Mariachi Vargas looks quite different today as compared to 25 years ago when the first Extravaganza was produced. In 1995, José “Pepe” Martínez, Sr. was the musical director and Federico Torres and Gustavo Alvarado were the only two trumpet players in the group. Rafael Palomar (Jonathan Palomar’s father) was the only guitarist and Víctor “Pato” Cárdenas was the vihuela player. There were six violins: Manuel Vargas, Francisco “El Pilón” González, Daniel Martínez, José “Pepe” Martínez, Sr., José “Pepe” Martínez, Jr. and Mario de Santiago. Enrique de Santiago played the guitarrón and continues to do so to this day.
Today, 25 years after my first production, only three of the groups members who played with us at the Majestic Theater back in 1995 are still performing with the group. They are Gustavo Alvarado, Daniel Martínez and Enrique de Santiago. So this is a good to introduce Vargas’ current members. The following brief bios are a glimpse into the extraordinary group that we’ll see in San Antonio on December 7 at the Lila Cockrell Theatre.
Óscar Ortega joined Mariachi Vargas as a vocalist and violinist three years ago. Since then, he recorded on Vargas’ latest album Concierto Sinfónico de Aniversario and performed with the group on Luis Miguel’s México Por Siempre tour. Prior to this, he recorded a solo CD with Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán and participated in the group’s El Mejor Mariachi de Jalisco album. Oscar is a native of Guadalajara where he and his wife Blanca raise their six children.
Daniel Martínez has performed with Mariachi Vargas as a vocalist and violinist for 35 years. As the senior member of the group, he is the sole remaining musician who performed with Vargas during their historic Canciones de Mi Padre tour with Linda Ronstadt. The CD, recorded in 1987, remains to this day the biggest selling Spanish-language album in American record history. Daniel is also a prolific songwriter with more than 100 original songs to his credit.
Robert López is the first Mexican American to join Mariachi Vargas in its 122-year history. The California native made his mark on the mariachi world as a vocalist and violinist during his 10-year career with Mariachi Sol de México de José Hernández. Prior to joining Mariachi Vargas in 2018, Robert recorded on several albums with Mariachi Sol de México and Mariachi Los Camperos. He’s even shared the stage with Lady Gaga.
Ángel López joined Mariachi Vargas as a vocalist and violinist in the summer of 2018. Prior to that, he toured with Juan Gabriel’s Mariachi de Mi Tierra for five years. Juan Gabriel often presented Ángel as a featured soloist in his shows up until the passing of the legendary artist in 2016. Ángel also honed his skills with Mexico City-based groups like Mariachi Gallos de México de Felipe Martínez (son of the late José “Pepe” Martínez, Sr.) and Mariachi Sonidos de América.
Andrés González joined Mariachi Vargas in 2007 and quickly became a fan favorite with his interpretation of what would become his signature song “Qué Bonita es Esta Vida.” The song was released on Vargas’ Rancheras…Y Algo Más album and is one of his many recordings with the group. Andrés’ rich baritone voice and outstanding showmanship are an essential asset to Mariachi Vargas’ illustrious lineup.
Carlos Martínez is the musical director and a vocalist and violinist for Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. Over the past five years, he has brought Vargas to new musical heights by introducing new material and arrangements for the group. Under his direction, Vargas has toured recently with Luis Miguel and Banda El Recodo. His most recent work can be heard on the group’s latest album — Concierto Sinfónico de Aniversario. Prior to joining Vargas, Carlos was the musical director for Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán.
Gustavo Alvarado has played the trumpet in thousands of performances with Mariachi Vargas over the past 28 years. His tone, style, versatility and musicianship have earned him the reputation as one of the greatest trumpet players in the history of mariachi music. Before joining Vargas, Gustavo was a member of several Mexico City-based groups including Mariachi Los Monarcas, Mariachi Perla de Occidente and Mariachi de América.
Fernando Velázquez has a well-earned reputation as a mariachi trumpet virtuoso who can play all three parts with equal ease. The Tepatitlán, Jalisco native is also an excellent singer. Before joining Vargas in 2008, Fernando played with Los Angeles-based groups Mariachi Imperial de México, Mariachi Sol de México, Mariachi Internacional de México and Mariachi Los Camperos. His greatest influence was Vargas’ very first trumpet player — Miguel Martínez.
Agustín Sandoval is the newest trompetista to join Mariachi Vargas. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from the Universidad de Guadalajara and has performed as a soloist with a wide variety of ensembles. His diverse musical background includes symphonic music, big band and modern jazz. Prior to joining Vargas, Agustín was a member of Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán and Mariachi Real de Oro in Guadalajara. He is a cousin to former Vargas member Steeven Sandoval.
Enrique de Santiago descends from Mexico’s most respected family of guitarrón virtuosos. His father Berna is the most recorded guitarrón player in history and his late uncle Nati is considered the all-time greatest practitioner of the instrument. Enrique has been a key contributor to the evolution of mariachi music and the role of the guitarrón during his 30-year trajectory with Mariachi Vargas.
Víctor Álvarez has an impressive résumé that includes a bachelor’s degree in music education from the prestigious Universidad Veracruzana and a master’s degree in music technology from the Universidad Filadelfia de México. He has received numerous awards in several countries for his diverse talents and accomplishments as a highly skilled musician and performer. Víctor is also an accomplished pianist and just completed his first year as Mariachi Vargas’ harp player.
Gilberto Aguirre is a multi-talented musician and entrepreneur who joined Mariachi Vargas as a vihuela player in 2013. He operates Gil Productions Entertainment in Guadalajara and also sells his own line of vihuelas. Prior to joining Vargas, Gilberto played with a succession of groups that included Mariachi Los Tecolotes, Mariachi Los Toritos, Mariachi Los Galleros, Mariachi Internacional Guadalajara, Mariachi San Francisco and Mariachi Alas de México.
Arturo Vargas began his vocal career as a child prodigy at age 7 in the small town of El Tepehuaje, Jalisco. By the time he was a young adult, he had performed on over 100 television programs and competed in numerous music festivals and competitions in Mexico and abroad. Arturo mesmerizes audiences with his high tenor voice in his signature song “El Pastor.” His awe-inspiring falsetto has become a hallmark of Mariachi Vargas concerts around the world.
Jonathan Palomar’s greatness can be attributed in part to the fact that he descends from a legendary musical family. His father Rafael Palomar was a vocalist and guitarist with Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán for 23 years (1980–2003) and his grandfather Román Palomar is best known as author of the famous cumbia “El Mariachi Loco.” Jonathan joined Mariachi Vargas in 2017 as a guitarist and vocalist. He is widely recognized for his spellbinding interpretation of “Llamarada” which premiered at the San Antonio Film Festival earlier this summer.
What makes Vargas great today is what made them el mejor mariachi del mundo many years ago. They’ve maintained the highest level of musicianship and have the greatest combination of voices and instruments. In addition, their repertoire and arrangements are impeccable.
Please join us in welcoming all of the members of Mariachi Vargas to San Antonio in December. A complete schedule of events is available here. Mariachi Vargas performs Saturday, December 7 at the Lila Cockrell Theatre. Tickets are on sale now at all Ticketmaster outlets, ticketmaster.com, at the Alamodome Box Office, or by calling 1-800-745-3000. Ticket prices range from $46-$206. Get your tickets today, as there are only a few left, and they’re going fast!
Thanks to Jonathan Clark, Debra Torres and my entire team at MPR for helping me put these brief bios together. As always, we had a blast doing it!