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San Diego Mariachi Bands Struggle, Adapt To Pandemic Conditions

 March 9, 2021 at 12:17 PM PST

Speaker 1: 00:10 [inaudible] Speaker 2: 00:10 It's the music of love of family, of happiness and of sadness. And now it's the music that seems to have survived against the odds from the struggles of the pandemic. San Diego's mariachi bands have endured a year of canceled concerts and closed venues a year of playing too few weddings and too many funerals a year of searching for work and risking illness to play. Now, as people cautiously begin gathering again, mariachi bands are regrouping and bringing back the music joining me is reporter Andrea Lopez via Fanya who profiled the struggles of San Diego's mariachi bands. And Andrea, welcome to the program. Speaker 1: 00:51 Thank you for having me. You Speaker 2: 00:53 Begin your report by reminding us why mariachi music has such an important place for so many in the Latino community. Can you tell us about that? Speaker 1: 01:02 Yeah. Yeah. So, um, it's kind of interesting in writing this. I was speaking with my editor and she was like, well, tell me when you hear mariachi music, you know, what, what do you think? And, um, honestly it, whenever I hear mariachi music, it reminds me of this moment when I used to live in Mexico and we were in this Plaza and there was all these mariachi bands and anytime I hear the music, it just takes me to that memory being with my grandparents there. So a lot of people, um, you know, mariachi music just brings this sense of home. Um, the sense of the country that they came from and reminds them of, of weddings, of maybe singing along to this music when you're drinking tequila with your friends and, um, having, having fun and it contained Yetta or family gathering, it's just, um, it's just wholesome music that brings a lot of people together. Speaker 2: 01:53 And the music's popularity has blossomed way outside of the Mexican American community. Hasn't it? Speaker 1: 01:59 Oh yeah. I, I w I spoke with a professor from, uh, USD who he organizes these mariachi conferences here in San Diego, but, um, he also takes students around the country and around the world, uh, to listen to other Maniaci musicians. And he was telling me there was a mariachi group in Japan that they, um, met on one of their travels. So it's just, it's wonderful to see how far the music has gone. Okay. Speaker 2: 02:24 This past year has been very tough for the musicians themselves. Tell us how did San Diego's mariachi musicians make a living before the pandemic, and what did they face? When things began to shut down, Speaker 1: 02:36 You'll have big groups with 12 musicians, but then you'll have smaller ones with maybe six or five. Um, some of the bigger groups, you know, they, they were booking conferences, um, corporate parties, large weddings, they were playing at Plaza. So they have these big events where they would thrive off the gatherings, which obviously weren't happening because of COVID. And then you, um, the smaller money at you bands, which might do family parties, you know, gatherings at home, um, among family members, or, um, maybe also a wedding or a birthday party. So they were thriving off these gatherings, which obviously we couldn't do because of COVID. Speaker 2: 03:15 So, uh, they were not eligible for unemployment insurance because they're, uh, they're contractors, right. Uh, so how did they survive? Speaker 1: 03:24 Some of the ones I spoke to, you know, uh, they had members who just decided we're going to find different jobs altogether. So, um, they started working like Lyft and Uber. Some of them started working at grocery stores. Um, I spoke to a mariachi player who, um, a mariachi musician who told me that some of his players were actually from the Quanta, so they couldn't cross over. Um, so he, his band fell apart. So, um, he's just been playing by himself and finding other mariachi musicians who will want to play with them if he wants to book any events. But yeah, a lot of people had to transition to different kinds of jobs. Speaker 2: 04:02 And unfortunately, a lot of the musicians found a lot of work at funerals. Speaker 1: 04:08 Yeah. And that's such the interesting story. One of the mariachi baths that I profiled in my story, um, you know, I asked her like, how what's been happening, how has this dynamic affected you? And she was like, it's really weird to say, but we've never been busier. And it's because of these funerals. She said that before COVID, maybe they were booked for, um, a funeral once a week, and now they're doing much more, maybe three to four funerals a week. And, um, although she doesn't always ask the families, if it's COVID related sometimes just kind of speaking to family members, they'll, they'll tell her, you know, Oh, my mom was in perfect health. So, um, so yeah, they, a lot of these Menatchee bands have been playing at COVID funerals and, um, it it's a sad time, but it's actually really interesting. And just to show you the power of money yet to music, because people aren't requesting, you know, there's traditional sad songs. Um, and then there's funeral songs that many Archie fans play, but people are requesting [inaudible] or, uh, in Menatchee local or these really cheerful songs that you hear at parties. Um, because maybe that's the song that their loved member or their loved one, like to listen to, Speaker 2: 05:17 It turned out to be risky, to plays in closed settings during the pandemic. Wasn't it? I mean, some mariachis died. Speaker 1: 05:25 Yeah. Um, and I wasn't able to find anyone, you know, who it happened to here in San Diego, but I, I did read up a copy of mariachi musician who passed away in LA because some of these musicians, maybe they couldn't transition to other work like other musicians could and they had to keep playing. So, um, you know, families are still having gatherings and, uh, sadly they're, they're not always, um, staying safe, maybe they're having small gatherings in our home, but the musicians are still exposing themselves to, um, you know, to being in contact with, with other people. So somebody actually players have passed away. Um, I know a couple of famous Maniaci musicians have also passed away from COVID, Speaker 2: 06:10 But now things are slowly opening up. Are the mariachis getting more work? Speaker 1: 06:15 Yeah, they are. And like I said, the things are, is things are picking up, right? Um, they're having maybe a quinceanera, but everyone in the family they're wearing face masks. Um, so as people are getting more comfortable, more people are getting vaccinated. Um, you know, restaurants are opening up again. These musicians are playing again. And of course, a lot of them wear face masks when they're performing. And it'll just be like the trumpet player who takes the mask off while they're performing. Speaker 2: 06:42 Now you mentioned there's a big virtual mariachi conference coming up this Friday, hosted by USD. Tell us more about that. Speaker 1: 06:50 Yeah. So this conference is wonderful. It brings a lot of professional musicians from all around the world, um, specifically from, from Mexico, from heli school. Uh, and it connects them with young students who maybe want to be professional mariachi musicians when they grow up and they can learn different kinds of technique and traditionally this conference, um, it, it, you have to pay to attend the conference at USD, but this year, because it's virtual, it will be free. So it's on March 12th. Speaker 2: 07:18 Thank you so much. I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune reporter Andrea Lopez via Fanya. Thanks a lot. Speaker 1: 07:25 Thank you. [inaudible].

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Before the pandemic, the sound of mariachi was synonymous with parties, gatherings and celebrations. Now, with restrictions on in-person gatherings, San Diego's mariachi bands have had to adapt and change their business models to survive.
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