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FESTIVALS : This Mariachi Music Moves to Anglo Beat

April 29, 1993|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes often to The Times Orange County Edition.

Nothing captures the spirit of Mexico like a mariachi band, and nothing captures the spirit of mariachi bands like the Santa Ana Mariachi Festival.

It's ironic, then, that two of this year's festival highlights--a lecture on "The History of the Mariachi" at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art on North Main Street and a mariachi Mass at St. Joseph Church, 272 Minter Ave.--will feature Anglos.

Mark Fogelquist, of Swedish descent, is the leader of Mariachi Uclatlan, the band that will play the Mass Sunday at 11 a.m. He's also the artistic director of the three-day festival, which starts Friday. Fogelquist has arranged for performances by eight other bands and three ballet folklorico troupes at various festival locations.

Jonathan Clark will present the mariachi history lecture Saturday at 11 a.m. According to festival coordinator Florinda Mintz, Clark is "blond, with blue eyes--but a gringo who knows more about mariachis than any Mexican."

Clark, who recounted his story by phone from his home in San Jose, first went to Mexico in 1977 as part of a local folklorico group for performances in Veracruz. When the group returned home, Clark pressed on to Mexico City, hoping to visit the Plaza Garibaldi where mariachis congregate. He told his friends he'd be back in three days.

He stayed 12 years.

"It was a crash course at first, but I actually ended up playing with the mariachis," Clark recalled. "I played the guitarrone, the mariachis' bass guitar, and I knew a few songs well enough that they'd put up with me. I'd never had a teacher. Then I met (Natividad) Santiago, the greatest guitarrone player in the world, and he offered to take me on as a student."

Clark became the first non-Latino to truly penetrate the mariachi culture in Mexico City and, without any formal ethnomusicology training, one of the world's foremost experts on mariachis.

"During breaks, the older musicians would tell me stories, anecdotes. I got a tape recorder, and at first I didn't know what I would do with it--I was doing oral history without knowing what that was.

"I started collecting photographs. I would go to somebody's house, they'd pull out photos and I'd take them to be duplicated. It was like a treasure chest."

Fogelquist, on the other hand, earned a master's degree in ethnomusicology at UCLA ("Uclatlan" was named for his alma mater) and his thesis remains the only reference material in English about mariachis. It was Fogelquist who initiated the San Jose City College program that launched Clark on his odyssey of mariachi mentorship.

Fogelquist offered this short history of the mariachi Mass: It was put together ("not composed," he stressed) in the late '60s by a French Canadian priest at the Cathedral of Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City. The priest set the traditional movements of the Latin Mass--the Kyrie and Gloria, for example--to melodies from the various countries of Latin America and translated the words into vernacular Spanish. The "Missa Panamericana" was an instant success.

"Groups all over Mexico and Southern California--really an extension of Mexico anyway--started to perform it," Fogelquist recalled. "In the 1970s, one church in Los Angeles performed the Mass four or five times a day. Interest waned in the '80s, but now it's reviving.

"When we play the Mass at weddings, it's a big deal. Every Dec. 12 we play it in church to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe. (It is) the biggest holiday in Mexico, the day that commemorates the appearance of the Virgin to a poor Indian peasant in the 16th Century. We play it at 4 a.m. and the place is packed."

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