TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) – A festive trumpet explosion blossoms and a guitarrón bass shatters the solemn silence of mass on a scorching August morning in the desert. Dressed in costumes embroidered with gold, nine musicians choose, strum and deceive the entry hymn under high stained glass windows.
After more than a year of silence due to the pandemic, mariachis replay Sunday services at St. Augustine’s Cathedral in Tucson, where the colorful and sonorous tradition dates back half a century and fuses Roman Catholicism with pride Mexican-American.
For the hundreds of worshipers gathered in this Spanish colonial church, and other congregations across the southwest, the unique sound of the mariachi liturgy is more than just another version of the choir. It evokes an identity of border countries where spirituality and folk music have mingled for centuries.
“Syncretism is the reality of this land, the reality of the ‘ambons,’ said Reverend Alan Valencia, rector of the cathedral, who grew up attending mariachi mass in ‘ambos Nogales’, or ‘the two Nogales’ , as locals refer to the two cities of the same name straddling the US-Mexico border about 60 miles (100 kilometers) to the south.
“And that’s what we see in these mariachi masses,” he added. “Faith and culture come together and grow. “
Mariachi forms the soundtrack of everyday life here in the border regions, accompanying everything from backyard barbecues to coming-of-age parties to weddings and funerals.
Yet while mariachi is a grassroots genre popular, musicians and parishioners say its emotional interplay between trumpet, violin, guitar, vihuela, and guitarrón is a natural complement to the sacred rites of Mass.
“The mass itself is a reminder that you don’t just have mariachis you give at the table in a cantina,” said Alberto Ranjel, who has been playing at the cathedral since the age of 9 and now directs the set founded by his father, Mariachi Tapatio. . “It’s a representation of my culture.”
Worshiper Leilani Gomez echoed this sentiment, saying, “They bring to mass culture and art, as well as the presence of God. They make you feel the presence of God.
The first canon of the Mariachi Mass was composed in Cuernavaca, Mexico, after the Vatican encouraged the incorporation of regional musical traditions into services in the 1960s. Called Misa Panamericana, or Pan American Mass, it features a specific order. instrumental arrangements, sung prayers and hymns, according to Dan Sheehy, director and curator of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.
At that time in the United States, the Chicano civil rights movement was in full swing and Mariachi musicians transformed from folk troubadours into cultural heroes, “symbols of Mexican identity reinforced here due to multiculturalism,” he said. added Sheehy.
Hundreds of Mariachi school programs followed in the 1970s, when music began to be written instead of taught through lyric training, said George Bejarano, who in 1973 began performing with the youth group Los Changuitos Feos, or “the ugly little monkeys”. and whose family has been in border areas “since before there were borders”. In addition, female musicians began to join traditionally male ensembles.
The mainstays of the Mariachi Mass include the merry “Pescador de Hombres” or “Fisherman of Men” – the Spanish-speaking equivalent of “Amazing Grace” for its popularity and ubiquity – and a gripping rendition of the 19th century classic by Franz Schubert, “Ave Maria.
During performances of the latter in the cathedral, Ranjel turns to face a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe, patroness of Mexico and the Americas, and intones the Latin version of the lyrics.
“The prayer aspect is what I respect by singing it in Latin,” he said.
Four ensembles take turns performing Mass in Spanish at 8 a.m. in the cathedral in central Tucson, one Sunday each per month. All volunteers, they generally spend at least two hours a week in rehearsal and on the day of mass, they get up before dawn to prepare their charro trajes, richly decorated costumes originating in Mexico and commonly worn by groups of mariachis. .
For musicians like Daniel Rodriguez, frontman of Cuco Del Cid’s Mariachi Herencia, who has been present at the cathedral for 20 years and also at Most Holy Trinity Church in the northwest of the city, performing is a way of giving back to the community.
“When you sing or there is music offered to God, it’s like praying but it’s more powerful,” Rodriguez said. “For us to be a driving force through our music, to inspire people to come back and stay at Mass, that’s really powerful. “
On September 18, Los Changuitos will attend a special mass in honor of victims of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 2,500 people in Pima County in Tucson and silenced mariachi services from spring 2020 through on their resumption at the end of last month.
On a recent Sunday, the show continued even after mass had ended, with musicians serenading worshipers on the palm-fringed patio outside the cathedral. Wearing face masks against the resurgent virus, people held up smartphones to record the sights and sounds of a common heritage they had sorely missed.
“They bring unity to the church. It’s more spiritual, ”said Diana Pacheco, who has attended Mariachi Mass since childhood. “Without them it was a very empty feeling for us here.”
Victor Soltero, who has worshiped at the cathedral for fifty years, also welcomed their return.
“It makes you happy,” Soltero said, “and what better way to come and honor the good Lord than to have beautiful music that carries you away.”
The Associated Press religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment via The Conversation US. The AP is solely responsible for this content.