The Historic Fifth Street School in Downtown Las Vegas will present a program at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, February 3, that is not only vibrant in the musical sense but in its social message as well.
New York’s history-making first and only all-female mariachi group, Flor de Toloache, will co-headline with one of today’s leading contemporary Mexican ensembles, the Villalobos Brothers, in a show that will feature beautifully crafted songs that inspire community and love. With strings and horns combined with soulful voices, the groups will perform original music that speaks to today’s issues.
The diverse ethnicities and musical backgrounds of Flor de Toloache influence the sound that has captivated audiences around the world since 2008, preserving centuries of mariachi tradition while pushing boundaries. An ensemble of violinists, singer-songwriters, composers, arrangers, and multitalented instrumentalists, the Villalobos Brothers masterfully blend and celebrate the richness of Mexican folk music with the intricate harmonies of jazz and classical music.
“Las Vegas is a wonderfully diverse community with a large Spanish-speaking population,” said Ally Haynes-Hamblen, the city’s director of the Office of Cultural Affairs. “This performance will give the younger generation an opportunity to reflect on their roots and connect to tradition.”
“There is a resurgence of love for mariachi and traditional Mexican music. Both Flor de Toloache and the Villalobos Brothers are passionate about social justice, which speaks to the younger generation as well, and speaks to the issues we’re all going through today. This is a rare opportunity to see both groups together. Both are rising stars and are very busy and in much demand.”
Flor de Toloache is comprised of founding member Shae Fiol on vihuela and vocals; cofounder Mireya I. Ramos, violinist, vocalist, composer and arranger; Indiana-born trumpeter and electric bassist Jackie Coleman; and Noemi Gasparini on violin and vocals. It won a 2017 Latin Grammy for Best Ranchero Album Mariachi with Las Caras Lindas, which means The Beautiful Faces.
Each is from a different ethnic, cultural and musical background, the latter including blues, jazz, reggae and hip-hop. Together they have created a musical hybrid that Rolling Stone termed “alt-mariachi.” The quartet has also staged big shows for which they have brought in other musicians, bringing the number of performers onstage to as many as 11.
“Our music gives a multicultural message about how to celebrate diversity,” said Ramos, adding that the group will release an album in May. “Las Caras Lindas is more than just a women- empowerment album. It is our sophomore album, and it contains more fusion and original songs. Singing in both Spanish and English is more of an expression of who we are. In the album, we showcase all the elements we love and what makes us unique.”
Fiol says the group has had to overcome many hurdles: “Mariachi has been around more than 100 years, but it was male-dominated because women were not allowed to do certain things like play instruments. We couldn’t even vote until the 1950s. That kind of mentality existed in every industry until today.”
The Mexico-born Villalobos Brothers, returning to the Historic Fifth Street School after a successful 2017 engagement, also have their roots in uniqueness and diversity. Each of the three brothers received classical violin training in different parts of the world — Ernesto in New York and Israel, Alberto in Belgium perfecting the Russian school, and Luis following the German school. Together, they developed their own style of playing called “Fast Chatting Violin,” which Ernesto notes imitates the sound of the human voice and is produced by the bow’s friction against the strings.
“Our music is closest to Latin jazz,” Ernesto said. “We write our own music. We started playing with our grandmother, who taught us traditional Mexican songs. We have continued that great tradition of folk Mexican music but have expanded it into the new generation happening in the U.S. It talks about everyday life and our dreams as human beings. It is bigger than racial or social issues. It’s about brotherhood and people coming together and how we can overcome the tipping points of our self-extinction.”
This is one post-Super Bowl show that will truly be the music of the night.