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Cast a spell: Flor de Toloache brings all-female perspective to mariachi

  • Author: Zakiya McCummings
  • Updated: September 27, 2018
  • Published September 27, 2018

Flor de Toloache will perform in Anchorage this Saturday alongside Ozomatli. (Photo by Andrei Averbuch)

When audiences think of a mariachi band, the picture is often overwhelmingly male. New York City-based ensemble Flor de Toloache aims to change that as an all-female mariachi band featuring Colombian, Cuban, Dominican, Mexican and other Latina musicians.

Flor de Toloache was founded in 2008 by vocalist and violinist Mireya Ramos and her longtime collaborator, Shae Fiol. Their name refers to the Mexican toloache flower, which is often used in love potions, a metaphor for the group's ability to "cast a spell" over their audiences.

Ramos had the idea to begin Flor de Toloache after getting fed up with mariachi being an old boys club.

"In (Ramos') experience, playing with other mariachis, and in general in the music industry, there's a lot of machismo and sexism," said Fiol, the group's vocalist and vihuelista (a vihuela is a high-pitched, round-backed guitar).

"(Ramos) was like, 'I want this to be for us and to not feel intimidated in creating music and rehearsing.'"

While Ramos, who is Mexican, grew up learning traditional mariachi music from her father, Fiol's experience playing mariachi started from scratch. A longtime singer-songwriter in NYC, her musical roots were a fusion of world and R&B. Fiol was familiar with mariachi music, specifically Linda Ronstadt's "Canciones de Mi Padre," but never played until Ramos asked her to be a part of the band.

"(Ronstadt) was exploring her roots through music, like me," Fiol said. "She was a pop star, and then she went and did a side project."

Multiculturalism and exploring one's roots play an important part in Flor de Toloache sound. While mariachi is a traditional musical genre from Western Mexico, the members of Flor de Toloache represent multiple Latina ethnicities outside of Mexico as well.

"(Mariachi) took musical influence not just from Mexico but from other genres in Latin America and the Caribbean. It's not just a musical genre, it's part of a culture," Fiol said.

Flor de Toloache plays original and traditional songs as well as covers. The group takes songs that are not traditionally mariachi, Fiol says, and plays them in a way a mariachi would. Their most popular cover, a lively rendition of Nirvana's "Come As You Are," has over 20,000 views on YouTube.

"It's really just whatever moves us and usually it's in the style of mariachi, because mariachi is an incredible art form. The rhythms, the harmonies … it's powerful. It always comes down to that, it's the core."

Their efforts have been recognized by the Latin Grammys, where they won Best Ranchero/Mariachi Album in 2017, as well as NPR's fan favorite Tiny Desk series. The group has also collaborated with many artists over the years, including the 2015 track "Yours, Dreamily" with The Arcs, as well as three recordings with Fania Records, New York City's iconic salsa record label. Most recently, they joined forces with Kansas City ensemble Making Movies, who Fiol described as the group's "musical cousins," for the joint album "Amor De Mis Amores."

R&B fans, however, will be pleased to hear about another collaboration coming later this year: Flor de Toloache and Miguel, best known for his 2012 hit "Adorn." "Mireya and Miguel are second cousins," Fiol said. "Their grandmothers used to sing together."

Saturday's show marks Flor de Toloache's first time performing in Alaska. Fiol said the audience can expect to be surprised. "It's got the spirit of mariachi and the spirit of New York City combined from a woman's perspective, and you can expect to hear almost any kind of music through the lens of mariachi."

Flor de Toloache will perform alongside Ozomatli on Saturday, Sept. 29. at the Atwood Concert Hall. Tickets start at $33.50 and are available for purchase at Listen to Flor de Toloache's latest album, "Las Caras Lindas," on Spotify and Apple Music.

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