This All-Women's Band Is Taking On the Male-Dominated World of Mariachi
O: The world now has a female NHL coach, an all-gals Ghostbusters reboot, and millions of proud "nasty women." But mariachi is still pretty much a boys' club. How did you get in?
Mireya Ramos: Traditionally, mariachi is passed down from generation to generation, which is how I first learned it. My dad was a mariachi, and he used to sing me to sleep with classics like "Caminos de Michoacán." I never thought I'd follow in his footsteps—until I was asked to join a group in New York City when I was 21. I performed with them for five years, and I was one of the only girls playing mariachi in the city. So I decided to start an all-female band. It was harder than I thought.
O: Because most women just didn’t have mariachi experience?
MR: That wasn't even a requirement! All you needed was a good ear. The biggest deterrent is the macho culture. It's been mostly men since the 18th century, and the macho mentality is not exclusive to Mexican culture. It exists everywhere. Even now men ask at sound check if we need help plugging in our instruments because they assume we don't know how.
Shae Fiol: But also, when musicians were interested in joining us, many were turned off by the workload. A mariachi is the jukebox! And it requires a lot of time to learn all the tunes that keep the party going.
MR: For the first few years, it was just two or three of us playing in the subway or going from one restaurant to another asking, "Do you want us to play here for free, or tips, or food—or all of the above?"
O: And now you're performing at the Apollo in New York City and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Though some people focus less on your music than on your style...
SF: Female mariachis are supposed to wear long, high-waisted skirts, which we did for one show. After that we switched to knee length, but that didn't feel right either. And then we decided on pants—little did we know that would be such a big deal. But a lot of people love what we're doing. We bring mariachi to people who might not have ever heard it before.
O: Mireya, is your dad the band's biggest fan?
MR: He even sings with us sometimes! If he's at a gig and we play "Caminos de Michoacán," we’ll invite him to join us. But then we have to remind him it's our show.