Mariachi women

America's first all-female mariachi band, Reyna de Los Angeles, is the subject of a PBS documentary that airs tonight.

By Catherine Price
Published April 1, 2008 10:00PM (UTC)
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Why is it that there are so few all-female bands on the mainstream music scene? I'm not talking about female groups where women sing and other people provide the music. (Step aside, Pussycat Dolls.) I'm talking about bands where women sing and play. There are so few examples of mainstream women's groups that Wikipedia actually has an "all-female band" page. (It suggests that the biggest hits were the Bangles, the Go-Go's and the Breeders. Thoughts?)

I bring this up because of an article in today's New York Times about an all-female band in a truly male-dominated musical field: a mariachi band called Reyna de Los Angeles. The group, which claims to be America's first all-female mariachi band, is the subject of a documentary called "Companeras"; it's part of PBS's series Independent Lens and is being broadcast tonight (except in New York, where it will air on April 4). Reyna de Los Angeles was formed in 1994 by Jose Hernandez, a (yes, male) mariachi composer and director who also founded the Grammy-nominated all-male band Mariachi Sol de Mexico. He decided to put together a women's group when he began teaching mariachi lessons in Los Angeles public schools in the early 1990s and realized that half the students who were showing up were girls -- and that they didn't have any female mariachi role models.


Fast-forward to now, when despite persistent gendered stereotypes -- like the idea that women shouldn't play mariachi because they're not strong enough to hold the guitarron (an acoustic bass) -- more than 20 female professional groups have been founded. Granted, they don't make as much money as the guys' groups (Hernandez says he's lucky if the women bring in half as much as his all-male band). And since mariachi relies heavily on live, nighttime performances (and doesn't pay well -- $75 a night when the film was made), it can be tough for women who also have children to take care of. But still, it's clear that the women of Reyna are passionate about their music, and it's a treat to hear a different take on traditional mariachi. (The Times has some samples.) If you're home tonight at 10 (double-check your local listings), it might be worth switching over from "The Real Housewives of New York City" to give these women a listen.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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