After more than a decade of silence caused by the pandemic mariachis are now playing Sunday services at Tucson’s St. Augustine Cathedral. The vibrant and soulful tradition, which fuses Roman Catholicism and Mexican American pride, dates back to a half-century.
The unique sound of mariachi liturgy was more than just another choir to hundreds of worshippers who gathered in this Spanish colonial Church. It is a symbol of a borderlands identity, where spirituality and folk music blend for centuries.
The Rev. said that synceticism is the reality of the land, the "ambos" reality. Alan Valencia, the cathedral's rector grew up attending mariachi Mass at "ambos Nogales" or "both Nogales" as locals refer the two cities with the same name that lie along the U.S.-Mexican border approximately 60 miles (100 km) south.
He said, "And that's exactly what we see in these mariachiMasses," he continued. "Faith, culture and faith come together and grow."
Mariachi is the soundtrack of daily life in the borderlands. It plays at everything, from backyard barbecues to quinceanera comings-of-age parties to weddings to funerals.
However, mariachi is a very popular music genre. Musicians and parishioners agree that mariachi's emotional interplay between guitar, vihuela, trumpet, and guitarron is an excellent complement to the holy rites and Mass.
Alberto Ranjel, who started Mariachi Tapatio with his father, said that the Mass is "a reminder that mariachis aren't just for those you tip at the table in a cantina." It is a representation my culture."
Leilani Gomez, Worshipper, echoed this sentiment and said, "They bring Mass culture, art, and the presence of God." They give you the feeling of God's presence.
After the Vatican encouraged inclusion of local musical traditions in religious services during the 1960s, the first mariachi Mass canon was created in Cuernavaca (Mexico). The Misa Panamericana is also known as the Pan-American Mass. It features a particular order of instrumental arrangements, sung prayer and hymns.
Sheehy said that at the time, Chicano civil Rights Movement was flourishing in America. Mariachi musicians transformed from folky troubadours into cultural icons, "symbols Mexican identity elevated here because of multiculturalism."
In the 1970s, hundreds of mariachi school programs were established. This was when the music started to be written down and not taught by lyrical training. George Bejarano, who began playing in 1973 with Los Changuitos Feos (or "the ugly little monkeys"), said that the group's youth group. Also, women began joining traditionally male groups.
The mariachi Mass's mainstays include the joyous "Pescador de Hombres," also known as "fisherman" -- Spanish-speaking faithful's equivalent of "Amazing Grace" because of its popularity and ubiquity -- along with a riveting rendition of Franz Schubert’s 19th-century masterpiece, "Ave Maria."
Ranjel, who is performing the latter at the cathedral's cathedral, turns to face a painting depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe patroness for Mexico and the Americas and intones the Latin translation of the lyrics.
He said, "The prayer aspect is what I'm honoring by singing it Latin."
Each month, four ensembles perform the Spanish-language 8 a.m. Mass at the cathedral in Tucson. They are all volunteers and spend at most two hours a week rehearsal. On Mass day, they rise before dawn to make their trajes de charro. These elaborately embroidered suits, which originated in Mexico, are often worn by mariachi groups.
Performers like Daniel Rodriguez, leader of Mariachi Hierncia de Cuco Del Cid and a fixture at the cathedral for over 20 years, are a way for musicians to give back to their community.
Rodriguez stated, "When you sing or offer up music to God, it is like praying but it's stronger." It's very powerful for us to use our music to drive people back to Mass and inspire them to do the same.
Los Changuitos will be featured at a special Mass on Sept. 18 to honor victims of the coronavirus epidemic, which has claimed nearly 2,500 lives in Tucson's Pima County. It also silenced mariachi services from spring 2020 through late last month.
A recent Sunday saw the musicians playing for worshippers outside of the cathedral, even after Mass. People held up their smartphones to capture the sounds and sights of a shared heritage that they had missed, while wearing face masks to combat the resurgent viral infection.
They bring unity to the church. It's more spiritual," Diana Pacheco said, who has been attending mariachi Mass since childhood. "Without them it was very empty-feeling here.
Victor Soltero, a man who has been attending the cathedral for over 50 years, was also happy to see them return.
Soltero stated, "It makes your happy," and what better way to honor the good Lord than with beautiful music that lifts you up?