Mariachi Divas’ music flavored from around the world
By Richard Carter
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Cindy Shea grew up around Mariachi music, but wasn’t formally introduced to it until she began playing with an all-female Mariachi band in the early 1990’s.
Her love for the trumpet, on the other hand, began early, very early. “It was the show ‘F Troop,’ with its reveilles and everything, that made me want to play the trumpet when I was a little girl,” Shea said. “Nobody knows what I’m talking about when I say that,” she said with a laugh.
The non-traditional group has served as house band for Disneyland Resort for 15 years. The multicultural Divas features traditional and non-traditional instrumentalists who perform music – much of which is non-traditional – flavored with musical forms from around the world.
Shea was first introduced to Mariachi when she was playing in a salsa act. “An all-female Mariachi band asked if I wanted to play with them. I’m always up for a challenge and I did it. I really liked it, but I had my own ideas what I wanted to do with the music as far as being more innovative or expressing myself musically.”
Shea wanted to be more flexible with the music, adding new instrumentation like a flute or various forms of percussion. She also wanted to add solos to the songs and introduce new musical forms like swing.
To do that, Shea realized she would have to form and lead her own band. Challenges were nothing new to her, as she encountered resistance already as young girl wanting to play trumpet, she said, “because it was typically a man’s instrument.
“My challenges for Mariachi were more that I had blonde hair and blue-eyed, Irish Italian. I kind of had a double whammy trying to prove myself, and also that I loved this music.
“Why can’t someone just love a certain style of music? Music to me was universal. There were no borders,” she said.
Shea said she used no game plan when beginning the Divas. “A lot of things happened in the moment. I heard about people who played timbales, and I said ‘Let’s try it.’” There were such a diverse variety of talented female musicians to choose from in Los Angeles, she said, whose parents came from so many different countries.
“It was a complete multi-culture group when I first started, and there’s now a whole new group of women than when I first started.” There are musicians from so many different cultures including Guatemalan, Peruvian, Honduran and Cuban.
The beauty of Mariachi, she said, is that it’s a contribution of musical styles from around the world. “It’s not like one style, which after 10 minutes, it’s old already. You have traditional styles from countries like Mexico, Columbia, Spain and Germany, and you can also add jazz, swing and blues.
Because the musicians play daily at Disneyland and also tour and record, there are many, many Divas, she said. They can all perform the same repertoire, but the instrumentation and musical flavors change with the pairings.