy where we can study the “family of man,” the human-created “family of music” is mirrored in its own such tree. The entire morphology of music history can be laid out and one can understand the transformative processes and interrelationships quite clearly, sometimes to starling results.
Looking near the base of the tree, you will find—sitting next to other proto-musical forms such as the ragas of ancient India—Gregorian chant, the granddaddy of all modern forms of “Western” music. You can follow the main “art music” branch that extends from this system—that employs Greek Church modes in the development of cantus firmus—right up to the last century and the music of Arnold Schoenberg, Olivier Messiaen and John Cage.
Along the way, secondary branches fly off in all directions. One line intertwines with the artistic bloodlines of Africa, and via the cotton fields and chain gangs of slavery emerges as blues (that morphs from Blind Willie Johnson to B.B. King, and along the way shoots off in another direction that gives us Eric Clapton), jazz from Armstrong to Miles Davis, gospel, and hip hop. On another branch, follow Dylan back through Woody Guthrie to John Dowland and the Elizabethan troubadours. Follow mariachi’s limb back a short way and you will find a neighborhood populated by such diverse types as German beer hall (oom-pah), flamenco and gypsy music, oddities like Franco-Italian “circus” music, and even the polkas of Lawrence Welk (an Alsatian). Many of these limbs representing recent genres stop growing or die, but a few of them spawn shoots and leaves and go on to live in new, related forms. Fortunately, mariachi is one of those few, which attests to its metaphorical strength. Do you not see its ancestral influence in more recent Latino popular music?
By my definition, mariachi has “morphed.” New World laborers picked up instruments from the Old World, gave up the agrarian life, moved to the city, put on costumes and incorporated theatre and dance, and blew trumpets and sang into microphones. Their sociological circumstances changed. Their technological surroundings changed. In each instance the genre jumped to new coordinates, altering its overall structure.
I agree with your subsequent observation that Linda Ronstadt got to where she is through hard work, dedication, education and by having an enormous talent. In league with that, her heritage and acquired knowledge of mariachi traditions through intense devotion and study has helped to bring her to the very highest standard of excellence in the genre. Who could argue with that?
Just to correct the record: Linda Ronstadt sang in The Pirates of Penzance, not the Mikado…duh, my error. By the way I don’t think its genetics or culture that allow her to sing Mariachi music well: its the gift of a magnificent voice, lots of hard work, dicipline and focus.
Everything you say in your first paragraph strongly reinforces your position of bias. Having a bias is perfectly ok; its just more credible to be honest about it up front; then you don’t have to go to such lengths to justify it because it sounds more like you are spouting a party line that was fed to you rather than having done some in depth research. I am not a fan of political manipulations from either side but your article does not explore this; it merely casts about sarcastic one-liners without naming the culprits, something I consider to be journalistic laziness. Oh well, this is ot the NY times.Now don’t be coy; we all know who mean by the “self-proclaimed” experts. If you would be so kind as to say who they are I might even agree with you or there could arise an actual credible discussion. I think it is worth pursuing. It would be more fair to say exactly who and why before dismissing
the “experts” to whom you refer.
Thanks for the music lesson. I did not mean to give a musicological critique and you are right I completely did not understand your analogies so please, I beg you, show me the Mariachi family tree. Tell me what musical style and name one group representing it that has “morphed” from Mariachi music. I think that tree will show that more mariachis have branched out but that’s about it. Yes the instrumentation has evolved but only slightly with the inclusion of trumpets in the 30’s. Every other attempt to add accordions, saxaphones, drums etc. has been met with scorn and failure. And they did not incorporate theater and dance; they get hired to accompany dancers or for theatrical production but that is not and never has been an integral part of Mariachi even though some Mariachis will can-can and sing New York, New York. In Mexico City our host hired a mariachi to serenade us and they did “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, a mixed blessing to someone who was in search of the “authentic” sound. I guess I disagree with the “morphed” part. I agree with the “evolved” part because Mariachi music has but within many more limits than have other musical forms. That is one of the beauties and one of the challenges; it can run the risk of becoming stale but like bluegrass ( and I challenge you to find a bluegrass enthusiastist that would welcome the “morphing” of bluegrass into anything but what it is at its purist), it wanes in popularity and then is “rediscovered” periiodically. Oh another point about your statement that people are going to go hear Los Lobos etc. and get a taste of Mariachi. This may surprise you to know but ANYONE and EVERYHONE going to a Latin music concert, festival etc. already knows about Mariachi music. It is one of the most ubiqitous musical forms in the world. There are mariachis in Japan, France, Germany and other unlikely places comprised of native musicians. Many of our clients are Filipino, South American and Anglo. I don’t really think there would be anyone going to see Los Lobos who would say Oh Gee, Mariachi, I wonder what that is, lets go get a taste! They know. They have known for years so your statement does not fly. Some people love mariachi and some people prefer other forms, some actually dislike it but they all know what it is.
