Acts have come and gone but the one constant through all 25 years of the Tucson International Mariachi Conference has been emcee Jose Ronstadt. He is the master of bilingual patter, whose pre-show antics with the crowd showed us how far people have come for the Espectacular concerts, and whose genial words from the stage somehow kept it all in motion with a dancer’s grace. The animated news anchor of KWHY TV 22 Telemundo in Los Angeles kindly agreed to share his recuerdos (memories) of his years with the event.
- Daniel Buckley
I have this continuous movie reel playing on my mind.
The soundtrack had to be produced in heaven. The scenarios are magnificent and, above all, there is a showcase of magical moments accompanied by the symphonic union of the greatest mariachi ensembles I have ever witnessed: Vargas, Camperos and Cobre. Their guitarrones and trompetas, violins and vihuelas and an occasional harp interweave the rhythmic zapateados (footwork) of deeply rooted traditional dances with a parade of color and movements that are part of this annual ritual that keeps on nurturing our hearts and souls.
Every April the ritual is reborn, cultivated by children of all ages and the most diverse blend of men and women that become one under a colorful zarape crafted by the gods of mariachi music.
These are the moments and recollections of my past 25 years with the festival. They are not necessarily in chronological order. Suffice to say, these are some of the highlights of this epic film called the Tucson International Mariachi Conference.
I vividly remember introducing for the first time the most amazing ensemble of musicians, whose voices and distinguished demeanor I thought were heaven-sent. I introduced them as “Este
es mi mariachi: Mariachi Cobre.” I am eager to present them again this year the way I have done it for the past 25 years.
Silvestre Vargas stands out in my mind. The legendary founder of Mariachi Vargas was standing by himself just before our second or third year. I was in awe of him as I introduced myself to ask him how he wanted Mariachi Vargas introduced to the audience. He simply said, “como lo que son” (like what they are): el mejor mariachi del mundo, the best mariachi in the world.
Nati Cano was another legendary figure I knew a lot about but had never met. To this day, Nati Cano and his famous Camperos are truly one of my most admired and appreciated ensembles. I will forever be grateful to Nati Cano for giving me the gift of seeing my daughter Marisa Ronstadt perform with Camperos.
My proudest moment on that stage was admiring the love and respect Marisa felt for the Tucson International Mariachi Conference and seeing her perform the music I love.
The most surprising and unexpected event took place when the La Frontera Center board of directors inducted me into the Mariachi Hall of Fame. Can you imagine a kid growing up in Nogales, with no particular music talent, to be included with Cobre, Vargas, Linda, Lola, Nati, Rocio? To this day, that is the recognition I value the most.
A highlight that very few people know took place at the old Santa Rita Hotel. Lola Beltran wanted to meet Linda Ronstadt. I took Linda to Lola’s room, where Lola taught Linda a different version of “Cucurucucu Paloma.” I translated for both of them as best I could. The night of the concert, Lola invited Linda to accompany her with her famous song. Lola’s version was in an indigenous tongue, pretty amazing stuff, especially seeing Linda like a little girl in front of a goddess.
These are some of the things I can never forget:
Lola’s hands; Jose Luis Rodriguez “El Puma” wearing a mariachi “traje” borrowed from one of the members of Mariachi Cobre; the elegance of Guadalupe Pineda, the showmanship of Pedro Fernández, the green hair of Lucha Villa, who thought I was one of the waiters assigned to attend her until she saw me onstage and just laughed it off; the mermaid dress and rolling eyes of Beatriz Adriana; the singing Lucero as opposed to the talking Lucero; Mariachi Cobre’s rendition of the national anthem; the Tucson Symphony with Mariachi Vargas and Mariachi Cobre; having the difficult task of telling Ruben Fuentes, the great composer/arranger, that we needed to cut a couple songs of Mariachi Vargas presentation because they were going a little too long.
Also, the contagious smile of Pepe Martinez, the face of Vargas; Lola Beltran stopping the concert to present Gilbert Ronstadt a gorgeous white zarape in the name of all “mexicanos” as a sign of gratitude to Linda for her enormous contributions to mariachi music; the night a few members of the Ronstadt family sang onstage; the tribute to Mariachi Cobre; Linda’s duet with Lalo Guerrero; Steve Carrillo’s nervousness when singing centimeters away from a sexy Vikki Carr; Steve Carrillo’s interpretation of “El Pastor”; the unforgettable introduction of “Hay Vienen Los Camperos.”
