The event itself is long-standing, but its new venue represents an unexpected amalgam of two historical western inhabitants—Mexican Americans and Native Americans.
The Tucson International Mariachi Conference, largest and longest-running mariachi music event of its kind in the country, watched while the Pascua Yaqui tribe expanded entertainment options in the form of an amphitheater, a casino, and now a new $130 million resort/golf course before deciding to break with tradition and move their annual event from the downtown Tucson Convention Center to the new Casino Del Sol site.
“We used to represent over a million dollar annual impact to city hotels and restaurants downtown, packing the Community Center with thousands of music lovers. Now the tribe and the casino are giving us a chance to revitalize and grow. Breaking that historical tradition was sad, but we needed to make a change and the casino partnership gave us that chance,” said Alfonso Dancil, Conference Chairman.
Said to have originated in Jalisco, Mexico, mariachi is a genre of music that is endemic to the life and culture of Yaqui tribal members who now live in the Pascua Pueblo outside of urban Tucson as well as some 40,000 Mexican-born Yaquis who still call Mexico home.
“There’s been a similarity in the Native American and Mexican American forms of music for centuries,” says tribal council member David Ramirez. “We use similar instruments in our cultural dances and the music is comparable—except we sing in the Pascua Yaqui language.”
While there are variations on a theme, a traditional mariachi ensemble frequently consists of violin, trumpet, guitar or guitars ranging from classical to vihuela, a higher-pitched five-string to a guitarron, a large bass guitar. Musicians on the street or in performance halls dress in silver-studded charro outfits with wide-brimmed hats and often enhance their musical capabilities by adding a harp, an accordion, or a flute, or experimenting with wind and percussion options ranging from organ and keyboard to harmonica, saxophone, and even drums.
Regardless of what costumes they wear or what instruments they play, the intent here is to have fun which is frequently interspersed with a “grito mexicano”—an “ay ay ay!” yell done at interludes within a song by both musicians and audience members.
“Casino Del Sol Resort facilities offer an ideal venue for our conference and will help us remain the home of the nation’s premier mariachi event for years to come,” says Dr. Dan Ranieri of the partnering non-profit La Frontera Arizona organization. “We share with the casino a common vision which is to preserve the tradition that we’ve treasured for decades…and to establish our event as a must attend destination.”
Sol Casinos CEO Wendell Long thinks along those same lines: “The tribe decided to step up, not to just subsidize a great event, but to work to make this conference even better than in years past. The Mariachi Conference is a shining example of large-scale events that Tucson has become known for hosting .”
“This will be quite an undertaking, but we’re prepared for it and to be involved at this level shows what our new facility is capable of doing,” says Casino Director of Marketing Steve Neely. “The tribe didn’t make this kind of investment to sit on the sidelines and we’re aggressively seeking out opportunities such as this that contribute to both the tribe and the community at large.”
From a historical/cultural/musical standpoint, the four day event has almost non-stop daily activities written in musical clefs—blasts of trumpet practice reverberate, resin is applied to bows which are applied to violin strings at all hours of the day and night, dance choreography is performed and refined.
“The most important reason to put on this event,” says Dancil, “is the workshop that gives up to 500 elementary, middle school, high school, and college students from the western U.S. and northern Mexico three days of instruction and performances to understand the culture and history of mariachi music.”
The April 25-28 event culminates with an Espectacular Concert featuring groups from Guadalajara, Mexico, and an all-day music and dance festival of mariachi songs, huapangos, boleros, rancheros, and classical selections. For more information visit tucsonmariachi.org.
Tickets can be purchased at tickets.solcasinos.com.