I agree with you about Linda Ronstadt, although I seem to have missed her Joan Baez phase. I have always known she would be able to do justice to Mariachi music as she does to any genre to which she dedicates herself. I knew this even before I knew her genetic and cultural background. In fact, to name-drop here, back in 1985 I suggested to the late Bill Graham that he present a concert featuring her backed by Mariachi Vargas and he thought it was the stupidest idea he’d ever heard that that no one would buy a ticket!
Anyway, an analogy if I may, to the current Mariachi and…” festival. to me it feels like putting together a Wagner festival and combining it with a German Polka Band festival. Yes, its all German and I’m sure you could point out how a polka band morphed from Wagner but it would be silly to call it a Wagner festival. But like I said, the current title is more honest and I don’t have a problem with combing genres as long as it is billed as such.
You are misrepresenting what I wrote, so I will repeat the line from my piece which you seem to be taking issue with:
. . . the [mariachi] genre is part of a continuum of traditions that is constantly absorbing influences, morphing and spawning new branches.
I think it speaks for itself. I say the “continuum of traditions,” of which mariachi is a member, is constantly changing shape and sprouting new limbs.
As for mariachi itself, it has an international presence as you rightly relate and has obviously influenced Latin and other musicians. It would be interesting to see what the results of these influences will be by looking back in a hundred years time.
I don’t think your analogy of combining Wagner and Polka fits the situation here, although it would be interesting, especially with all those Wagner tubas available. I would say that it’s more particularly apposite to compare the mariachi festival to the SJ Jazz Festival where there are presentations of music from a wide variety of antecedents, neighboring genres, and more recent related sub-genres. You have everything from Dixieland to hard bop, light jazz to avant garde all-out improvisation, jazz rock, blues, soul, gospel and reggae. You can explore each of these in context in one festival.
While I am well aware of the fact that a great many people come to the festival for the mariachi, it’s also true that others come because of a name they recognize. I know several people who have never been to the festival or considered going, and who know nothing of mariachi, but are coming this year simply because Ry Cooder is appearing. Last year I had the same experience with people who came to hear Los Lobos, etc. The more who come to the festival (which we are extremely lucky to have here in San Jose), for whatever the reason, the better. Those who know little or nothing about matiachi will hear it in the best possible circumstances and see how wonderful it is. That was the point I was making in my refutation of critics who want to keep these artists out of the festival. Their names are not important in this context and their views are not the point of my artice which was to relate my discussion with Linda Ronstadt. However, there may be a further column on this subject in the future. Perhaps you would be interested in writing a guest column on the subject yourself since you seem to know what it’s all about and who is involved. I will contact you offline about this.
Your story about Bill Graham is very interesting. Thanks for sharing it.
If maraichi is part of a continuum of traditions that “is constantly absorbing influences, morphing and spawning new branches” then by definition you are saying that mariachis morph and spawn new branches, otherwise they would not be part of that continuum. I only asked that you show me an example of what musical style has morphed or branched off from mariachi. You can’t, so I will stop beating that dead horse Allow me to explain why this is important using two issues. 1) You compared music styles that have morphed and branched to a musical style that has not, (thereby ignoring its uniqueness among musical continuums. This would make an interesting article on its own). I assume you did this to show why you think the current Festival is a legitimate idea. The Festival will succeed or fail on its own
merits; using irrelevant and inaccurate analogies don’t help its credibility. It would be far more accurate and credible for you to say the truth: mariachi is unique in that of all the musical forms that have given birth to other forms, cross-pollinated musically etc. mariachi is one style that is what it always has been, having evolved somewhat within tight boundries. It is one of the few popular and ubiquitous forms that has NOT morphed nor produced branches of itself that develeoped other forms of music ala jazz. Which brings me to the second point: We have read many times in the paper this comparison of the Mariachi Festival to the Jazz Festival. This is an eye-roller of 10 on the Richter. There is no comparison AT ALL. In the Jazz Festival, like you said, there are many styes etc. that evolved from jazz. At a Mariachi Festival you have only mariachi period. There is only genre, one style. No matter how many mariachis dance or play symphonic pieces with the Symphony it is still mariachi period. You would never have a conjunto, banda, trio, folk or protest music, rondalla etc. at a mariachi festival (unless they are hired to entertain the mariachis). The current combined festival is little more comparable but not entirely because again in a Jazz Festival you have Papa Jazz and all his little babies. In the current festival you have mariachi and a lot of other musical styles that developed on their own aside from and independent of mariachi. As a matter of fact many groups pride themselves on being NOT from mariachi and there has always been an undercurrent of competition and disdain of one group for the other.
