Founded in 1898, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán remains the standard bearer of Mexico’s folkloric music legacy. Over its long history, it has played behind the greats of ranchera music, including Pedro Infante, José Alfredo Jiménez, Lola Beltrán 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,” “Un puño de tierra” or “Volver, Volver.”
Video of “La Negra,” widely regarded as the second national anthem of Mexico.
Mariachi Vargas, whose annual visit to Symphony Center has become an annual 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 from 1975 to 2014, once said: “We start with sones, steeped in tradition, where mariachi began. Then we pay tribute to famous composers like José Alfredo Jiménez. 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.”
Video of “El Cascabel,” one of Mariachi Vargas’ signature songs.
So expect “lo mejor” — the best of — Mariachi Vargas when the group performs Feb.15 in an SCP Special Concert. Along with the band’s best known songs, such as “El Cascabel” and “Cien Años,” 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 José Alfredo Jiménez, one of the greatest composers of traditional Mexican music.
A version of this post appeared previously on Sounds and Stories.
TOP: Members of Mariachi Vargas, dressed in traditional traje de charro garb, doff their hats. | Photo: ©Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán