Hate mail is fan mail
Metalachi breaks steadfast traditions in two genres
El Cucuy remembers the first metal song he and his brother Vega De La Rockha blended with mariachi music. It was at a quinceañera when the siblings would perform as a traditional mariachi band for extra cash on the weekends. They combined Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and the song “Jarabe Tapatío”—more commonly known as “The Mexican Hat Dance.”
“We played it and people went crazy,” he says. “When we usually play at a quinceañera, everyone’s kind of proper and trying to behave themselves. But once we played ’Iron Tapatío,’ people changed. Some people put the horns up, the crowd went crazy, and there was this old abuelita that showed us her bra.”
In that moment, El Cucuy says they decided to convert their favorite metal hits into full-fledged mariachi songs that would later land their band, Metalachi, on TV shows like America’s Got Talent, interviews with CNN and the BBC, and nationwide tours. Slayer’s Dave Lombardo once joined them onstage for a cover of “Raining Blood.”
Now Metalachi is a five-piece family band—according to its members, the world’s first and only group that’s dared to blend the metal and mariachi genres together throughout the past 12 years. In covers of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark,” Metalachi adds traditional mariachi instruments like trumpet, violin, güiro, acoustic guitar and the guitarrón—a deep-bodied, Mexican six-string acoustic bass—to showcase their love for the genres that heavily influenced a handful of siblings originally from Juárez in Mexico.
The brothers grew up in Los Angeles, while their mother returned to Mexico. They were raised by their uncles, professional mariachis who would play on Boyle Street in East LA, where musicians stand on street corners in hopes of being picked up for random gigs.
Then came El Cucuy’s exposure to that other genre. In the late ’90s, the 12-year-old listened to the one album that ultimately shifted the course of his and his siblings’ lives: Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.
“That was the first record that started it all,” says El Cucuy, the trumpet player.
The two original members of Metalachi are he and his brother De La Rockha, who serenades crowds with his boisterous vocals underneath a large, black sombrero with dangling tassels. A few years ago, they added their sister, Queen Kyla Vera, on violin.
Before Metalachi, the two young boys performed as a traditional mariachi band for years, livening up dance floors at weddings, quinceañeras, birthday parties and background music at funerals. They followed in the footsteps of their tíos.
Yet, the brothers’ love for metal and Ozzy Osbourne in particular could not be contained. El Cucuy’s stage name is inspired by the Mexican boogeyman—but, he clarifies, this version comes after mothers rather than children.
“I always tell people don’t confuse me with that Cucuy. I’m not the Cucuy that waits in the closet for the kids to go to sleep, and once they’re in bed and the lights are off, I come out and I scare you,” he says. “I’m the Cucuy that hides under mommy’s bed. I wait for the kids to go to sleep and then I jump on mommy.”
El Cucuy admits that not everyone is a fan of Metalachi, and the backlash stems from traditional mariachi groups and diehard metal fans. For some, mariachi is sacred and shouldn’t be tainted with other genres, especially metal. It’s the same for some metalheads, who’ve told Metalachi to “go back to Mexico.” El Cucuy recalls hearing that after the band released its project with Avenged Sevenfold, who endorsed Metalachi’s cover of their song “God Damn.”
But the boogeyman, El Cucuy, doesn’t scare so easily.
“We take it in stride,” he says. “We always say if we’re not pissing people off, then we’re not doing something right.”