Worldly Roots (Profiles in Roots Music): The Mariachi Ghost

by Krlmagi

I talk to Rafael Reyes and Jorge Requena of The Mariachi Ghost about creation, art, intention and the balance of tradition and modernity in their music.

The Mariachi Ghost started out as a fun project for Rafael Reyes and Jorge Requena but it has since become something bigger and deeper. The band started by playing at an open mic night at a bar and received a positive reception. After that, Jorge (a professional filmmaker) began working on a show for the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

Jorge continues, “I created a really theatrical show and the response was great so we decided that was the direction we wanted the band to take. We started working on more theatrical gigs that allowed our dancer to fully use her skills and little by little we added the makeup and the mariachi suits.”

The Mariachi Ghost
The Mariachi Ghost

Much of the band’s material comes from Mexican folkloric sources but they try to add their own unique sound by using non-traditional instruments like Rhodes keyboards and electric guitars in order to bring new life to the music.

Emotional fidelity is the goal in The Mariachi Ghost’s music. Jorge points out, “Our music finds the balance between tradition and modernity.  The two things can feel good together even if it doesn’t make sense on paper.  The goal is to make it work emotionally.”

Many aspects of the band’s music are accentuated by their dancer, Alexandra Garrido, who has worked hard to incorporate dance into the act. Jorge says, “Alex embodies all of the feelings in the music and the stories in the lyrics. She’s a contemporary dancer but she’s also trained in traditional Mexican dance. These are both places where she can find a way to express the feelings in the music. She uses the whole stage and captures the audience in a way that the music alone can’t.”

Rafael adds, “Alex isn’t there for purely aesthetic reasons. We really want to convey the message that the dance is there for the art itself.  There’s meaning and intention behind the dancing. Alex spends quite a lot of time developing her persona on stage.”

Research is important for the band. Jorge explains, “Tradition has it’s own aesthetic, so we need to put a lot of work into learning those styles and understanding them.  For example, Gabriel spends a lot of time listening to field recordings of old groups in Mexico and we try to incorporate those sounds into our music.”

At the same time, the band is also influenced by the ‘traditions’ of prog rock. Jorge points out, “We’re trying to push the boundaries of both genres to create something new.”

Rafael adds, “Sometimes we have an idea that we want to start working on but we aren’t sure how it will even work. We’ll go into the basement and  just start jamming until things start falling into place. Our goals are there but they’re not very precise.”

The Mariachi Ghost’s size creates some unique challenges for the band. They act more like a family than a band in Jorge’s view. He says, “Schedules are going to be complicated, emotions are going to be complicated and you’re going to grind each other’s gears eventually. We’ve learned how to deal with each other, how to be mad at each other and get over it.”

Another challenge for the band is the fact that they’ve had to do everything on their own. Rafael points out, “We work hard to cultivate the business  side of the band. Some of us take care of the bookings, some of us take care of merchandising and others take care of the finances. There’s nobody that does this for us so we’ve learned how to keep the band going financially.”

On the positive side, Rafael adds, “We have really good relationships with the industry here in Winnipeg and across Canada. So far we’ve been lucky that audiences have been very open to us!”

People in the music industry didn’t understand what the band was trying to do at first. Jorge explains, “They said, ‘When you told me you wanted to do makeup, I thought that was so stupid and when you had the mariachi suits, I thought you were clowns but when I heard you play I was completely convinced that your show was the best thing that I’d ever seen.’ It is a leap of faith when people come to see our act. Until you see us and hear us it’s kind of indescribable.”

He continues, “For the longest time, we remained very mysterious. We didn’t really do many interviews because we wanted the act to be something to see and experience. In a way, we  still remain mysterious.”

In the future, Jorge wants to see the band play some big stages. He says, “We know we can put together a huge, amazing, even life-changing show. We’d love to do a European tour, a Latin American tour and an American tour. Doing these things is going to take a lot of planning so we’re being strategic for now.”

One of the band’s less tangible goals is outlined by Rafael who says, “We want to help break down those barriers of difference that are foundation of the discord in the world. Jorge and I grew up listening to bands like Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and Greenday just like kids in North America did.”

Inspiration comes from many sources for the band. Jorge says, “I’m inspired by meeting new people with all of their different personalities and emotional makeups.  There are also a lot of things in real life that are surreal, strange and beautiful. We want to find those moments in real life and share them with others.”

Rafael adds, “We inspire each other and keep each other motivated.  I’m inspired by the fact that I’m able to express my ideas freely without any fear here. There are a lot of people in the world who don’t have the ability to say what they want to say without fear. Let’s say I’m very lucky to be alive and making music.”

For more information on The Mariachi Ghost, please visit them here.

This profile is based on an interview with Rafael Reyes and Jorge Requena conducted and recorded  on Aug. 12, 2016

Updated: 08/16/2016, Krlmagi
 
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