“India is the cradle of human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great grandmother of tradition.”
Two rich traditions enjoyed a spirited introduction when Southwestern College’s Mariachi Garibaldi arrived in the humid, bustling city of Gurgaon, 16 miles from New Delhi.
Mariachi had come to Mother India and she was pleased.
Mariachi director Dr. Jeff Nevin said visiting India was beyond a culture shock.
“For Americans, when we cross the border into Tijuana, we feel like we are in another country,” he said. “All the streets look different, people are driving different. It just feels different. India is Mexico times 10. It was a real shock for us to get there.”
Nevin said the shock was also musical.
“Indian music is completely another language,” he said.
Last year while performing in Brazil SWC’s mariachi included sambas in their program. Nevins said it was impossible to incorporate traditional Indian music into their repertoire this year.
“Mariachis are really adaptable,” he said, “(but) I couldn’t figure out how to adapt it (to traditional Indian music). I certainly didn’t want to play their music poorly.”
Indian music was confusing, said Nevin, and so were road symbols written in an unintelligible language. Multitudes of people on the streets along with stifling weather contributed to a sense of estrangement. Indians, however, like the Russians, Chinese and Brazilians before them, fell in love with the passion and virtuosity of the mariachi. Other acts from around the world also shared their traditional performing arts to the audience of about 100. Off stage, SWC’s mariachi discovered new music and old.
Violinist Jacqueline Sierra said she was surprised to hear a Polish group playing polkas, a genre mariachi is built on.
“(They) did a couple of polkas, which is something that we do as well, so it was interesting to see how they danced to something that we played,” she said.
Guitarist Andrew Rodriguez said the group saw the contrasting realities of hyper-urbanized New Delhi and rural landscapes filled with cows, pigs and huts during the six-hour bus trip to Agra. Outside the brick-colored walls of the Red Fort of Agra, monkeys looking out for food were standing on the city walls, he said, while children panhandled on the street.
“It was an adventure to get (to Agra),” he said. “We got to really see the road to get over there. It was just interesting because there was a lot of poverty in the surrounding area of the (Taj Mahal).”
Considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site, the architectural masterpiece was built as a mausoleum for the Persian princess Mumtaz Mahal in 1648. The Taj Mahal and its white marble amazed SWC students.
“It was incredible,” said violinist Hyrami Godoy. “It honestly felt like it was a dream. It was just unreal!”
Rodriguez said Indians were confused about the nationality of the band. Nevin explained to audiences the interrelation between border city San Diego and northern Mexico and how an American mariachi could represent the United States.
Mariachi Garibaldi performed two songs with a dance group from Mexico during its performance in the International Ethnic Folklore Festival. Rodriguez said that teaming up with Mexican performing artists made his wish of connecting with other musicians on stage come true.
Sensitized by what they saw on the side of the road, Rodriguez said, the mariachi switched from touristic to altruistic as they gave out food on the streets of Agra.
“The hotel packed us a bunch of lunches and a lot of us didn’t eat them because we had (eaten already), so we had 40 boxed lunches that were not eaten,” he said. “So we actually ended up giving those to the kids in the city that were homeless.”
Nevin said the presentations were great, even though the audience was not as large as expected. That was not the only downside the group faced. Rodriguez said organizer’s persistent tardiness made the group uneasy.
“They would tell us to report at three o’ clock and then the bus wouldn’t show up to pick us up until like six o’ clock,” Rodriguez said. “That was the only thing that threw us off.”
Time issues aside, Rodriguez said the passage to India was wondrous.
“(Traveling) gives us a whole different perspective of the lives we live here and how other people live around the world,” he said.