Arts, Culture & Media

Nuevo mariachi is telling the story of one man's California experience

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Omar Naré singing and playing guitar

Omar Naré runs through a song prior to his show, "VIVO: A Chicano Performance," at the BitWise, a tech hub with a long, rectangular theater in downtown Fresno, California, Nov. 11, 2017. 

Credit:

Brittany Greeson/GroundTruth

When you think of mariachi, you’ll likely picture a band of men in embroidered suits and sombreros, playing guitar, violin and trumpet for diners in a Mexican restaurant.

For Omar Naré, that was exactly the problem. Mariachi was veering off into the realm of a stereotype, or worse yet, a relic. Mariachi had stalled, and it needed new life.

But innovation is hard when a musical genre has become central to Mexican cultural identity. Omar’s grandfather came to Central California as a farm laborer from Mexico, and he brought mariachi with him. Omar grew up hearing mariachi at family get-togethers on his grandfather’s ranch in Sanger, California. His uncle taught him his first mariachi songs. As a child, Omar had a career as a mariachi singer, traveling around California on weekends playing festivals and venues. And he even had a chance at being a teenage Latin pop star.

Now Omar is creating music he calls nuevo mariachi. He plays shows in trendy venues, like art galleries — not in Mexican restaurants. He doesn’t wear the outfit associated with mariachis, which is called the charro. Usually, you’ll find him dressed simply in a button-down shirt. And Omar is writing new songs — with new chords and stripped-down instrumentation.

For Omar, nuevo mariachi is about telling the story of his Californian experience. But doing that means breaking the rules. Which raises the question: Is what Omar is doing still mariachi?

Photographer Brittany Greeson spent a day with Omar Naré and Jasmín La Carís as they prepared for their show, "VIVO: A Chicano Performance," at the BitWise theater in Fresno, California, on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017.

Omar Naré, 33, and his wife and collaborator, Jasmín La Carís, 31, are pictured at their home in Fresno, California

Omar Naré, 33, and his wife and collaborator, Jasmín La Carís, 31, are pictured at their home in Fresno, California, on Nov. 11, 2017. They are preparing for a performance later in the day. Omar is a singer/songwriter and Jasmín is a contemporary flamenco and modern dancer. 

Credit:

Brittany Greeson/GroundTruth

Omar performs music he calls nuevo mariachi. Here he his warming up for a performance.

Omar performs music he calls nuevo mariachi. It is his approach to reimagining the traditional Mexican music for his experience as a third-generation Mexican American from California’s Central Valley. 

Credit:

Brittany Greeson/GroundTruth

Omar’s wife, Jasmín, helps him fix his hair before their performance

Omar’s wife, Jasmín, helps him fix his hair before their performance. 

Credit:

Brittany Greeson/GroundTruth

Omar’s Mexican grandfather, Adolfo Fernandez, came to California’s Central Valley to work in the fields as a farm laborer. On his father’s side, Omar is of Kuwaiti descent. It is this multi-cultural experience in the Central Valley that Omar is trying to

Omar’s Mexican grandfather, Adolfo Fernández, came to California’s Central Valley to work in the fields as a farm laborer. On his father’s side, Omar is of Kuwaiti descent. It is this multicultural experience in the Central Valley that Omar is trying to express in his musical project. 

Credit:

Brittany Greeson/GroundTruth

Omar and his collaborator, violinist Patrick Contreras, wait outside the theater before going on stage for their show, VIVO.

Omar and his collaborator, violinist Patrick Contreras, wait outside the theater before going on stage for their show, "VIVO: A Chicano Performance." Patrick grew up in Fresno, playing classical violin and violin in mariachi bands.

Credit:

Brittany Greeson/GroundTruth

Omar, Jasmín and Patrick reunite outside the theater to finish off the finale of their show, as the audience comes out to greet them.

Omar, Jasmín and Patrick reunite outside the theater to finish off the finale of their show as the audience comes out to greet them. 

Credit:

Brittany Greeson/GroundTruth

Omar locks eyes with his wife, Jasmín, on stage as violinist Patrick Contreras makes his way offstage and into the crowd during the final number of their performance.

Omar locks eyes with his wife, Jasmín, on stage as violinist Patrick Contreras makes his way offstage and into the crowd during the final number of their performance.

Credit:

Brittany Greeson/GroundTruth

This is an excerpt from an episode of “The New American Songbook,” which is produced by Heidi Shin and Ian Coss, in partnership with The GroundTruth Project, WGBH, and MassHumanities. Listen to the full podcast here

In Arts, Culture & MediaCultureMusicGlobal Nation.

Tagged: MexicoCaliforniaOmar NarémariachimusicCaliforniagenerations.