The pandemic has been devastating to musicians, including mariachis. Restaurants and other venues where mariachis would regularly play were shut down. And live events were cancelled. But as Mother’s Day approaches, many mariachis are tuning their instruments again – including a popular group called Mariachi Los Galleros de San Antonio.
The group is used to playing at birthday parties, quinceañeras, weddings and anniversaries. But that changed this past year. Rather than festive parties, they were asked to mark the passing of people who died from COVID-19.
“We were doing lots of funerals. It’s sad but it’s what kept us afloat financially,” said Miguel Guzman, director of Mariachi Los Galleros. “A couple of weeks ago we did a funeral at least every day for a week. … The funerals are a reminder, you know, that you’re not here forever, and it makes us appreciate what we have now.”
The pandemic took a toll on the group. Seven of Los Galleros’ 11 members contracted COVID-19. Guzman and one of the trumpet players were hospitalized.
“I was hospitalized for a month; I was literally dying. At any moment I felt that I could just go. It was the worst experience of my life,” Guzman said. “I developed some other problems with my lungs and breathing, and I lost 40 pounds of weight. I couldn’t walk after a while; I couldn’t breathe on my own; I couldn’t sit up, I didn’t have the strength. And I didn’t have anyone there with me, and this was right after Thanksgiving.”
Music played an important role in Guzman’s recovery. Two months after he got out of the hospital, he returned to the mariachi group.
“I knew that when I was ready to come back that they would accept me and welcome me back with open arms. So that’s the beauty of the Mariachi Los Galleros, and how that music brings us together and creates that bond of family and friendship,” Guzman said.
But that togetherness has also looked different this past year. Trumpet player Gabriel Alatorre says they mostly met on Zoom.
“We would get together and just have a little Zoom meeting, ‘Hey, how’s everybody doing? Ya’ll doing all right?’ It was definitely a challenge. It’s our social outlet, you know, we get together, whether it’s a meal, whether it’s practice, whether it’s gigs, whether it’s an out-of-town trip. We have a strong bond,” Alatorre said.
With more Texans getting vaccinated and business restrictions lifting, Director Guzman says things are now looking a lot better.
“Now the events are piling up like crazy,” he said. “A lot of those weddings, and debuts, and quinceañeras and parties that they had scheduled for 2020 were postponed for this year. It’s good, in a sense, because we’re recovering financially a little bit from what we lost or what we didn’t gain last year.”
But trumpeter Alatorre says that even though most of the members of the group are already vaccinated, they are still being careful.
“We wear our masks, we try not to do any type of indoor events. I play trumpet so what we try to do is just kind of step away from everybody,” he said.
Mother’s Day is a huge event in the world of mariachis, and one of the busiest. Last year it was almost as if Mother’s Day was cancelled. This year, Mariachi Los Galleros is completely booked. The group has about 26 gigs scheduled over Mother’s Day weekend. Alatorre expects they’ll be playing a lot of the most-requested songs.
“I would say ‘Las Mañanitas,’ ‘Canto a la Madre,’ ‘O Madre Querida,’ those are probably the most requested for Mother’s Day, and then whatever the mom wants to hear. But you know, the guys are excited. We’re all looking forward to it,” he said.
In the Mexican culture, mariachi serenades are a traditional way to celebrate mom. Adriana Elizalde says it’s a big deal for her family to hire a mariachi group each year.
“Last year it was beautiful just singing to her, having her sit out on the patio and having a couple of songs was just saying, ‘Thanks mom for all you do, for always being there.’ In this case our mom will always be the main love and that’s what keeps you going,” she said.