On a November day in Los Angeles, the mariachis get started early in the morning. Violinists in silver-spangled trajes de charro (horsemen’s uniforms) of black, white, orange, green and blue march past Victorian homes, sawing out melodies in unison. Trumpeters follow, then scrawny teens hauling hefty wooden guitarrones, plucking sturdy basslines. A woman with white flowers in her hair carries a gold trumpet; a toddler in a tiny traje trails after a man with a violin, wearing a matching suit. Everyone sings.
This march through the streets to the East L.A. space known as Mariachi Plaza opened the Fiesta Anual de Santa Cecilia, named for the Roman martyr and patroness of music. Eighteen hundred years after the saint’s death, hundreds of performers led a raucous all-day party, with dozens of onlookers parked on concrete benches and folding chairs, watching groups from youth orchestras to Grammy-nominated acts (including the platinum-selling Sol de Mexico) play well into the night. “Here in L.A., on the plaza, it’s like in Mexico, where mariachis are there 24/7,” says Benito Rojas, a manager and trumpeter with Stockton, Calif.-based Mariachi Luz de Luna, who drove to L.A. to catch the festival.