Photo: Mariachis Fight for Work Against Those They Call "Pirates"
In Los Angeles, California, there is an area commonly referred to as “Mariachi Plaza.”
The spot has gone by that name and been a place for Mariachi bands to congregate since the 1940s, but today, there is sort of “Mariachi battle” going on between what mariachi musicians call the “pirates” and “the businessmen.”
Alejandro Cisneros told the New York Times that the pirates are those that put on a mariachi costume to fool customers into thinking they are legitimate mariachi musicians, when in fact they know nothing about the music’s history.
Another musician told the NYTimes that “the businessmen” are “too focused on charging more money and pushing out those who they believe are taking gigs they do not deserve, playing at weddings and quinceañeras and the occasional backyard cookout.”
Though the groups agree on very little, they have attempted to come together on one very important point, how much a mariachi should charge.
“This is our profession, our job, our passion,” Mr. Cisneros told the NYTimes. “We don’t want to have it ruined by these people who do not know what they are doing.”
Ariso says he charges whatever customers are willing to pay, but for years the going rate was $50 an hour for each musician. For mariachi bands, that is usually six musicians. However, the rate changed just a few years ago when new musicians arrived and the jobs became few and far between. As a means of getting more jobs, some of the bands dropped the long-established rate to $30.
In an attempt to standardize the rate, about 200 mariachis have joined the United Mariachi Organization of Los Angeles. To join, musicians are required to pay $10 a month and pledge not to charge less than $50/hr per musician. To identify themselves as part of the organization, the musicians are given a gold-colored photo ID card that will hopefully show customers that there is an authority at work with the “good” mariachis, and will prevent poor results, and complaints.
“We want to have a standard,” Mr. Ramirez said to the NYTimes. “There are good and there are bad, and it is difficult to tell who is who when you just hear them play one song. If you buy a pair of pants for $20 and another for $80, it’s not the same quality. The same is true for music. For this to work, we need people to understand the difference.”