On Monday, July 18, 2011, mariachi musicians and local community members gathered in Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi to protest the opening of a music school called Casa del Mariachi. Among other concerns, protesters claim this new school blatantly undervalues the music whose name it bears — the very music that has brought worldwide fame to the plaza in which the school is located.
Mexico City authorities recently purchased an abandoned nightclub directly behind the famous Salón Tenampa to create a mariachi school in what many consider the plaza most symbolic of Mexican popular culture in all of Mexico. For many years, local mariachi musicians have promoted the idea of creating this type of school. As remodeling of the building progressed, speculation within the mariachi community regarding who would direct this school and who would be its instructors increased. Since Mexico City is home to more famous mariachi musicians than anywhere else on earth, most assumed one of these would be named to direct the school, and that its faculty would consist of legendary mariachi virtuosos. In any case, the mariachis of Garibaldi were assured by the authorities that local mariachi musicians would have jurisdiction over the new school, which was to be called Casa del Mariachi.
About two months ago, in a sudden decision that caught most by surprise, Mexico City authorities unexplainably delegated administration of the new school to an institution called Casa de la Música Mexicana, S.C. As its name suggests, Casa de la Música Mexicana takes pride in providing course offerings in diverse regional Mexican musical styles. Although Casa de la Música’s headquarters are located only six blocks from Plaza Garibaldi, there has never been more than minimal contact between it and the musicians of Garibaldi, and mariachi music has never been a major part of that school’s curriculum.
The recent announcement of Casa del Mariachi’s upcoming course offerings elicited both shock and indignation in the mariachi community. Mariachi music courses make up less than ten percent of the school’s total offerings, creating a glaring contradiction between Casa del Mariachi’s name and its curriculum. Although mariachi classes appear first on the list, these are overwhelmingly outnumbered by courses in salterio, marimba, jarocho and huasteco instruments, rondalla, drums and percussion, and string and electric bass. A workshop on how to arrange for orquesta típica is even included. A similar course on how to arrange for mariachi is conspicuous by its absence, even though the greatest living mariachi arrangers reside in Mexico City.
Many also find it disturbing that the new school has not publicly announced the identities of any of its mariachi instructors. A telephone call to Casa de la Música Mexicana’s office brought forth the name of only one proposed mariachi teacher, a name musicians of Plaza Garibaldi are not familiar with. This is in direct contrast to mariachi education practices elsewhere, where mariachi teachers are normally chosen for their reputation and prestige within the field, and where students flock from far and wide to study with well-known mariachi masters.
A committee of musician activists calling themselves Comité de Defensa de la Casa del Mariachi is demanding that Casa del Mariachi offer a curriculum firmly rooted in mariachi music and that incorporates the highest level of mariachi instruction. The committee’s position is that any attempt to operate a “mariachi school” within the perimeter of Plaza Garibaldi with anything other than mariachi music as its primary focus lacks legitimacy and fails to acknowledge the preeminence of the mariachi as an international symbol of Mexico’s culture and heritage.
So far, the protest has succeeded in opening new lines of communication between the committee and government officials overseeing the project, and a series of working meetings has been scheduled between the Secretariat of Culture and the Comité to discuss Casa del Mariachi’s numerous problems.
Questions and comments about these issues may be directed to:
Mexico City Government
Marcelo Luis Ebrard Casaubón, Mayor
Mexico City Secretariat of Culture
Elena Cepeda de León, President
Casa de la Música Mexicana, S.C.
Jorge Luis Aquino Gómez, Director
Comité de Defensa de la Casa del Mariachi
Antonio Covarrubias, Representative