USPS launches its first mariachi stamp Artist Rafael López used his upbringing in Mexico City for inspiration. It took two years of development before the set launched, and each stamp will carry on a cultural legacy forever.

For the first time, the Postal Service features mariachi musicians on stamps

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Got some letters to write or invitations to send out? Now you can do that and celebrate the Mexican art form of mariachi music with a set of special Forever stamps. The stamps were made available for sale a few weeks ago, but the U.S. Postal Service just hosted a launch ceremony at the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., where NPR's Gabriel J. Sanchez had a chance to catch up with Rafael Lopez, the artist who created the stamps.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GABRIEL J SANCHEZ, BYLINE: A traditional mariachi band captivated the audience recently during the launch ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

CANAS Y SU MARIACHI DE ORO: (Singing in Spanish).

SANCHEZ: The five-piece musical group, dressed in black and white charro suits with silver buckles, was led by the band's vihuela player.

JOSE CANAS: The name of the band is Canas y su Mariachi de Oro. My name is Jose Aristides (ph) Canas. I play the guitar, or vihuela.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANCHEZ: He told me in both Spanish and English the pride he and his bandmates felt to be part of the ceremony.

CANAS: (Speaking Spanish). It's a honor for us.

SANCHEZ: The Virginia-based band performed a set of traditional ballads...

CANAS Y SU MARIACHI DE ORO: (Singing in Spanish).

SANCHEZ: ...Mixed with some less traditional numbers, aimed perhaps at some of the younger ones in the crowd.

CANAS Y SU MARIACHI DE ORO: (Singing) Baby shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo (ph). Baby shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. Baby shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. Baby shark.

SANCHEZ: Mexican-born artist Rafael Lopez was also there and feeling proud. He's the creator of the new set of five mariachi-themed commemorative stamps. He said he wanted the images to reflect a vibrant mariachi sound by depicting the musicians in mid-performance.

RAFAEL LOPEZ: I wanted to pay focus on the actual expression of the singers. If you can see them, a lot of the stamps that you see of portraits of people, they're - have their mouths closed. And if you notice on this ones, two or three of them have their mouths open because they're singers. They're mariachis, and they're belting it out.

CANAS Y SU MARIACHI DE ORO: (Singing in Spanish).

SANCHEZ: Lopez, who now lives in San Diego, told me the images of the new stamps were inspired by the sights and sounds of his childhood in Mexico.

LOPEZ: As a kid, I was - I come from a family of musicians. So we would listen to mariachi music. But you heard it so many times that you never really appreciated the value of that. We used to go to a place called Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City, and we also used to go to these other restaurants where top-notch mariachi bands used to play. And I think as a kid, you get used to it. And it doesn't - you don't have - I don't - I didn't appreciate it until I move away from Mexico. And I move to California. I was there eight years without returning back to Mexico. And I rediscover that sound. And every time I heard it, it was just, like, bringing all the joy of being a child, the nostalgia of growing up in Mexico. So, yeah, there was some kind of a rediscovering the music.

SANCHEZ: Most mariachi song lyrics are in Spanish and are traditionally meant for holidays and family events. But Rafael Lopez said there is no language or cultural barrier when it comes to the effect mariachi music has on audiences everywhere.

LOPEZ: And even if you don't understand the lyrics, you get happy just by listening to that beat in the rhythm. And, you know, before you know it, you're sitting with a bunch of strangers. Everybody's just cracking up a smile. And before you know it, everybody's celebrating life and patting each other on the back. So there's that universal quality that mariachi music has that you just can't help but feel happy, whether you speak Spanish or not.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANCHEZ: And that is the power of mariachi music.

Gabriel J. Sanchez, NPR News, Washington.

CANAS Y SU MARIACHI DE ORO: (Singing in Spanish).

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