Cinco de Mayo Guide: Mariachi Estrella

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Mariachi music is a part of most special occasions in Mexico: weddings, baptisms, patriotic holidays and even funerals. So it's not surprising that as Americans have adopted Cinco de Mayo, a little-celebrated regional Mexican holiday, mariachis have been invited to the party.

Mariachi Estrella, an Indianapolis-based group, has two shows scheduled for May 5. They'll play at Los Jalapenos in Grove City from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and then hustle across town to the East Broad Street Los Jalapenos location for an 8 p.m. performance.

"We get all kinds of people" at our shows, said Jesus Rico, the group's director and the man behind the large bass guitar - a guitarron - that's essential to the mariachi sound. "They come to celebrate their birthday or to just have a beer and listen to the music."

Mariachi's unique sound - a sometimes frenetic, sometimes melancholy, always fierce combination of vocals, violins, trumpets, acoustic guitar and guitarron, vihuela (a high pitched, five-string guitar) and sometimes a harp - is distinctly Mexican. But you may hear some similarities to other fun-loving traditional music, like polka and volkstumliche musik (think oompah bands).

Rico's group plays a stripped-down version of traditional mariachi music. Back home, Rico said, groups are usually made up of about 12 professional musicians. Mariachi Estrella totals four members - each playing one of the principal mariachi instruments.

"In Mexico if you showed up with a group of four people, they'd send you back immediately," Rico said. "Here, no. Because here you work in restaurants, you can't have too many people, because of the waiters and there's not a lot of space."

Rico, 41, recruited the current members from his hometown of Irapuato, Mexico. Performances are a family affair - Rico's nephew, Manuel Rico, is a part of the nine-year-old band. And brothers Francisco and Eric Rivera round out the group.

They spend most of their time on the road playing across the country, in Los Angeles, Boston and small towns in between.

"We've been in little towns in the U.S. where we're doing a show that they've never seen. They like it," said Rico.

And Mariachi Estrella always takes requests.

Think you don't know any mariachi songs? If you watched Looney Tunes as a kid, you probably know "El Jarabe Tapatio." Or channel your inner Ritchie Valens and ask them to play "La Bamba."

Mas mariachi

Can't make it out on Cinco de Mayo? Mariachi Estrella plays from 1 to 4 p.m. every Sunday at La Plaza Tapatia, 4233 Shoppers Ln., a Mexican market and restaurant on the West Side.