Israeli band Mariachi Yerushalayim combine multiple rhythms into one musical sound reflecting the universalization of the iconic Mexican musical style as the band visits Mexico for the first time to attend the International Mariachi and Charreria Festival in Guadalajara.
Wearing black charro suits adorned with glittering and eye-catching matching accessories, as well as traditional Jewish yarmulkes, the eight band members almost look like Mexicans due to the passion with which they play their instruments and perform mariachi numbers well -liked like ‘Le Rey,’ ‘Como Quien Pierde una Estrella‘ and ‘Besame Mucho.’
But none of the band members actually have Mexican blood. Yohanan Peretz, the group’s manager, was born and raised in Venezuela, where he devoted himself to Mexican music, then he lived for a time in Spain and then emigrated to Israel, where he formed the group with his wife Sarah, who comes from Colombia.
Before hitting the stage in historic downtown Guadalajara, Peretz said he formed the band four years ago, but not without spending a lot of time finding the perfect band members in Jerusalem, where they live and where the mariachi music is little known.
“It’s not the same as having a band where everyone is Mexican or Colombian, sounding pretty much the same. But in our mariachi group, there is this mixture that gives it something special. I try not to have an extremely Mexican sound, but rather give freedom to each musician to put their style and it gives the band a new sound,” Peretz said.
The band doesn’t just sing Mexican songs, though that’s what gave mariachi music its distinctive sound. Instead, they also adapted Hebrew songs like “Avadim Hayinu,” a song for the time around Easter.
Peretz plays the big guitar, Avior Rokah and Bar Ashkenazi are the trumpeters, Lian Cohen, Rotem Tel Shachar and Sarah Peretz play the violins, Natan Rocha is on the vihuela, an early form of guitar, and Lidor Mesika is the singer – and the combination of their efforts surprises audiences and gets people dancing.
It happens whether they play in the streets of Jerusalem, in a city in Morocco or in Guadalajara, the birthplace of mariachi music and tequila.
“Mexican music touches everyone, it’s music that impresses, that has an impact, whether someone understands Spanish or not. We tried that in Spain, but we are having a good season in Morocco and there people have been fascinated,” Peretz said.
Until the group was formed, Israelis only knew the famous song fragment “Ay, ay, ay, ay, canta y no llores‘classic’Cielito Lindo‘, and they had only danced to mariachi music in the form of ‘La Cucaracha.’
After the group’s performances in places like the Israel Museum, the panorama of Mexican music has changed in this Middle Eastern country and “it’s going really well,” said the group’s leader.
Mariachi Yerushalayim is not the only mariachi group in Israel, but it is the first in the Middle East to present performances at the international mariachi festival in Guadalajara, and the group also performed publicly before the event and will do it later.
“For me, this is a historic activity, for the first Israeli mariachi band to come to Mexico for such an important festival. He will go down in the history of Mexican music. We really learned a lot because it’s not the same to play Mexican music outside or inside Mexico with all the culture and people. It takes the band to another level and gives (us) a new experience,” he said.
The mariachi festival took place from August 25 to September 2, with 25 groups from 10 countries and a full program of activities like galas at the Degollado Theater, where three well-known mariachi groups will combine their music with the Jalisco Philharmonic, along by offering free concerts in public spaces and places of business.