Mireya I. Ramos knows the patriarchal tradition of mariachi very well. She grew up in Tijuana. Her family owned a Mexican restaurant where her father would sing the traditional style of Mexican folk music.
“I grew up listening to all the mariachi classics,” Ramos says. “It’s a very festive, passionate music.” She automatically connected to it. “It’s a big part of the culture,” she says.
When Ramos moved to New York, she brought mariachi with her. Her first job in the city was in a mariachi band, and in New York, Ramos founded Flor de Toloache along with Shae Fiol, a former Portlander of Cuban descent.
It’s here where Ramos and mariachi’s patriarchal roots and highly stylized traditions begin to diverge. Not only is Flor de Toloache New York’s first and only all-female mariachi band, they fuse mariachi with contemporary pop, soul and R&B. The ensemble won a Latin Grammy for its 2017 album Las Caras Lindas, and the group’s latest album, Indestructible, came out in August.
The album continues to push the mariachi style forward with songs like “Quisiera,” a slinky tune featuring pop-soul singer John Legend. And elsewhere, “No Sigas (Don’t Speak),” is a mariachi reworking of the No Doubt hit, with even higher-stakes drama than the already emotive original, while “Te Lo Dije,” featuring Miguel, is less mariachi than a slightly mariachi-infused soul song.
The popularity of mariachi isn’t limited to Central and South America, Ramos says. The style has spread to Europe and Japan, and even in Springfield, where Mariachi del Sol, a student-lead mariachi band, explores the genre in its own way.
“Traditionally, mariachi music has been passed down aurally from one generation to the next,” says Jon Bridges, Springfield High School’s band and mariachi director. “It has only been in the very recent history that we have started to write it down using formal notation and teach it in a classroom setting.”
Mariachi del Sol will support Flor de Toloache at their upcoming show at WOW Hall.
Like Flor de Toloache, Mariachi del Sol tests the boundaries of mariachi, performing everything from standard mariachi songs to banda and norteño-style songs that fit into the mariachi style. They even do Disney classics.
“Each year, students request different songs to be put into rotation, and I do my best to find versions that will work for our group,” Bridges says. “I believe this helps us remain connected to the authentic experience of mariachi music, which is very inclusive of other genres.”
Not everyone appreciates this kind of fusion, however. Flor de Toloache has experienced some pushback from hardline mariachi traditionalists, Ramos says.
“We’re breaking some rules,” she says. That has to do with the band being female. “We share our own music,” she says, and that music comes from a female perspective.
“People think of all-male group, a big-belly guy with a sombrero,” she says. “I would like for people to be open and just come experience the music. We are creating this experience for people to feel good. We are a celebration of cultures.”
Flor de Toloache performs with Mariachi del Sol 8 pm Wednesday, Sept. 4, at WOW Hall; $28.50, all-ages.