Who would have thought they'd ever hear a mariachi singing in Chinese or Hindi? Do what?! Mariachi music is alive and playing in music scenes across continents. Today mariachi music isn't just heard in Mexico and the U.S. The sounds of rancheras and sones are heard as far or near as countries like China, Japan, Canada, Guatemala, Peru, and the Phillipines. Today's mariachi musicians are hip-to modern day music, mixing in traditional sounds with cumbia and classic american music.
You've heard it in Spanish and you may have heard it in English, but what does mariachi music sound like in Chinese?
[Video of Mariachi Imperial appearance on Tawianese tv show]
Within the realm of Mariachi music, there's an interest in incorporating a diversity of genres and languages. In 1998, Mariachi Sol de Mexico released their "Acapulco Girls' album, which showcased their ability to interpet popular English music in both English and Spanish. In 1999, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan's album, "Al Son Que Nos Toquen", featured a popular Japanese song entitled " Kawano Nagereno Yoni" (Nube de Mar).
I had the opportunity to interview Jose "Chabelo" Longoria, director of Mariachi Imperial de America in Houston, TX. Mariachi Imperial has traveled to China, Armenia, and Canada in the last three years. Not only have they taken traditional mariachi music to people overseas, but they've remixed and performed traditional Chinese and Armenian music for Chinese and Armenian natives.
Q: What inspired these trips to other countries?
A: "First, we wanted to sing a song in another language with our mariachi style. We realized that a popular song would have to be performed for people from that country. We started asking Chinese friends and people from Chinese restaurants about popular Chinese songs. After recording one Chinese song (No Comprendes mi Corazon), we started to ask the Chinese Community Center for a chance to perform at their annual Chinese New Year Celebration. It was such a huge success that we have been performing for this event for the last 5 years. Now we know how to sing 4 Chinese songs. Other countries became so interested in this unique idea that they invited us to play as well. We sang 2 Chinese songs in Beijing in 2007 and 3 Armenian songs in our 2008 Armenia tour."
Q: What’s been the best trip for you and why?
A: "All of them have been special in their own way--people from those countries have welcomed our style of incorporating their music. Armenia really stands out for us because we toured 5 cities, which was a huge hit. This tour was sponsored by the US Embassy and the people who were great; along with the accomodations, concert settings, and audience friendliness."
Q: How have people reacted to listening to Mariachi music in these countries?
A: "They were very impressed and surprised that a Mexican band was singing in their native language."
Q: What has Maraichi and mariachi music meant to you in your life?
A: "At first, Mariachi was a way of life and a way to make a living. Now, Mariachi is a way to express who I am and has become a bridge to connecting with the world through music and culture."
Mariachi Imperial has also learned some songs in Hindi and recently performed at an Indian festival in Houston, TX. They are currently working on their 3rd music album, where they will feature some of the songs recorded in other native languages.