Belated Merry-Achi December 2, 2005
Merry-Achi Christmas at Cerritos
By Glen Creason
Up until last weekend my experience with mariachi was pretty much limited to the grass-roots versions heard in Mexican eateries like Money Panchos or visits to the Plaza and my collection of Vicente Fernandez lps. On one hand the amateur groups stuck to four part harmonies and a repertoire of like three songs. On the other I was listening the king of the genre at the top of his game. So, when I ventured out to the Performing Arts Center over the weekend for the interestingly titled Merry-Achi Christmas I wasn’t sure what to expect but a lot of big voices and passionate songs drawn from this venerable Mexican genre. Actually, the evening was filled with very pleasant surprises in both song and the pageantry of the tradition.
The show was a huge one, filled with glorious singing, exhilarating dancing and beautiful costumes worn by Mariachi Sol de Mexico, the marvelous Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles and the Ballet Folklorico de Pacifico. All of this is directed by the tireless and ultra-talented Jose Hernandez who not only is chief singer, master of ceremonies, trumpeter and musical director but he actually founded both groups while recording umpteen successful albums. The truly incredible thing about the show is that at one time there were more than forty performers on stage and every one seemingly could sing, play a mean trumpet, fiddle and smile like it was the best day of their lives. Well, almost. Some fourteen members of the ballet troupe brought excitement in folk dances from states of Mexico including the zapateado, the huapango and the famed jarabe tapatio that created a buzz every time they pranced on stage.
Of course, this was a Christmas show and the spirit of the season was served up in hearty helpings with chili on it. Amazingly enough, the Merry-making began with a mariachi version of “Ode to Joy” with fourteen mariachis singing in harmony as tight as their hand sewn traje de charro. The music continued, split somewhat between the songs of season a la mariachi and favorites from the states of Mexico, particularly the one encompassing Guadalajara whose spirited theme “Mi Jalisco” garnered whistles, applause and shouts of passionate appreciation. From a lovely “Ave Maria” the holiday feeling continued with a Posada that moved around the hall and back to “Noche Bonita,” “Little Drummer Boy” and a stirring “Joy to the World.”
The scene stealing Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles literally took over the next portion of the festivities with a charm hard to resist. Their electrifying “Solo Tuya” had the hall rocking as did the emotion drenched “Guadalajara” but “O Come All Ye Faithful” returned the performance to its Christmas scene. This group is more than wonderful and certain to be seen again on this stage.
The second half of the show was more mariachi atop the Cerritos Christmas tree highlighted by a Veracruz version of La Bamba with the Ballet Pacifico , an emotion drenched “Que Bonita Es Mi Tierra,” “O Holy Night” and the combined ensembles taking a symphonic turn on Chabrier’s Espana that was truly incredible. It was Merry-Achi Christmas so Senor Hernandez closed the show with an encore “Feliz Navidad” that rolled into a “White Christmas,” “Christmas Song,” “Sleighride,” “Silent Night” and more much to the delight of the satisfied full house.