If you've attended Day of the Dead celebrations, FIESTA or just about any other prominent Latino event in Indianapolis, you've seen Mariachi Sol Jalisciense. And if you've enjoyed authentic music at a Mexican friend's wedding (or mine), you know this group. But what you might not know is that along with being Indy's finest mariachis, they are one of the world's preeminent examples of a cultural pillar that extends back to the beginning of the 20th century.
As part of my journey to learn more about Hispanic heritage in our Circle City, I asked Luis Correa, the band's violin player, if I could follow the band around on a typical work night. Correa welcomed me and explained that they'd been asked to play a private party for the Mexican Consulate to celebrate Mexico's Independence Day. He welcomed me to join them and asked that I meet them outside the Columbia Club on Monument Circle. That way I could enter the club right along with them.
September is the busiest month for Mariachi Sol Jalisciense, as they perform gigs almost daily. "We could be playing at a palace and then, later on, at a very simple house all in the same day, and we do both with respect," says Alejandro Radilla, the lead singer and guitar player.
Respect is important, especially for a band so used to seeing inebriated revelers. "Because of the idiosyncrasies at parties, people tend to do things that they normally wouldn't do. They become driven by their desire to be the life of the party," says Radilla.
"What is more Mexican than tequila and mariachi?" asks Luis, as if to prove he bleeds green, white, and red.
Near the town of Tequila (which, yes, is famous for the eponymous spirit made there) is the small town of Cocula, which is said to be where traditional mariachi music originated. Band members Francisco "Paco" Rincón, the trumpet player, and Daniel Rivera, the vihuela player, also call Cocula their birthplace.
All of Sol Jalisciense's members received their musical training early in life under the Jaliscan Sun, and together they have been playing off and on since 1989. They moved to Indianapolis in 1991 to be our state's exemplary group, while also taking time out to tour as far as Argentina, Algeria, Japan and France. No average mariachi band, Sol Jalisciense ranks world-class status.
While the ballroom emcee for the elegant evening proceeded to introduce guests and dignitaries of Indianapolis' Latino community, I took the opportunity to conduct a brief Q&A session with the band. It went as follows:
What do you do before playing a gig?
What do you do after preforming at a party?
They play racquetball.
Do you drink?
Sometimes, but it doesn't help them to play or sing better.
What song do Anglos request most?
Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire.
What is the band's favorite song to play?
El Son de la Negra, or any song by Jose Alfredo Jimenez.
How about their least favorite song to play and why?
El Mariachi Loco, because they say it's a really silly song where mariachis are expected to act, well, loco.
Interestingly, I always thought that mariachis enjoyed this song because it's about them. However, Correa informed that this is not the case, "Most mariachis I've met really dislike the song."
After our chat and their warm-up session for their voices and instruments, Indy's most prominent Mexican musicians escorted me into the gala. A couple of Coronas later, they let me sing along for the song Te Solte La Rienda, where Alejandro and I hammed it up and posed for pictures that may or may not turn up in local Spanish language publication CV Latina.
And then following just a couple songs, there it was. Someone at the bar came over to request El Mariachi Loco.
A combination of eye-rolls and we're-used-to-this smiles later, the professionals stomped, twirled and delivered an impeccable performance of the crowd-pleasing tune. The room livened up as more and more margaritas were consumed, even the Anglo guests were dancing. (Of course, I was dancing too.)
As people began to leave the party, a server came out asking when the band was going to play. "We already played," says one of the mariachis.
Disappointed, the older gentleman named Jesús Vanegas explained to me that he had hired them to perform at one of his family parties a few years back."They are the best of the best," he tells me.
I asked him what he felt when he heard their music, being so far away from his birthplace, Mexico. But Jesús just laughs, "I used to be a mariachi when I was little. I played since I was 14 until I was 21. It's just life for me."
By the end of the night the band has shaken every hand in the room. I heard at least 10 people ask them if they remembered when they'd performed at their party and a Dominican man offered to sell them a $40 batch of something called "Mama Juana," a spiced rum that's supposed to be good for the voice and an aphrodisiac, (but they say for that price it's a no-go).
I am invited to follow them to their racquetball game, but I have them drop me off on Mass Ave to sing a little karaoke with my sister instead.
I'll be seeing them next month for her wedding and will be sure to not request their least favorite song. That's the least I can do for my amigos.
Have you seen Sol Jalisciense? If so, let's hear about it. What was the occasion and your experience.