In the mariachi world, it’s well known that Pepe Martínez — musical director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán for nearly four decades — recently had to take a leave of absence from the group for health reasons. Since then, speculation has grown regarding who would take his place, and it wasn’t until last month that his successor was finally confirmed. In this interview, the first of two parts, Jonathan Clark talks with Carlos Martínez about how he was invited to join Mariachi Vargas, and his expectations as new musical director of the most celebrated mariachi in history.
JC: Carlos, tell us how you were invited to become musical director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. Had you ever thought about the possibility of joining the group?
CM: Well, a couple of years ago, my cousin Pepe Martínez Jr. made the comment, “It would be great if someday you could play with us.”
JC: Was your uncle Pepe (Pepe Martínez Sr.) still working with Mariachi Vargas at that time?
CM: Yes. My cousin’s idea was to have the three of us play together in the group. I’ve respected and admired my uncle all my life, and I’ve always dreamt of working beside him.
JC: Did you ever offer approach the group with that intention?
CM: One time in Guadalajara, I mentioned to group coordinator Federico Torres that I’d like to be a member of Mariachi Vargas some day. “Let’s hope things work out so that can happen,” he said. “I’d love to have you with us, but right now, as you know, there aren’t any vacancies.” And the conversation ended there.
JC: So how was it that you received the invitation?
CM: In January of this year, Mariachi Vargas and Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán were playing at the same festival in Pueblo Nuevo (Concepción de Buenos Aires, Jalisco). When the show was over, Federico said, “I have something to discuss with you, but I’m afraid this is neither the time nor the place. I’m going to give you my phone number, and I’d like you to call me, because I think there’s a very good possibility that you may be able to join Mariachi Vargas.” You can’t imagine the emotion I felt!
When I got back home to Guadalajara, I called Federico on the phone. He said, “Listen, I spoke to señor Fuentes, and it looks like things are lining up for you to join the group.” I was elated! He gave me maestro Rubén Fuentes’ number, and I called him directly. I made an appointment with him and went to his home in Mexico City.
JC: How did the interview go?
CM: They’d already told the maestro about me. He said, “I heard that it’s always been your dream to be in Mariachi Vargas.” “That’s true,” I confessed. “Well, the time has come, he told me. “We’d love to have you in the group.” When he said this, I felt my dream had become a reality.
JC: Didn’t he say you’d have to go through a trial period?
CM: Of course. He explained to me that my ability to remain in the mariachi would depend on how I felt about the group and how the other members felt about me, as well as on how I adapted to life in Mexico City. We came to a mutual agreement, and I said to myself, “Let’s see what kind of adventure God has prepared for me.”
JC: Did he ask to hear a sample of what you’d written?
CM: Yes. For that reason, I had brought scores and recordings of several arrangements I’d done for Nuevo Tecalitlán.
JC: Did he make critiques on what he heard?
CM: Yes!! (laughs) He told me that some features of my music were way outside the style of Mariachi Vargas. “Look,” he said, “the Vargas style is very different. But that’s something you’ll begin to understand once you’re in the group.” “Maestro,” I told him, “I’m more than willing to learn from you and the members of Mariachi Vargas. I have every desire in the world to learn your style.”
JC: So when did you officially become a member of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán?
CM: My official start date was March 12, 2014. My first rehearsal with the group was on February 26, and I played my first job with them on March 17, in Los Cabos.
Carlos Martínez’s first performance with Mariachi Vargas.
Los Cabos, Baja California Sur. March 17, 2014.
JC: How does it feel to be a member of the greatest mariachi in the world?
CM: Wonderful! I feel I have the support of each and every group member, and that we’re going to do great things together, musically as well as in terms of companionship. I’m certain this is going to be a very solid team.
JC: To close the first part of this interview, tell us about your hopes for this new phase of your career.
CM: I plan to give it my all and put my whole heart into making a contribution to Mariachi Vargas, be it through writing, singing, or playing. I’m grateful to the Lord for giving me this marvelous opportunity, and I plan to enjoy it to the fullest.
JC: I wish you all the success you deserve, Carlos. I believe you’re the ideal person for this position and that you have a very promising career ahead of you. What’s more, you’re only 33 years old, and the fact that you’re single and don’t have children will make it all the easier for you to adapt quickly to life in Mexico City.
CM: Thank you very much!
JC: By the way, I just received the wonderful news that your uncle Pepe has made a miraculous recovery, and that he’ll soon be working again with Mariachi Vargas, on a part-time basis.
CM: Well, he’s been attending the rehearsals, and he looks good. He’s been undergoing nerve stimulation therapy with a specialist in Guadalajara, and his recovery has been astonishing. In fact, the doctor recommended that he return to work, and maestro Fuentes wants him to participate in the group’s less-strenuous performances, so the public should soon be able to enjoy the talent and exuberance of my uncle once again. It looks like God is granting me my two greatest dreams — being a member of Mariachi Vargas and playing alongside my uncle Pepe.