This is the fourth profile in a series of blogs written by mariachi historian Jonathan Clark on current members of Mariachi Vargas. Profiles will be posted on Mariachimusic.com blogs leading up to the 19th Annual Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza Dec. 1-7.
Julio Martínez was born in Mexico City, where his father, Julio Martínez Sr., was an avid collector of harp records from all regions of Mexico and South America. Julio enjoyed harp music from his earliest childhood. At age 14, his father bought him his first harp, and he began studying under the tutelage of legendary Veracruz harpist Mario Barradas. He later studied with a Paraguayan harpist Celso Duarte, who lived in Mexico and taught South American harp styles. In 1980, at age 20, Julio began playing professionally in coffeehouses called peñas, performing with ensembles that primarily interpreted Latin American music.
In 1988, after recording his first solo album, Latinoamérica y su Música, accompanied by Mariachi Vargas, Julio suddenly found his services in high demand. In 1989, he was playing solo harp at a Hilton hotel in Southern California when José Hernández discovered him and convinced him to join Mariachi Sol de México. This was the first time Julio had been a member of a mariachi group or worn a traje de charro. He remained with Sol de México until 1995, when he joined Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.
Julio’s primary contributions to Mariachi Vargas have been to showcase the melodic aspect of the harp and to introduce new harp styles and techniques. Julio is responsible, in great part, for a resurgence of the popularity of the harp in mariachi music. He advises young players to discover which instrument best suits them. “We all have different aptitudes and sensibilities,” he observes, “some for string instruments, others for trumpet, others for voice.” His advice to aspiring harpists is that they not get stuck in one style and, instead, listen to harpists from many different countries and regions.
Watch Julio perform at the 19th Annual Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan concert on December 7 at 7:30 at the Lila Cockrell Theatre. Visit www.ticketmaster.com for more information.