With flowers strewn through their hair, critically lauded Flor de Toloache took to the stage at 191 Toole, on Tuesday, Jan 22. From the outset, the audience was left to ponder… Was this sisterhood compromised of florid roses born out of love? Or the beguiling blooms of chrysanthemums wrought from heartache? It was hard to tell. Regardless, their reputation as NYC’s first and only all-female mariachi preceded them.
Vocalist/vihuelista, Shae Fiol expands, “We are women of New York City absorbing its diversity and putting it into our sound. It’s all about the love of music.”
The fact that their 2017 album Las Caras Lindas (Chulo Records) won Best Ranchero/Mariachi Album at the 18th Latin Grammy Awards only added to their street cred.
The posies that comprised this evening’s vibrant bouquet: Founding member, vocalist/violinist Mireya Ramos, trumpeter Jackie Coleman, guitarronista Amanda Lozano and Fiol. Hailing from diverse cultural and musical backgrounds—Australia and Italy to Puerto Rico, classical and jazz to hip hop—the result of this coalescence is an edgy, fresh and iconoclastic take on traditional Mexican music which breathes new life into a too-often staid and testosterone permeated genre.
Early into their 90 minute set, promulgating a message of empowerment, Ramos said, “A grito can resemble a laugh or a cry. And, a shot or two of tequila doesn’t hurt.” Echoing mariachi icon Lolá Beltran from days of lore, reclaiming this spontaneous burst of emotion for a new generation, Flor de Toloache called out to the audience to engage in a bit of primal scream therapy, Latin style, and release “one unified grito.” “Aye yai yai yai,” resounded throughout. From that moment until the final bow—not unlike the effect of the legendary toloache flower used by Mexican curanderos as a potent love potion—this band of soul sisters mesmerized, casting a spell over the audience.
Their set, eclectic. It encompassed beautiful original compositions—the mournful “Éste Vacío,” the bittersweet “Dulces Recuerdos” and the delicious stylistic mélange that is “Let Down”—as well as traditional standards, “Guadalajara” and a soulful rendition of “Bésame Mucho.” An unexpected moment came midset. One that the orthodoxy may see as nothing short of heresy. A medley which included fresh takes on Prince, Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Eurythmics and Led Zeppelin motifs—expanding Flor de Toloache’s oeuvre and pushing the lexicon of mariachi music into nuevas fronteras.
XOXO spoke with Flor de Toloache after the show.
What does it mean to you to be an all-female mariachi in what has typically been a male dominated genre?
Amanda Lozano: It’s very liberating. I come from San Antonio. When I left to join Toloache, a lot of the guys [male mariachis] were outraged. “You shouldn’t be wearing pants. You shouldn’t be doing that.” Now, they are jealous. We are out breaking barriers. And they are still doing the same old thing. A girl can be just as good, if not better.
Mireya Ramos: I am very proud of what we are doing. I come from a mariachi background, through my father. I am very blessed that he is very supportive. For him it’s a dream come true that we are carrying that legacy and tradition in a different way. We wouldn’t be authentic if we were a traditional mariachi.
Jackie Coleman: Someone came up to me today, surprised, that I play trumpet. “There are no female mariachi trumpeters in Arizona.” We are proving that we can do it as good as the guys.
Shae Fiol: One important thing that we bring to the genre as women, with our original compositions, is the female perspective. Because it is mostly written by men for men. I’m proud to be adding that to the genre.
What is next for Flor de Toloache?
Mireya Ramos: We have a new album coming out on Valentine’s Day. A single coming out with R&B singer Miguel. We have collaborations with [Latin indie-rockers] Making Movies and No Te Va Gustar, an amazing band from Uruguay. We have a lot of beautiful things happening this year.
Shae Fiol: Also, we are collaborating with an agency and the Southern Poverty Law Center and they are working together, along with us, to release a single that provides legal advice for families in border towns.
So, there is an aspect of political activism behind the group?
Mireya Ramos: What we do on its own serves its purpose. That alone is a statement. We don’t necessarily have to go down the road of politics. But, we are very clear in what we support—our communities, our women, all cultures, unity and diversity in a peaceful world—and what we do not.
Accordingly, after long oppressive years of patriarchy, it is fitting to declare that the reigning sovereigns of mariachi are all women. But digging deeper, their rising star has little to do with gender. And, everything to do with their talent.