And, Lola Beltran singing with Maria Elena Beltran, her daughter. Maria Elena had been crying just minutes before and I had to gently tell her that once the light goes on, the show must go on; the spectacular Ballet Folklórico de Colima; the intense folkloric rehearsals conducted by a true master Rafael Zamarripa.
Linda Ronstadt’s presence at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference really established this festival as the king of mariachi festivals. She brought a superstardom talent in a most critical moment in mariachi music. She single-handedly brought this magnificent tradition to mainstream America. The reaction from the audience the first time she walked on that stage was thunderous, reaffirmation of the language and culture that was kept alive by generations of Mexican-Americans. I still believe she has been the most significant element in the history of the festival.
My all-time favorite guest artists are Lola Beltran and Linda Ronstadt.
By the way, to this day, the worst and most regrettable performance was Pablo Montero, who could not sustain a note even if he was born again.
Tucson International Mariachi Conference Schedule
6 p.m. – Student Showcase, Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.; $10
5 p.m. – Serenata y Cena, pre-concert dinner, Tucson Convention Center, $35. Reservations required; no tickets sold at the door
7:30 p.m. – Espectacular Concert featuring Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano and Mariachi Cobre, Tucson Arena; tickets $46-$86
9 a.m. – Mariachi Mass, St. Augustine Cathedral, 192 S. Stone Ave.; free
10 a.m.-10 p.m. – Fiesta de Garibaldi at Reid Park, Country Club Road and 22nd Street; $5 adults, children free
Info: 838-3908, 321-1000 and www.ci.tucson.az.us/tcc/ticketoffice.html
Showcase young artists to keep conference thriving
For the 25th time, the Tucson International Mariachi Conference unfurls its ornate Jalisco skirts to the proud punctuation of trumpets, the drill of the vihuelas and the fat, bouncy bottom of the guitarrón. It’s an auspicious milestone, and TIMC has much to be proud of.
One can absolutely say that, through its workshops and concerts, this conference has created a body of musicians, dancers and, as important, an audience, that has a firm grip on the classic mariachi and folklórico art forms.
But where do we go from here? What needs to happen to keep this conference thriving and at the forefront of the mariachi world when it turns 50?
I asked Raúl Aguirre, Tucson bilingual radio pioneer and a man who has been there at the birth of the mariachi conference, the Viva Tucson Tejano Festival and Pio Decimo’s former Tejano music festival.
“I think for the conference to grow, we need to go beyond nostalgia,” Aguirre says. “I believe that while Mariachi Vargas is the best in the world, and they transport us to that old, ancient culture, there’s a new wave of Latinos, a lot of them of Mexican descent, who are creating a new wealth of creativity that we are not capitalizing on.”
Aguirre points to such other Mexican musical currents as banda and rock en español in which the music has become a voice for the concerns and issues of the day.
“I think the next 25 years are going to be full of new surprises, new groups, new composers that are talking about what’s happening here. Norteño speaks to the música of the pueblo. It speaks to the working class. I think mariachi does, too. I think it’s so important that local competitions get out there with local themes, and that they say the things that are going on.”
It’s not really a huge stretch. The sones huastecos – one of the many regional “roots music” forms that has fed the mariachi tradition – and the specific one from which the galloping huapangos rises, often featuring improvised, witty, even gossipy commentary on what’s happening in the community at that moment. Likewise, the corridos (ballads) are, by their nature, topical, in-the-moment and ultimately historical.
And just because a song is “of the moment” doesn’t mean it won’t be an enduring classic. When Tucsonan Lalo Guerrero wrote his “Cancion Mexicana” – now a mariachi staple that has become the unofficial national anthem of Mexico – he did so because the Depression was on and both Mexicans and Mexican-Americans needed something to lift their spirits. Similarly, Guerrero’s “Barrio Viejo” has become an anthem of displaced ethnic neighborhoods that resonates around America.
A competition to showcase the work of the next generation of mariachi composers is an idea worthy of this conference. Naming it after Guerrero, who himself sang at the conference, would be a symbolic gesture that fortifies Tucson’s place as the mariachi capital.
