For some mariachi music conjurs up a cliché of sombreros, trumpets and bushy moustached musicians at tourist venues and it is certainly possible to find that in Mexico and bordering areas in the southern United States if you remain within closed circles. However, the real roots of mariachi music lie elsewhere, the direct result of internal migration from the rural areas to the capital which transformed mariachi into a truly national music form, and are the heart of Mexican culture with several regional variations are identifiable. This is but one of the joys of the latest recording by roots group Los Camperos and serves as a lasting tribute to their leader Nani Caro who passed away in 2014 and to whom this recording is primarily dedicated. What is fascinating is how the son de Mexico sub-divided into regions with distinct styles emerging during the colonial era and thus one finds a son Jalisciense (from Jalisco), sones Jarochos (African-influenced from the southern state of Veracruz and with regional guitars called jaranas), son huaestco (from Huasteca) as well as música ranchera, or Mexican country music, but not at all in the stylistic of their North American neighbours across the border. Instrumentation normally includes at least two guitars, violin and trumpet(s) plus stunning lead and collective harmony vocals. A lovely addition is the use of harp that creates a wonderful balance and the joyful music is exemplified by the bright and breezy opener, ‘El Súchil’, where vocal ad-libs, guitars, trumpets and violins all combine. On a medley from Huasteca, ‘La Petenera’, syncopated rhythm is matched by falsetto vocal breaks and this writer especially liked the harmonies in evidence. A big favourite of this writer is ‘La Morena’ (‘dark woman’), a song that belongs to the Veracruz song tradition and the call-and-response vocals work a treat with harp breakdown and whirling violins adding to the effect. It would be inaccurate, however, to reduce mariachi music to happy dance tunes because there is a more mournful side and this is illustrated here by the ballad, ‘A los cuatro vientos’ (‘To the four winds’), with impassioned vocals and harp and strings in abundance.
Musicologist and author on Mexican mariachi music Daniel Sheehy provides incisive bi-lingual inner liner notes that cover the evolution of the genre historically and explain in some depth the importance and significance of individual songs, with a close relationship developing over time between mariachi music and the golden era of the Mexican film industry when actors of the stature of Jorge Negreto and Maria Felix dominated. At only thirty nine minutes, the music time could be more generous, but mariachi songs are generally short by nature, the music compelling, and the extensive notes do provide that supplementary incentive to discover. If interested in exploring further, then try the stunning ‘Antologia del son de Mexico’ box set on Corason records (see cover below)* which is a pretty definitive guide to the distinct regional variations of the classic son sound. Unlike its Cuban counterpart, percussion is not , though one could argue that harp and guitar bring their own percussive contribution of sorts.
* Previously reviewed for Manchester Evening News and the music formed the backdrop to the 2006 Spanish and Latin American Film Festival at the now defunct Cornerhouse, Manchester.