All of this is important because when you say what you said you expose your ignorance of mariachi while at the same time calling critics ignorant and sneering at people who may actually be experts. ( and I am going to assume that they are since you won’t name names) Then you defend this nastiness by going further and accusing them of small-minded political maneuverings and say that the critics are guilty of attempting to gain political power, authority or financial reward, (something both sides have been accused of.) You say you have no patience for such people but neither do you seem to have the patience to ferret out the truth so you can present names, facts and figures that are required when you draw that journalistic line in the sand. If you don’t want to do this then you should not go there. You can promote the festival and the MHC, praise the performers to high heaven and give your musicological thumbs up to the whole thing without putting people down. It smacks of pandering and faver currying. You should understand that there are still some raw feelings in the community over a lot of what has happened. Respect that. You can have and present your bias without the sniping and accusations because when you engage in such behavior you leave us, even those of us who were not involved, with a bad taste in our mouths. In case you haven’t noticed, the ENTIRE country is sick to death of those tactics. We are also tired of spin. I have read so many times in the paper that this combined festival is going to draw in audiences that will then get a taste of mariachi. I read it so many times I actually started to think about it seriously and after reading the papers, the town hall minutes and commissioned reports I think there is a different agenda going on; that the past successes of the Mariachi Festival are being used as a platform to give exposure to other groups; the mariachi will attract the audience who will then get a taste of something not mariachi. I am not talking about Los Lobos or Tigres as they do not need to ride the coattails of the mariachi festival. Is this wrong to do? Well, its a good business decision because just as it takes money to make money it takes success to build success and every artist deserves an audience. Since the MHC is taking the risk of the success or failure and doing all of the hard work I think they are entitled to do whatever they want. Its ultimately the audience who will choose. If enough people want a “pure” mariachi festival then one will spring up around here and this one will continue to morph into whatever vision the MHC has for it. But please, it’s not the 17th anything; its the FIRST of its kind. What is wrong with being honest about this? What is wrong with pointing out and playing up that uniqueness instead of trying to convince people the apple is really an orange?
As for your invitation I do not have the time or resources necessary to ferret out the fact that would justify a column but I know several local experts who may. I can pass along the invitation if you like.
Glad you liked my little tidbit; if only my little crystal ball had been so prescient about the stock market.
Well, enjoy the festival
You are welcome. I concede as you have that there is not much left for us to discuss but thanks for reading. I do have some suggestions for your guest column: I believe Steve DiCinzo is a San Jose inside columnist. You may want to see the cartoon of his that was published last year in the SV Metro and have him do a column. Also Kate Woods is an excellent writer ( and was not involved in any of the controversy) and a mariachera; she would be very good.
I have to take issue with you, however, of your characterization what I said as being “anger over the use of the word ‘ignorant’”. I object and do object to you making inflammatory statements without being willing to finish the job and name names, facts and figures and you continue to do it by saying you are describing “petty politics of some critics of the festival who I believe are very wrong.” Your use of the word “ignorant” did not make me angry, just curious as to whom you were referring and what you consider ignorance. Just as I was curious about the basis of your more inflammatory remarks: I’d like to know who manuevered for finanial gain, personal power, etc, what they did and how they did it. I’d like to know what the critics have said that you believe is wrong and why, you know, Journalism 101. I get that you are not going to do this. Fine but we are not all Rush Limbaughites who want to park our brains at the door. Give us the FACTS and we will make up our own minds. If you are going to throw out a lot of stuff then get in the ring and defend it. Or don’t do it. That’s all and while your use of the word “ignorant” did not generate any anger on my part, contrary to your assumption, that you dismiss the broader more immportant issues of journalist responsibility and try to trivialize the issue by boiling it down to one word is irksome.
As for what you said about the festival, I have no idea about the rest of it but I am absolutely certain that the MARIACHI part of it will be a huge success and good for the city just as it has been for the last 16 years. And I do agree that it is a terrific lineup.
I have enjoyed our discussion and I thank you for the considerable time you have spent on it.
I accurately reported the content of my conversation with Linda Ronstadt. You continue to take issue with aspects of that conversation which you mis-state the meanings of in spite of my explanations otherwise. You have now said what you have to say by putting these matters in your own terms and I have nothing further to add. I completely agree with you that mariachi is unique. Is there anything further to add to that?
As for the comparison of the jazz festival, I think it is right on. You don’t like the comparison and have explained your reasons. I respectfully disagree.
You express anger over my use of the word “ignorant” in my piece to describe the petty politics of some critics of the festival who I believe are very wrong. Perhaps it is a word which I should not have used in this particular instance as it was not my usual opinion piece. However, anyone who knows me or reads my weekly column will know that I do not pander to or curry favor with anyone.
Here is the bottom line as far as I am concerned. This festival, no matter what you call it or what number it has in front of it, is a good thing for the city and all music lovers. It is going to be a celebration of women of mariachi. There is an incredible list of top performing artists coming right to our doorstep. Thousands of enthusiastic fans will be coming to hear them. What more could you ask for?
Thanks for your suggestions. I appreciate it.
I have written several columns in the past about the MHC and Mariachi Festival and I assure you that there will be more in the future.
Put a sock in it, already.
You have spent way too much time at Steamers.
Your post reminds me of a comadre back biting over the back fence.
Your connection to the past is so obious. Get over it. Your, what 86 years old? Mariachi is for the living, Not the dead.
My Grand father was dead when Mariachis played over his coffin. We enjoyed the music, but he only obliged with his presence.
#18 Take your elders to the concert and stop your backbiting. The politics of the eastside 50’s are long dead.
It has been quite painful reading your pain on San Jose Inside. Find Your Self in The music of this festival!
I was wondering if there is anybody out there who can tell me the difference between mariachi music and Flamenco? To me they are both quite similar.