How Flor De Toloache Found Success With Mariachi Music : Code Switch With all this pandemic anxiety swirling, we thought you might need some music to take your mind off things. So this week, we've got an episode from our friends over at Latino USA. It's about Flor de Toloache, an all-women mariachi group that's making history by bucking tradition and playing a style of music that's usually performed by men.
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The All-Women Mariachi Group That's Lifting Our Spirits

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The All-Women Mariachi Group That's Lifting Our Spirits

The All-Women Mariachi Group That's Lifting Our Spirits

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/817316400/817456976" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, HOST:

You're listening to CODE SWITCH from NPR. I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji. We've had a run of heavy stories on the podcast. And with all this pandemic anxiety swirling around, we thought you might need some music to take your mind off things.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BESOS DE MEZCAL")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: That's Flor de Toloache. They're a Latin, Grammy-winning mariachi band based in New York City. They're an all-women mariachi band, which is dope. And coincidentally, it's Women's History Month. And these women are definitely making history by bucking tradition and playing a style of music that's usually played by men. And there are women in the crew from all different backgrounds playing traditional Mexican music that some of them didn't even grow up listening to.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BESOS DE MEZCAL")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: Their latest album is called "Indestructible." And it's an honor to introduce you to the women from Flor de Toloach.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLOR DE TOLOACHE SONG, "RANCHERA MEDLEY (YA ME VOY PARA SIEMPRE/VOLVER VOLVER/AL VER)")

SHAE FIOL: My name is Shae Fiol. And I play vihuela and sing.

JULIE ACOSTA: I'm Julie Acosta. I play trumpet, and I sing backgrounds.

MIREYA RAMOS: My name is Mireya Ramos. And I play violin, and I sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RANCHERA MEDLEY (YA ME VOY PARA SIEMPRE/VOLVER VOLVER/AL VER)")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

RAMOS: My dad, he was a mariachi singer. He used to perform in Puerto Rico. And he used to take me with him. So that was my first experience with mariachi. And I just fell in love with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RANCHERA MEDLEY (YA ME VOY PARA SIEMPRE/VOLVER VOLVER/AL VER)")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

RAMOS: Throughout my whole experience of performing mariachi in New York, I was one of the only female mariachi performers. I did encounter some cultural clashes and also some machismo. And I had to deal with that on my own. And because of that, I was like, oh, you know, maybe I should start an all-female mariachi.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RANCHERA MEDLEY (YA ME VOY PARA SIEMPRE/VOLVER VOLVER/AL VER)")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

RAMOS: The first person I thought of was Shae Fiol. I called her up. And I was like, hey. Do you want to form this project, an all-female mariachi? And she said, yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RANCHERA MEDLEY (YA ME VOY PARA SIEMPRE/VOLVER VOLVER/AL VER)")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

FIOL: I had met Mireya early on. And I really hadn't been exposed to mariachi very much. So I had to make myself a playlist (laughter). I started falling in love with mariachi.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RANCHERA MEDLEY (YA ME VOY PARA SIEMPRE/VOLVER VOLVER/AL VER)")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

ACOSTA: I started playing mariachi when I joined Flor de Toloache. I had heard mariachi growing up. Then, of course, once I started playing the trumpet, it caught my attention even more.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLOR DE TOLOACHE SONG, "SI NO ERES TU (IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU)")

ACOSTA: A lot of us in New York of a Dominican background, we weren't raised around the music because it's very much a cultural thing. In our band, that's pretty much the situation, except for Mireya, who grew up around it with her dad.

RAMOS: Mariachi is Mexican. But it's also world music. So people connect to it.

FIOL: Mariachi is also a very important part and totally linked to the culture in that it's used in celebrations, in birthdays, in quinceaneras, in weddings. You can't really have a party without a mariachi. But it's also a community. It's passed on by a community member or a family member. That's how the tradition is passed on originally.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SI NO ERES TU (IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU)")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

RAMOS: We named our band Flor de Toloache.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOLOACHE")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

RAMOS: It's a very sacred and ancient flower.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOLOACHE")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

RAMOS: The flower itself has magical properties. And people use it in Mexico for love potions.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOLOACHE")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

RAMOS: So we thought it was perfect for us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOLOACHE")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

FIOL: We're unique in what we do, not because we're an all-female mariachi necessarily, but we also do fusion.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO SIGAS (DON'T SPEAK)")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

FIOL: We push the boundaries of mariachi and do mariachi with our own touch.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T SPEAK")

NO DOUBT: (Singing) I really feel that I'm losing my best friend...

FIOL: And so it really opens the doors for us to do a lot of cool cultural stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO SIGAS (DON'T SPEAK)")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Stand clear of the closing doors, please.

RAMOS: We started playing the subway because we wanted to get our name out there.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

RAMOS: And sometimes cops would come and (laughter) tell us to move away because we would draw a lot of attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

FIOL: The subway was also a really awesome way for us to learn the massive repertoire that we had to learn. And that was a great way for us to try it out. We had an audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FIOL: We got tips. You know, we just would invite all the girls that were willing to try out.

