The Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza is less than a month away, and lots of excitement is building up for this year’s event. Vocal finalists have been posted on mariachimusic.com, and the deadline for groups to register is Friday, November 4. Registration rates increase after that, so be sure to register at mariachimusic.com by this Friday.
Excitement is also building in regards to Mariachi Vargas’ participation in the Extravaganza. MPR team member Jonathan Clark recently spoke to the group’s musical director about what people can expect to hear from Mariachi Vargas at this year’s event. Jon was kind enough to translate Carlos Martinez’ own words for us to enjoy!
Jonathan: Carlos, you mentioned that the Extravaganza is one of the most important yearly events on Mariachi Vargas’ calendar, and that San Antonio is one of the cities your group most looks forward to visiting. What makes you say this?
Carlos: First of all, the Extravaganza is one of the biggest events of its kind anywhere. But what really excites us as musicians is the mariachi student participation. The workshops are limited to only one day, due to the length of time students can be out of school during this time of year, so what really makes this festival stand out from all others is the competitions — both group and vocal. Nowhere else can you find so many talented mariachi groups and solo singers in one event.
Also, the amount of work the students put into preparing for these competitions is really impressive, and the progress that groups and individuals make from year to year is obvious. It gives us a lot of satisfaction to be able to give these hard-working students a little bit of guidance during the one week out of the year we spend in San Antonio.
Jonathan: What can the public expect to hear new from Mariachi Vargas this year at the Extravaganza?
Carlos: Well, we have a CD that just came out titled Cuando Suena el Mariachi, el Mundo Canta. We’ll definitely be playing material from that, and even teaching some of those songs during the workshops.
Jonathan: Tell us a little bit about your group’s new CD.
Carlos: It has an international flavor, in that it contains songs from Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia and Spain. We’ll be in San Sebastian, Spain’s Basque Country, on November 5th, which is why there are a couple of Basque songs on the album. We may do one of those in San Antonio.
These days we usually open our concerts with a medley of “Cuando Suena el Mariachi” and “Mi País,” and we recorded it exactly that way on this latest CD. In fact, it’s the album’s opening track. “Prometo” is a Colombian balada we heard last year on our tour of that country. We’ll definitely do that as well. Another new song from the CD that’s become quite a crowd pleaser is “Mi Reyna y mi Tesoro,” a ranchera written by my cousin, Pancho Medrano. “Cuando Suena el Mariachi” and “Mi Reyna y mi Tesoro” also happen to be two of the songs we’ll be teaching at the Extravaganza workshops this year.
My personal favorite of the new CD is a popurrí by maestro Rubén Fuentes titled Jalisco y Andalucía. We’ll be sure to play it. And there’s another new popurrí by don Rubén titled José Alfredo Enamorado. That one contains some of José Alfredo Jiménez’s best-known love songs, along with a few lesser-known ones. We’ll be performing all this new material at the Extravaganza.
Jonathan: Of course there are certain classic songs that are mandatory for you to perform.
Carlos: That’s true. Just as an experiment, there have been concerts where I’ve deliberately left out certain warhorses like “El Pastor,” for example, just to see the public’s reaction. And it never fails: After the concert, people come up to us and complain indignantly, “Why didn’t you play “El Pastor?” That’s the song we came to hear!” Wherever we go, the public demands we play “El Pastor,” “Por Amor,” “Violín Huapango,” “Viva Veracruz,” “Fiesta en Jalisco,” “Cielito Lindo,” “Guadalajara,” “Son de la Negra….”
I once attended a Juan Gabriel concert after he had just released an album of boleros. He had a whole set of boleros prepared, and he sang at least five in a row, if you can imagine that. During about the fifth one, the public started screaming out, “Play Noa, Noa! Play Noa, Noa!” Juanga stopped the band right in the middle of the song and announced, “Okay! You (the public) are the ones I’m here to please.” And he immediately broke into “Noa, Noa” — aborting the boleros!
I learned an important lesson that night. Juan Gabriel had wanted to present something new, something exquisite, perhaps — but what the public really wanted to hear was “Noa, Noa.” Certain songs are here to stay, but you can’t play those exclusively, either. It’s very complicated to find the right balance of old and new. But if you achieve this, your audience will come back year after year.
This year’s Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza runs from November 28 to December 3. Student groups and vocalists who register for the event will have the opportunity to attend a private presentation especially for them following the vocal competitions on Saturday morning. More information is available at mariachimusic.com. Tickets to see Mariachi Vargas in concert may be purchased at ticketmaster.com.