Aguirre also believes this conference would be wise to groom the vocal stars of tomorrow, as it did with Linda Ronstadt, whose huge-selling “Canciones de mi Padre” and “Mas Canciones” discs were a direct result of her involvement with this conference.
“When you see rock en español, when you see all the other genres, they have an immense amount of performers. In mariachi music you don’t see that. You have Vicente (Fernández), you have Alejandro (Fernández), you have Pedro (Fernández), you have Pepe (Aguilar) and that’s it!
“Now think about women. Ana Gabriel? And all the other ones that have been around for a long, long time. Great singers all, and beautiful, but I think we need to manage and re-energize that. So in the next 25 years, that’s going to be critical for Tucson so we remain on the top of it.”
The conference’s “Flores del Desierto” series, showcasing such up-and-coming singers as Olga Flores, Marisa Ronstadt, Ixya Herrera and more, has been doing a good job in that area, and the find of Paloma del Rio, who will make her debut at Fiesta Garibaldi this year, continues that tradition. But it needs to be kept on the front burner.
Aguirre’s final thoughts concern staging. He’d like to see young set designers brought in who would change the look of the conference with a mix of technology and hip artistry. It would certainly give this conference a fresh, stand-out look.
“I think that will push the music to the next level,” Aguirre says.
Fiesta de Garibaldi schedule
10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Reid Park, Country Club Road and 22nd Street; $5 adults, free to children
Main Stage performers
10 – Mariachi Los Toritos
10:30 – Mariachi Mixteco
11 – Mariachi Puno del Oro
11:30 – Mariachi Aguilitas de Davis
noon – Mariachi Diablos del Sol
12:30 p.m. – Mariachi Herencia de Mexico
1-1:30 – Mariachi Anacatlan
1:30-2 – Mariachi Brillante Juvenile
2-2:30 – Mariachi Tesoros de Tucson
2:30-3 – Mariachi Cesar Chavez
3-3:30 – Mariachi Milagro
3:30-4 – Mariachi Escorpion
4-4:30 – Mariachi Juvenil de San Diego
4:30-5 – Ballet Folklórico Tapatio
5:-5:30 – Mariachi Atzlan
5:30-6 – Mariachi Los Portrillos
6:-6:30 – Mariachi Tesoro de San Fernando
6:30-7 – Mariachi Chula Vista
7-8 – Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano
8-9 – Mariachi Los Arrieros
9-10 – Paloma del Rio
Second Stage performers
noon – corridos
12:30 – Davis Aguilitas Folklórico
1 – Mariachi Los Changuitos Feos
1:30 – Ballet Folklórico Tapatío
2 – Mariachi Herencia de Mexico
2:30 – Grupo Folklórico Los Tucsonenses
3 – Mariachi Rayos del Sol
3:30 – Las Estrellas De Roskruge Folklórico
4 – Mariachi Sangre Mexicana
4:30 – Mariachi Monarca de Salpointe
Student Participant Showcase Performers Schedule
Student Showcase, 6 p.m. today, Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.; $10
6-6:13 p.m. – Mariachi Los Toritos
6:13-6:26 – Mariachi Aguilitas de Davis
6:26-6:39 – Mariachi Herencia de Mexico
6:39-6:52 – Mariachi Milagro
6:52-7:05 – Mariachi Puno de Oro
7:05-7:18 – Mariachi Anacatlan
7:18-7:31 – Mariachi Juvenil de San Diego
7:31-7:44 – Ballet Folklórico Tapatío
7:44-7:57 – Mariachi Tesoros de Tucson
7:57-8:10 – Mariachi Brillante Juvenil
8:10-8:23 – Mariachi Los Changuitos Feos
8:23-8:36 – Mariachi Los Portrillos of Cholla High School
8:36-8:49 – Mariachi Mixteco
8:49-9:02 – Mariachi Las Aguilas de Aztlan
9:02-9:15 – Mariachi Escorpion
9:15-9:28 – Mariachi ASU
9:28-9:41 – Mariachi Chula Vista
9:41-9:54 – Mariachi Aztlan
9:54-10:07 – Mariachi Tesoro de San Fernando