RAMOS: It was amazing. We played there for a few years. And we gained a lot of exposure. We even got our first break, Flor de Toloache, on The Daily News. And then from that came New York Times, Wall Street Journal and all the main media coverage.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLOR DE TOLOACHE SONG, "PERO TU NO LO VES")

FIOL: Because we were an all-women group, we were under a microscope.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PERO TU NO LO VES")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

FIOL: I think people were hypercritical of us. And a lot of times, we'd show up at gigs. And guys would kind of - treating us a certain way because they didn't think we knew what we were doing. Or we'd get to a studio session and, little did people know, we had already been performing and recording for 15 years. Everywhere we walked in, it was like we were there for the first time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PERO TU NO LO VES")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

FIOL: I just know, obviously in years of experience, that that's not the way that men are treated as musicians. They're treated like professionals. And that's been hard. Now, because some people know us and they invite us to these performances and studios, they know that we're professionals. But even still, it happens. You know, we walk into a place. And I can tell already...

(LAUGHTER)

FIOL: ...That they think we're not good enough. We're not...

ACOSTA: Worthy.

FIOL: We shouldn't be there. We're not in our place, you know? There's a place for us, it's not onstage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PERO TU NO LO VES")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

RAMOS: This album was special because we got to work, really, together as a band.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLOR DE TOLOACHE SONG, "QUISIERA")

FIOL: We just put everything out there, all the ways we had wanted to express ourselves musically. But just - now it felt right.

RAMOS: This is a true, true sound of Flor de Toloache now.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLOR DE TOLOACHE SONG, "QUISIERA")

FIOL: One day, I was listening to "Quisiera."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUISIERA")

JUAN LUIS GUERRA: (Singing in Spanish).

FIOL: Of the three of us sitting here, I'm the only non-Dominican.

(LAUGHTER)

FIOL: But I was introduced to his music just like mariachi later on. And I loved the lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUISIERA")

GUERRA: (Singing in Spanish).

FIOL: I was like, oh, simplify it and do it in reggae style (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUISIERA")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

ACOSTA: I did a GarageBand recording of it, like, eight years ago. And it's been sitting around, I think, because it was definitely kind of most out there in terms of fusion that maybe we had approached yet. And we weren't quite ready for that, I don't think.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUISIERA")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

FIOL: We started talking a little bit about adding a male vocalist. And some names came up. And John Legend was one of them.

RAMOS: Oh, we were like, oh, would he do it?

(LAUGHTER)

FIOL: Yeah.

RAMOS: Will he sing in Spanish? We were like, let's just ask. The worst thing that could happen, he says no.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUISIERA")

JOHN LEGEND: (Singing in Spanish).

RAMOS: He was down to do it in Spanish, although we had some English lyrics. He recorded both versions. And actually, we have a English version coming out soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUISIERA")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE AND JOHN LEGEND: (Singing in Spanish).

RAMOS: We all were jumping up and down and crying and had chills all over our bodies. It came out so beautiful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA ANDARIEGA/TAMACUN")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

ACOSTA: I'm remembering it was a long process...

RAMOS: Yeah.

ACOSTA: ...Recording the album, because we had babies in tow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA ANDARIEGA/TAMACUN")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

FIOL: Tour life and family life is definitely a juggling act. Being a parent is hard. It's just, you know, a different twist on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA ANDARIEGA/TAMACUN")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

FIOL: The first thing I thought of was just how cool it was to have our babies there. But it's probably more likely in an all-women band that we would be this welcome and exciting to be bringing your kid on the road with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA ANDARIEGA/TAMACUN")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

ACOSTA: Amongst each other, we formed such a strong sisterhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA ANDARIEGA/TAMACUN")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

ACOSTA: To see how we all help each other, you know, through it and through touring with our babies has been quite special.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA ANDARIEGA/TAMACUN")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

FIOL: I never envisioned (laughter) what that would look like. You just don't do it until you have to. Don't try and envision it, just do it.

(LAUGHTER)

FIOL: Having pushed along this path, as so many women do...

(SOUNDBITE OF FLOR DE TOLOACHE SONG "INDESTRUCTIBLE")

FIOL: ...It's not easy. There's - always met with resistance from the outside world, from within yourself, from your confidence. It takes a lot of inner dialogue to get you through.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INDESTRUCTIBLE")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

RAMOS: We all need to hear these positive things and remind ourselves how powerful we are.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INDESTRUCTIBLE")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

RAMOS: Women are indestructible (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF FLOR DE TOLOACHE SONG "INDESTRUCTIBLE")

MERAJI: And that lovely respite from pandemic chaos was brought to us by our familia over at Latino USA. Once again, the band is Flor de Toloache. Their album is called "Indestructible." And after the break, they're going to play the song giving us life - the entire song, which rarely happens. So stay with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF INSTRUMENTS TUNING)

MERAJI: The song giving us life this week is "Hay Tiempos" from Flor de Toloache's new album, "Indestructible." And you're listening to a live recording from the Live From Latino USA series.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAY TIEMPOS")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: This episode was produced by Latino USA's Jeanne Montalvo and edited by Fernanda Camarena.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAY TIEMPOS")

FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Vocalizing).

MERAJI: And we're going to need all the things to listen to while we're stuck in the house. So if you haven't already done this, now is the perfect time to subscribe to Latino USA. I promise you're not going to regret it. And I'm assuming you're already subscribed to CODE SWITCH. But if you're not, please do that, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "VALANTIS")

MERAJI: Next week on the show, we're going to talk with Terry McMillan about sex after 60 and about her new novel, "It's Not All Downhill From Here." She tells us she is tired of hearing things like this.

TERRY MCMILLAN: Terry, you know, you're not old. Shut up. I am old, but I don't care.

MERAJI: That's next week on the show. I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji. Wash your hands. Don't be racist. Take really good care of yourself and your loved ones. Peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "VALANTIS")

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