As you drinko por Cinco this May 5, please take this column around listing songs that mariachis will actually, gladly play instead of having to glumly strum through the umpteenth “La Bamba” and “Guantanamera.” The following eclectic choices (and reasoning) came from hundreds submitted by wabs and savvy gabachos; make sure to knock back the Herradura, but por favor designate a nerd as your driver!
“Los Mandados” (The Errands): I could give you hundreds of songs for Drinko de Mayo festivities, but if a Wayfarer-sporting, American Apparel-wearing, Elliott Smith-worshiping, Shepard Fairey-loving and oh-so-ironic gabacho wants to hear a mariachi play something subtly anti-gringo, they can ask for this.
“El Borracho” (The Drunk): Mariachis love it, and the puto pendejos que comen en restaurantes Mexicanos on Cinco de Mayo can no doubt remember the title.
“La Media Vuelta” (The Half-Turn): Is there a more supremely confident, hypermacho, Mexican song out there? “You’ll leave if I say so”? “You’ll stay if I say so”? “I want you to kiss other lips just to see how great I am in contrast”? Perfect!
“No Volveré” (I Won’t Return): The counterbalance to “Volver, Volver” (Mexican note: another mariachi standard). “I swear to you that I will never return, even if life tears me to pieces, if at one time I loved you like crazy you are now forgotten from my soul.” Beautiful and painful all at the same time.
“La Martina”: A great corrido by Antonio Aguilar about a young bride who cheats on her husband. She gets caught red-handed and tries to talk her way out of it. When her father refuses to do anything about it, her husband takes things into his own hands and empties his revolver into her. What else was the man to do?
“El Gavilán Pollero” (The Chicken Hawk): Years ago, our high-school Spanish club used to sponsor “authentic” dinners out. One night, the mariachi played “El Gavilán Pollero” and one of the no-so-fluent students asked la profesora to translate la letra. Our teacher, blushing with embarrassment, actually told us the song was about a nasty chicken hawk who flew over a barnyard terrorizing the newly hatched little chicks (Mexican note: Metaphors, amigo; song is about a guy who steals another guy’s girl). Now, whenever I hear the song, it makes me laugh so hard, Negra Modelo comes out my nose.
“El Son de la Negra” (The Song of the Black Woman): Its upbeat driving rhythms get me smiling really fast, even before the first margarita arrives. It’s pretty easy, and simple enough for a school mariachi to play.
“El Perro Negro” (The Black Dog): A man kills another man in his sleep, and the victim’s faithful dog avenges his owner’s death. The wife of the killer (who the victim admired) finds the two bodies and buries them in a local cemetery. The dog follows his owner to his plot and dies there.
“Sabor a Mi” (Taste of Me): Gringos will love this beautiful ballad, but talk about a little dirty! Research English translation only for laughs—it’s a perfect example of American influence sucking the passion from anything ethnic.
“Historia de un Amor” (History of a Love): If the white folk do not get our true intensity by the following lines, “Adorarte para mí fue religion / Y en tus besos yo encontraba / el calor que me brindaba” (Adoring you was my religion / And in your kisses, I found / the heat that it offered), they never will.
“El Sinaloense” (The Sinaloan): It sounds like an entire group of high-school band students are falling down a flight of stairs but that they are so dedicated to their craft that they keep right on playing as they fall. WARNING: Any mariachi who has asthma should not attempt this song.
“I Just Called to Say I Love You”: Yes, mariachis know it—and it sounds badass.