La/La Land: New York Mariachi feminina in LA’s most sought after (and hardest to find) venue.

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One of LA’s most sought after music venues is not open to the public, is not actually a music venue, and is not in the City of Los Angeles.  But I was there Wednesday afternoon chatting and drinking mimosas with some of LA’s and New York’s best known fusion artists, including La Marisol of the Grammy-winning band La Santa Cecelia, Ceci Bastida of Mexrrissey and Flor de Toloache, a kick-ass all female Mariachi band from New York City that blew me away.

First the venue;  welcome to the Gibson Guitar Showroom, around the corner from Playboy Enterprises in the city of Beverly Hills. The Gibson is kinda’ hard to find.   It’s entrance is a small glass door  on the side of the building next to a loading dock across the street from a parking garage. Inside is a the LA showroom for Gibson Guitars and Baldwin pianos featuring the giant bronze Gibson Guitar Throne, many pianos including a mirror covered grand piano that Liberace would have coveted, and walls of guitars.

However, on special occasions Gibson Showroom becomes the Gibson Showcase. The floor displays and all but one of the pianos are replaced by stage, PA system, lights, sound board and a bar to become an exclusive private space used by record labels, BMI, promoters to bring artists together with the press and the elite (and not so elite – I was there) of the music business.

Last Wednesday Criteria Entertainment used the Gibson Showcase to kick off this year’s Dia De Los Muertos Tour, featuring two La-based Latino bands, Mexrrissey and La Santa Cecelia and an all-female Latin Grammy-nominated Mariachi band from New York City, of all places.  A couch was moved onstage and the artists squeezed onto it – four women and one man – while a press scrum asked questions and filmed.  The interview was in Spanish and English and covered the upcoming tour which starts today in Mesa Arizona and continues to Northern California, Nevada and then to Santa Barbara and San Diego.

I was familiar with La Marisol of La Santa Cecelia, who has been on my radio show, and Ceci Bastida of the Latino-Morrissey band Mexrrissey (Latinos love Morrissey and The Smiths), whom  I had seen a few weeks earlier at a PST:LA/LA event, but Flor de Toloache was new to me.  All-female Mariachi bands are not uncommon in LA or even in Guadalajara the birthplace of Mariachi, but a New York-based, diverse (they come from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Portland, Cuba, Italy and Korea among other places) band that  has been on Oprah’s O Magazine, featured in a Paul McCartney album and a Kate Spade television ad is unusual.  In fact it is the only one.  So I stuck around and talked with them in the Green Room , which was actually white and dominated by a zebra-striped grand piano. (full interview at  https://youtu.be/MkJMStlTRBg)

We talked about how they came to Mariachi, the barriers women have to overcome in music, their parents, grandparents, brothers, Linda Ronstadt records, a shortage of guitars in a middle school class that led to learning Mariachi, and the universality of music across national and cultural borders. The conversation was easy despite the fact they had just wrapped up a wailing set and had previously fielded questions from a gaggle of reporters, switching languages back and forth in the process. Their ease came from world torus and interviews supporting their album Las Caras Lindas, explaining its fusion of  beyond Mariachi to include jazz, rock, cumbia, salsa, folk, country and even a little hip-hop to reporters and fans.

I was blown away by their music, their words, and their rise from busking in the New York subways to touring Europe and Asia and collaborating with Dan Auerback of  the Black Keys on his project The Arcs. These accomplishments spoke to me as much as group’s founder Mireya Ramo’s operatic voice and unreal violin chops spoke to me. They illustrated the rising strength of women in music – especially in the Latin music world.    There is a reason that these four women – and the others sitting on the couch Wednesday in front of the cameras – were at one of LA’s most desirable venues.  It was not only a great kick off for a tour, but a great look into the minds of a unique group of mujeres who making change. Viva la mariachi feminine

Patrick O’Heffernan

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