Founded in 1898, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan remains the godfather of Mexico’s folkloric music legacy. Over its long history, it has played behind the greats of ranchera music, including Pedro Infante, Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Lola Beltran and more recently, Latin pop superstar Juan Gabriel.
The quintessential Mexican folk genre, rancheras can be written in 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4 time and set to a bolero, polka or waltz arrangement. Whatever the format, ranchera music is about passion, especially love of country and longings of the heart. Titles of the most popular rancheras attest to that: “Cielito Lindo,” “Mexico Lindo y Querido,” “Ella” or “Si Nos Dejan.”
Mariachi Vargas, whose annual visit to Symphony Center has become an autumn tradition, plays them all. A typical set begins with sones, or dance music from the states of Veracruz and Jalisco (where Mariachi Vargas was formed) and the region of La Huasteca (along Mexico’s central Gulf Coast). Don Jose “Pepe” Martinez, music director of Mariachi Vargas since 1975, said in a recent interview: “We start with sones, steeped in tradition, where mariachi began. Then we pay tribute to famous composers like Jose Alfredo Jimenez. Then for the third part, we’ll perform romantic stuff, songs that people know and sing along to. And then we play huapangos [a dance style] and show where mariachi music came from in the state of Jalisco. And then we finish with the classic songs, the ones that make you laugh and make you cry.”
So expect “lo mejor” — the best of — Mariachi Vargas when the group performs Oct. 20 in an SCP Special Event. Along with the band’s best known songs, such as “El Cascabel” and “Cien Anos,” there will be salutes to Latin masters such as Vicente Fernandez and Juan Gabriel. As the strings, guitars and brass of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan trigger the deepest reserves of emotions, you’ll be certain to reir y llorar — laugh and cry.
Video: Mariachi Vargas in a tribute to Jose Alfredo Jimenez: