Once again, Mariachi Spectacular lived up to its name and long-standing reputation as one of the premier mariachi music conferences in the country. This past July 6 – 10, 2011, hundreds of students from across the country attended the 21st annual Mariachi Spectacular to learn from the many masters who come together year after year to impart their unique knowledge to the next generation of mariachi musicians.
For some, the highlight of this year’s conference was the induction of Maestro Rubén Fuentes to the International Mariachi Hall of Fame on Saturday, July 9. For students and aficionados alike, Maestro Fuentes’ presence was nothing short of a historical moment. Earlier in the week, Jonathan Clark, mariachi music historian and lecturer at Stanford University, delivered a presentation to conference attendees detailing Maestro Fuentes’ illustrious legacy as a composer, arranger, musical director, producer and – above all – a visionary who has done more than any other individual to revolutionize the mariachi genre. Delving into his trove of rare primary source material, Clark presented the students with a unique perspective of mariachi music research and scholarship. “Beyond any doubt, Rubén Fuentes is the most important musical figure in the history of mariachi music,” Clark concluded. “I’m quite humbled to have been asked to do a presentation on him, and even more so in the presence of the maestro himself.”
The excitement and energy surrounding Maestro Fuentes’ induction culminated on Saturday evening when fans, students and instructors came together at the Sandia Resort & Casino Amphitheater for the concert featuring Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, Mariachi Sol de México de José Hernández, and Mariachi Gallos de México. The tickets to the sold out show warned this was an “all-weather event” and as if on cue, light rain began to fall promptly at seven o’clock, but, fortunately, the rain subsided before it dampened concertgoers’ spirits. The evening began with a heartfelt rendition of The Star Spangled Banner and El Himno Nacional de México played on trumpet by José Hernández, Jorge Contreras, Roberto Díaz and Fernando Velásquez. The anthems were followed by a performance from the 2011 Masters Class led by José Hernández, and a short set by Mariachi Aztlán of the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, Texas – first place winners of the Showcase Competition’s Open Division for the second year in a row.
The intensity went up a notch when Mariachi Gallos de México took the stage and delighted the audience with original compositions and arrangements by the group’s musical director, Felipe Martínez (son of Jose “Pepe” Martínez of Mariachi Vargas). Mariachi Sol de México delivered beautiful standards, including Se Fue El Rey de la Huasteca with the discipline and flawless technique that has become their defining hallmark. Mariachi Gallos de México returned to the stage where they accompanied Melinda Salcido and Eva Torres in a tribute to Lola Beltrán and Amalia Mendoza, respectively. Ranchera singer Melinda Salcido (originally from Fresno, California) channeled the grace and elegance of La Reina de la Canción Ranchera in her performances of Cucurrucucu Paloma, Me Equivoque Contigo, Canción Mexicana and Paloma Negra. Singer-songwriter Eva Torres (originally from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua) interpreted La Tariacuri’s best known songs with the same feeling, passion and mannerisms that characterized Mendoza’s unique style.
Almost three hours after the start of the evening, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán took the stage to the sound of cheers and applause from an eager audience, welcoming them back after a ten year hiatus since their last appearance at the conference. Vargas’ set included many of their signature pieces, including El Cascabel, El Pastor, Por Amor, Esta Vida, as well as a medley of José Alfredo Jiménez’s songs, all of which were performed with incredible energy and flair. The evening concluded after more than four hours of unforgettable world-class mariachi music.
While the concert was the main event for aficionados, for the students it was the culmination of days filled with workshops where they had the opportunity to learn from acclaimed masters, including Miguel Martínez, Rigoberto Alfaro and Jesús Rodríguez de Híjar. “The instructors come back year after year and the result is a consistency and camaraderie that is singular to this conference,” affirmed Mark Fogelquist, mariachi educator from San Diego, California. Adrian Pérez of El Paso and harp instructor the past three years, also points to the cohesive dynamic amongst the instructors as one of the keys to the success of this conference, “There is a real sense of family and purpose amongst the instructors, we all come together to preserve the heritage and pass the tradition along to our students.”
During the week, students and instructors alike attended the evening jam sessions where spontaneity and creativity were the rule. As student and past instructor Adolfo Estrada described it, “The jam sessions are full of enthusiastic musicians and instructors who often perform for each other into the early hours of the morning. It’s a rare experience where the line between students and teachers becomes blurred.” For Álvaro Paulino, Jr., the jam sessions were an especially rewarding experience this year. Not only did he bring his students from the New York City Mariachi Conservatory to the conference, he also was accompanied by his young son. As Paulino described it, “As a sixth generation musician, it is an incredible source of pride to see my son, Álvaro Andrés Paulino III at the jam sessions, with his violin, emulating the musicians!”
Since its inception in 1991, Mariachi Spectacular has demonstrated a commitment to the preservation of mariachi music and its traditions. Year after year, it provides students with access to direct instruction and mentoring by some of the most distinguished names in the genre. As Fogelquist noted, “Albuquerque, with all of its moving parts, is the best conference, bar none; workshops, lectures, jam sessions and of course, the showcase competition, are superbly organized and provide a great learning opportunity for the students.”
When asked what makes Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque so special, Noberta Frésquez, the event’s executive director, replied: “When we put together our committed instructors, our Hall of Fame members, our devoted volunteers, our outstanding students, our partners, our talented performers, and our loyal fans, we get… MAGIC!!! It’s incredible—the most rewarding experience one could ever ask for. I give thanks every day for this opportunity that brings so much joy to so many.”
As the festivities came to a close on Sunday morning with a mariachi mass officiated by the Most Reverend Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan at Veterans Memorial Park, many were already busy making plans for next year’s conference. For most the question is not whether they will return, but rather, how can next year’s conference possibly get any better.
Jam Session 2001 – Steeven Sandoval & Alex Gonzalez, “A Los Cuatro Vientos”