Thursday, November 17, 2011

Singers at Dinner

One of the traditions at many restaurants in Mexico is to have strolling singers - sometimes solo and sometimes a group (often a Mariachi) - come to your table and offer songs.   I've always had mixed feelings about that tradition.   Most Americans mark themselves because their list of songs is short.   There are perhaps ten songs that I believe we choose about 99% of the time - Cielito lindo and Béseme mucho; not so much Las Mañanitas (which is sung at birthdays).   My mixed feelings come from a couple of thoughts. First, the singers can be pretty wide in their abilities. Second, especially with Mariachi, they can be loud. But third, I suspect that many of these singers get tired of singing the songs from the ten most requested.

The singer last night (there is a short clip here of one of my wife's favorites which is also in the top ten -  just to prove the point) was excellent.   More importantly, he offered up a couple of songs I had not heard before.  The music is often sentimental.  The song he offered last night is from Guanajuato and very sad.  Germans have their Heimat Filme and Mexicans their ballads.

Mariachi originated in the state of Jalisco - also the state of Tequila.   Some suggest that it comes from a corruption of the French word for marriage.  A lot of this music comes from celebrations.  But WIKIPEDIA says the word comes from the native language Coca.   I was told once that the addition of brass to the bands came when the music was first played on the radio - the guitars and other stringed instruments did not pick up well on the primitive microphones.  There are other branches of Mexican music which Americans mix into traditional Mariachi music.   They each have their own distinct traditions.

One of the major singers of Mexico, Pedro Vargas, was born in San Miguel.  As we talked with our singer last night he said Vargas seemed to get better as he consumed more adult beverages.   Vargas actually started his career as an opera singer in Cavelleria Rusticana in Mexico City.   There are a couple of statues to Vargas in San Miguel.

In Mexico City there is a zone where the Mariachi bands congregate called Plaza Garibaldi.  It is a large plaza which also has a wonderful restaurant close by called the Salón Tenampa.   In this large hall each time I have been there there are four bands playing in each of the corners of the room.   Oddly, each time there have been three Mariachi and one band playing in the style of Veracruz - which is without brass.   If you want to hear those guys you have to sit close.

No comments: