Promising a Feliz Navidad unlike any Bakersfield has ever experienced, acclaimed group Mariachi Sol de Mexico will bring its popular "A Merry-Achi Christmas" show to the Fox Theater on Dec. 6.
Under the direction of founder Jose Hernandez, the Grammy-nominated, best-selling ensemble is celebrating its 23rd year of bringing holiday cheer from south of the border.
“Our holiday tour has become an annual tradition across the West,” said Hernandez during a recent phone interview. “It truly is a celebration of how Mexico celebrates Christmas with songs de posadas and all those beautiful traditions.”
Combining a blend of classics such as “Jingle Bells,” “Oh Holy Night,” “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” and many more from the annual holiday songbook, the group arranges and performs the songs with colorful fanfare and splendor — mariachi style.
“It’s a very beautiful form of music, and when you put it down on paper, it’s also very intricate. We’re talking rhythmically and stylistically,” said Hernandez.
Founded in 1981, the group built by Hernandez rose from humble beginnings in Southern California working the mariachi music circuit. In 1986, the group’s reputation began to flourish working as the house band at Hernandez’s Cielito Lindo restaurant in South El Monte, where the group continues to perform regularly to this day.
Known for its performances of mariachi standards, the group also became known for pushing the boundaries of the genre, by recording its own mariachi-fied adaptations pulled from the American pop songbook: “New York, New York,” “Recordando a Glenn Miller,” a medley of big-band hits, a Beach Boys tribute and Elvis Presley, all becoming showstoppers at performances.
Humbled by success, Hernandez has taken the group from the restaurant to the road, garnering a cross-section of fans of every demographic along the way. But it wasn’t until a promotional tour of Mexico in 1998 that Hernandez says he saw the musical impact they were having outside California.
“When EMI Capitol sent us to Mexico, a lot of the mariachi from Plaza Garibaldi (known as the home of mariachi music in Mexico City) were asking us to do a lot of songs from our album 'La Nueva Era Del Mariachi' (The New Era of Mariachi). They thought that I had used studio musicians to record the big-band stuff. When they heard us live for the first time playing those songs, their jaws were hanging down. So, after the release of those early albums, it really changed the way mariachi musicians looked at themselves and the possibilities of music for mariachi ensembles to play.”
For this latest anniversary holiday tour, Hernandez says old and new fans will treated to a selection of new additions including Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite,” Handel's “Hallelujah" chorus and more.
“There are selections that we do every holiday tour: 'Oh Holy Night' and 'Sleigh Ride,' 'Feliz Navidad,' music that is fun for the kids, so we keep those classics in the show. What changes is the other 50 percent of the repertoire.”
The group’s latest album titled “Leyendas de Mi Pueblo” is a tribute to those legendary artists of the genre including the late great Pedro Infante, Javier Solis, Jorge Negrete and living legends such as Vicente Fernandez, to name a few.
“People love those tributes and we mix it up. That’s why the tour does so well,” he said.
But at the Fox, the primary focus will be Christmas, and the group’s brand-new “Merry-Achi Christmas” will be for continued enjoyment at future holiday fiestas. Released on Thursday, the album will be available for purchase at the show.
“I really want to invite all families to come out and enjoy this program," Hernandez said. "I can say it is bilingual because I do speak some English during the show as we celebrate the music from different regions of Mexico: Veracruz, Hidalgo, Jalisco. If you want to expose your kids to Mexican culture, this is the show you should attend.”