“The mariachi tradition goes back over a hundred years,” says Mariachi Real de San Diego’s guitarron player Mauricio Gonzalez. “It came from the people, it came from the hills, from the ranches. It was a different lifestyle back then.”
Mauricio is one of six musicians in Mariachi Real de San Diego, an old-school mariachi band founded in 1978 by his father, vihuela player Pedro. “When the mariachi starts, everyone starts making noise,” Pedro says. “You’ll see guys riding a bucking bull at a rodeo who start shouting and singing straight from the heart when they hear the mariachi play.”
Mariachi Real de San Diego recently released Mariachi Classics (Mardi Gras Records), a fun and exceedingly well-done 16-track collection of the genre’s forgotten chestnuts.
This band is the real deal. Digging deep into mariachi’s neglected repertoire, Pedro, Mauricio and the four other musicians of Mariachi Real have discovered a wealth of tunes that once defined their art, the bygone classics old folks still ask for at house parties. “The best parties keep us on our toes,” Mauricio says. “My dad knows the older people there will ask for something that makes him think back to his youth to remember the lyrics. Many times people have pulled us aside and said, ‘I have asked mariachis to play this for years, and you guys are the only ones to play it.’”
Though mariachi schools — with formal training and sheet music — have sprung up around the United States in recent years, the musicians in Mariachi Real picked up the music from listening to, playing along with, and getting stern correction from their elders. “You learned on the fly,” Pedro recalls. “When I was learning, if I hit a sour note, the older musicians would reach over and strike my hand with a bow.” Pedro learned his first chords and songs from his grandfather, who immigrated as a teenager to Los Angeles. As the band’s name suggests, it is now based in San Diego.
“You’ve got to have mariachi music in your blood,” Pedro notes. Mauricio likes to recall how his mother noticed he always jumped around in utero every time mariachi music started to play. Though skeptical of his father’s music at first, Mauricio rediscovered his passion for mariachi in college and soon he was hooked.
You also need to be a veritable live jukebox, able to whip out a requested song at a moment’s notice. “We know about 3,000 songs,” Pedro estimates. “We could play eight hours straight without repeating anything.”
For more information, go to www.mariachireal.com.