Mariachi in the Mansion

Oakland's Dunsmuir House hosts its first mariachi festival.

Two Saturdays ago, the popular Spanish-language Univision TV show Caliente broadcast a program shot on location at Marine World USA in Vallejo. The show’s finale was a performance by the band Mariachi Mexicanismo from Hayward, including a short interview with its leader and trumpeter, Raymundo Coronado Jr.

“The mariachi is alive and well in the San Francisco Bay Area,” Coronado said, before climaxing the show with a traditional tune. One of Northern California’s premier mariachi bands since its founding in 1996, the ensemble comprises guitars, violins, and trumpets. In their time together the musicians have backed up such touring superstars as Marco Antonio Solis, Lucero, Sparx, Carmen Jara, Pepe Aguilar, and Juan Gabriel.

For years the band’s home base has been the Mexicali Rose Restaurant in Hayward. Like many mariachis throughout the East Bay who anchor themselves in restaurants, these traditional troubadours suffer from a lack of recognition. But this Sunday at the Dunsmuir Historic Estate in Oakland, the first East Bay mariachi festival will showcase the area’s best ensembles: Mariachi Colima, Los Alcones, Los Michoacanos, Los Gavilanes, Las Aguilas, and the aforementioned El Mexicanismo.

“The idea actually came from the Dunsmuir House, who want to open up the estate to other cultures,” says Shelly Garza, a principal organizer of the Dunsmuir Mariachi Festival. “They want to make the mansion a historical and cultural venue that’s family-oriented. It was Pat Mossburg, the vice president of the board of trustees, who approached me and my mother [Emilia Otero] to help them with the logistics of getting the mariachis, vendors, and ballet folkloricos.”

The original mariachis originated in the Mexican state of Jalisco in the 1800s, rural bands that played son jalisciense with fiddles and guitars. Most were indigenous musicians taught by missionaries. By the 1920s the modern-day mariachi started taking form, recognizable not only in instrumentation but also in its dress — the 19th-century formal garb of the charro, the Mexican cowboy. These string bands, made up of guitars, violins, vihuelas, and bass guitaron, added trumpets in the 1950s. Before long, mariachis were established as the national music of Mexico.

Says Garza: “The mariachis are gung ho for this festival. For this first year, we started with five mariachis and are hopeful that next year we can have more, but the musicians are excited that we are opening that door for them. What this festival does is open a door to the mejicano community, as well as the Latino community as a whole. It gets them out of the comfort zone of, say, the Fruitvale neighborhood, and lets them experience something new in their backyard.”

Alongside the music, the first annual festival will also include traditional ballet folklorico, indigenous danza azteca, authentic Mexican food, and a kids’ zone with payasos (clowns) and piñatas. For the 104-year-old estate — originally built by coal baron Alexander Dunsmuir and bought by the City of Oakland in the 1960s — this reaching out to the Latino community is a much-appreciated gesture .

“Beginning a new tradition is an exciting challenge, and I’m thrilled to be a part of making this idea a reality,” says Pat Mossburg, the festival chair. The Dunsmuir Mariachi Festival takes place Sunday, October 12, noon to 6 p.m., at 2960 Peralta Oaks Court, Oakland. or 925-275-9490.


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