He's been called the Pied Piper of Mariachi. Not only did Jose Hernández start Mariachi Sol de México, the first mariachi band to be nominated for a Grammy Award, but he also founded the Mariachi Heritage Society, which was partially responsible for disseminating a cultural appreciation for the art of mariachi throughout the United States in the early 1990s.

Then, in 1994, Hernández founded the first professional all-female mariachi band, Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles.

And now, just before Monterey County is poised to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, both groups are coming to town to perform separate concerts in local venues.

Mariachi Sol de México will perform live in concert at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Sunset Center in Carmel. Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles will perform two live concerts at 7:30p.m. the following Wednesday and Thursday nights (May 2 and 3) at CSU Monterey Bay's World Theater.

While they're here, Mariachi Sol will participate in Sunset Center's Classroom Connections program, where they'll work with 500 first- and second-grade students in Salinas, teaching them about the history of mariachi and the cultural heritage of México. They will also perform a special student-only matinee, hosted by the Sunset Center.

A fifth-generation mariachi musician, it's not surprising that Hernández would want to carry on the traditions that he grew up with.

"My five older brothers and father were all musicians," he said.


"You can imagine rehearsals in the 1960s and '70s — as a kid I would memorize all the songs and sing them."

Though he was born in the Mexican border town of Mexicali, Hernández' family originated from the state of Jalisco, which was the birthplace of mariachi. His family immigrated to the United States when he was a young boy, bringing with them the music that had shaped their lives.

By the age of 10, Hernández was playing the trumpet — a key instrument in mariachi. In high school, he began playing professionally with the family band. He also learned to play the violin, vihuela, guitar and guitarr-n.

After graduating, he went on to study music composition and film scoring at the Grove School of Music in Studio City.

He founded Mariachi Sol in 1981 when he was only 23 years old. Ten years later, when his father fell ill, he founded the Mariachi Heritage Society to teach young musicians the art of mariachi in honor of his father and the cultural legacy he'd passed on to him.

"I wanted my father to see how proud I was of our culture," he said. "Mariachi was never looked upon as artistic before. We were always considered a back-up band."

As he began to teach mariachi to young music students, he made a striking realization: "Fifty percent of my students were little girls. Boys had mariachi musicians as role models, but there weren't any for girls."

This began to shift soon after Hernández founded Mariachi Reyna. In a field that had been dominated by men for two centuries, these "reynas" (queens) would change the face of the profession.

"When I was starting the mariachi program in school, the groups were all male-based," said Julie Murillo, who now leads Mariachi Reyna. "Now there are 40 all-female mariachi groups in the U.S."

Born in East Los Angeles, Murillo is the first in her family to play mariachi.

Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles performs Wednesday and next Thursday (May 3) at CSU Monterey Bay’s World Theater.
Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles performs Wednesday and next Thursday (May 3) at CSU Monterey Bay's World Theater.
When asked what she brings to the music that is different from what men bring, Murillo responded, "A woman's touch."

"We bring an elegance to it," she said. "Women are much more graceful. Girl groups get a lot of attention — not because of how we look, but because of how we project feelings and emotions."

Even the traditional Mexico shout or "grito" changes when sounded through a woman's voice.

"Girls aren't supposed to be yelling," she said, laughing. "Especially in the Mexican culture, people aren't used to that. When we are performing some of the men are like, 'Wow!'"

She added, "In traditional mariachi songs, the guys are serenading girls. What guy wouldn't want a woman serenading him?"

Hernández said that the two bands differ not only in their gender and the range of their vocals, but also in the type of music they play.

Mariachi Sol plays music in tribute to the great composers of México, such as Augustine Lara and José Alfredo Jimenez, whereas the repertoire of Mariachi Reyna is more cutting-edge, with medleys from Juan Gabriel, Selena, Joan Sebastian and Rocío Dórcal, as well as some songs in English.

But Mariachi Sol pushes the edges in a different way, said Hernández. For example, they just finished recording a symphonic album.

"In the past you could drink tequila with mariachi," said Hernández. "You can still drink tequila with mariachi, but now you can also drink champagne."

Lily Dayton can be reached at montereybaylily@gmail.com. GO!


What: Mariachi Sol de México live in concert
Where: Sunset Center, San Carlos at Ninth Avenue, Carmel
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, April 26
Tickets: Starting at $40; available at box office (620-2048) or online at www.sunsetcenter.org

What: Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles live in concert
Where: CSU Monterey Bay's World Theater, on campus at Sixth Avenue, Seaside
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, May 2-3
Tickets: $29-$40, with discounts for seniors, students, military and children, available at the World Theater Box Office (582-4580) or online at www.TicketGuys.com
Information: 582-4580 or www.csumb.edu/worldtheater