Who isn’t familiar with the beverage known as tequila? Many of us are also familiar with the town of the same name, but how many of us know about its musical tradition?
A charming village about 30 miles southeast of Guadalajara, Tequila is located in the heart of Jalisco’s blue agave region. This cactus has been distilled into the famous alcoholic beverage since the 17th century. But while the drink is extensively documented and researched, just eight years ago no one had yet studied the impressive musical tradition of this town. That is, until María Alicia Rodríguez Pérez embarked on the task.
Alicia Rodríguez, compiler of this biographical collection
When I first met Alicia in 1996, she was the Director of Municipal Museums for the State of Jalisco. She invited me to be part of the founding team of the Museo Silvestre Vargas —the first mariachi museum in the world—which opened in 2007 in Tecalitlán, Jalisco. For the past 12 years, Alicia has lived in Tequila, where she devotes her time to promoting the important cultural heritage of what has been officially declared a “Magic Town.”
Alicia soon came to appreciate the rich musical tradition of this town and began to document its artists and their contributions. Within eight years, she had collected biographies of more than 30 native Tequila musicians and ensembles, including singers, composers, arrangers, church musicians, bands, orchestras, mariachis, norteños … even a rock group! This book, ¡De Tequila soy! A donde la música nos lleve… (Consejo Estatal para la Cultura y las Artes, 2018 was published with the help of a scholarship from that same institution.
La Torcacita on XEW radio, with an unidentified mariachi
For the readers of mariachimusic.com, the section of greatest interest starts with the chapter devoted to the immortal ranchera singer Matilde Sánchez “La Torcacita,” who was born in Tequila in 1927 and died in 1988. Who doesn’t remember her unforgettable interpretation of the Yucatecan song “Aires del Mayab”? Alicia Rodríguez recently published a biographical book on La Torcacita entitled ¡Yo soy de Jalisco! ¡Soy de Tequila! (Secretaría de Cultura, Gobierno de Jalisco, 2015).
Jesús Rodríguez de Híjar
Next comes Jesús Rodríguez de Híjar, born in this same town in 1929, and whom we are blessed to still have with us. Violinist, arranger, and musical director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán for two decades, as well as founding director of his own Mariachi de América, don Jesús is a living legend and one of the most important figures in the history of mariachi music.
Rigoberto Mercado with Mariachi Vargas
Another talented Tequila native is Rigoberto Mercado, born in that town in 1942. In 1967, this distinguished trumpeter joined Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, where he remained for the next 24 years. He currently lives in San Antonio, Texas, where the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza festival honored him in 2015.
Rigoberto Gómez with Juan Gabriel
One of the most important musical lineages that Tequila has produced is that of the Gómez Covarrubias family. Four of the brothers—Rigoberto, José, Carlos and Gonzalo—were pillars of the mariachi that accompanied singer-songwriter Juan Gabriel over the course of three decades.
It was a great honor when Alicia Rodríguez invited me to present her book last June 24 at the opulent Hacienda de “El Centenario” de Jose Cuervo, in downtown Tequila. Some 280 people packed into the luxurious hall, and most of the musicians mentioned in the book were present, some having traveled from as far away as the United States and even Belgium.
Rigoberto Mercado receives the Mundo Cuervo award for his lifetime achievements
One of the most rewarding aspects of this cultural activity was that, for most of the musicians mentioned in this book, it was a tribute in life and not a posthumous one. I presented a synopsis of each musician, asking each one to stand up at the appropriate time to receive the applause they had earned through their lifetime of artistic work.
Unfortunately, this kind of tribute does not happen often enough. Kudos to the selfless efforts of Alicia Rodríguez, compiler of this important book and a tireless promoter of Mexican culture.
If you want to know more about these and other distinguished Tequila musicians, I suggest you buy the book. At the moment, it is only for sale in Tequila (Dalí Bookstore, La Damajuana Gallery and the Music School of the Jose Cuervo Foundation), but soon we will update this article with information on how to order by mail.
There will be another presentation and book-signing of this publication next November 22nd—Saint Cecilia’s Day (the patron saint of musicians)—at the headquarters of the Benemérita Sociedad de Geografía y Estadística, in Guadalajara.
Rigoberto Gómez, Alicia Rodríguez, and Jesús Rodríguez de Híjar
Jonathan Clark with Jesús Rodríguez de Híjar