Mariachi Los Dorados returns to the Okanagan March 18-25. - Image submitted

Mariachi provides cultural connection

Vancouver’s Mariachi Los Dorados tears down the walls to celebrate the heritage and culture of Mexico

Music has always been about tearing down walls, not building them.

Just look at British band Pink Floyd, whose iconic concept album The Wall, released in 1979, was used as the soundtrack to the fall of the Berlin Wall 10 years later.

For Vancouver mariachi musicians Los Dorados, a wall will never separate them from celebrating the musical heritage and culture of Mexico.

Dressed in traditional mariachi garb, specifically designed for the band, Los Dorados has continued to share its love and knowledge of this Mexican storytelling style of music for more than a decade, as Okanagan residents know full well with the band’s annual spring tour of the Valley.

In Lake Country Saturday, March 18 to perform at the inaugural Lake Country Folk Fest, don’t be surprised if you see a few sombreros and smiles as Los Dorados travels up and down the Okanagan-Shuswap in its new 15-passenger van next week.

“It is always a great inspiration for us to be right in the midst of not just the cultural/historical past of the mariachi, but what’s happening stylistically now. It’s always moving forward,” said Los Dorados’ Diego Kohl, who was born in Ajijic on Lake Chapala, Mexico and raised in Armstrong, B.C.

Led by Mexican-born singer-guitarist Alex Alegria, Los Dorados is not only the organizer of Vancouver’s successful Mariachi Festival Canada, but is also the Canadian representative at Guadalajara’s International Mariachi Festival, which the band returned to this past year for its fourth visit.

“We were invited there specifically,” said Kohl. “I especially love jamming in the hotel lobby. It’s not pretentious at all. It’s all for the love of music and especially with all of us being mariachi, it’s a great experience.”

One thing that Los Dorados has been working on – and has highlighted on its most recent and third self-titled album – is updating the mariachi repertoire.

“All these old songs are recycled by artists. We thought what was missing was new material,” said Kohl. “Going back to Mexico influenced us to further the style and add to it. We study the classics and respect the traditional, but it’s a good move not to just do cover tunes and arrangements but to add our own flair and compositions… We are looking to expanding our base.”

Los Dorados’ new album, which was submitted to this year’s Juno awards in the world music category, features original songs written by band members, including Kohl’s original arrangement of a traditional huapango, or Mexican folk dance, entitled Diego’s Huapango.

“It’s in a mariachi style derived from Spanish guitar and has a specific rhythm. My arrangement is based on mariachi orchestration with three violin parts, two trumpets and the rhythm section. The voice also goes in high range,” said Kohl who provided the vocals along with Alegria and bandmate Ricardo Ochoa.

Besides writing and arranging, Kohl continues be a part of Los Dorados’s rhythm section, playing the big Mexican guitar known as the guitarrón. The unique instrument, where the strings are plucked not too unlike a harp, has provided him with his own community of musicians.

“It’s one of my favourite instruments to play,” said Kohl, who also plays blues and Latin guitar as well as jazz piano. “A mariachi without a guitarrón just doesn’t work. The tone of the guittarón is unique. Everything about it is different from the technique and the approach.”

Los Dorados’ annual tour of the Okanagan, produced by Ken Smedley, takes place on the following dates:

– March 21 at 7:30 p.m., Zion United Church Hall, Armstrong. Tickets at Chocoliro, Armstrong, 250-546-2886.

– March 22 at 7:30 p.m., Barking Parrot Lounge, Penticton. Tickets at The Dragon’s Den, Penticton, 250-492-3011.

– March 23 at 7:30 p.m., Carlin Hall, Tappen. Tickets at Acorn Music, SalmonArm, 250-832-8669.

– March 24 at 7:30 p.m., Okanagan College Vernon campus theatre. Tickets at The Bean Scene, Vernon, 250-558-1817.

– March 25 at 7:30 p.m., Centre Stage Theatre, Summerland. Tickets at Martin’s Flowers (next to Nester’s), Summerland, 250-494-5432.