Vicente Fernandez called me today and yelled “You’re destroying Mariachi. All your ideas are crazy!”
I told him, “Chente, Chente, how could I ever do what you did? You’re the king of Ranchera. The KING! You drip Mexicanismo. I could never be you. I don’t even want to try.”
“Well then, who are you?” he snorted.
I thought about it for second and answered, “I started singing Mariachi professionally at age 12 and by the time I was 15, I was on a plane to Italy……”
“¡Ay! I don’t care about what you did as a niño mocoso. I want to know who you are ahorita mismo.” I could feel his glaring eyes through the phone.
I don’t know why I let loose. “You want to know who I am? I’m half-Arabic and half-Mexican and I’m from California. I hate that Mariachi is in the dirt right now. Whose coming up after you Vincent? Your son Alejandro? He’s in Pop-land. El Bebeto? I’m sorry but he’s about being a mujeriego and his voice sucks. Nah… change has to come from the outside. Somebody who is thinking differently.”
“Taking away las trompetas isn’t thinking differently.” he said.
“For me it is. I have to understand the roots of Mariachi. Getting rid of the trumpets has forced me to be creative. I’m trying to get a huge sound from three instruments. Besides, I’m Arabic! My people invented the violin.”
Vicente laughed for a full minute! Then he said, “But real Mexicanos, la gente del rancho, they aren’t going to understand your music.”
“Then it’s not for them. I’m making Mariachi music for people like me. Please understand, this is California Mariachi. Yes, the music was born in Jalisco but I wasn’t. I’m changing the music. I’m singing to Mexican-Americans.”
“Is that who you are?”
Vicente sighed. “You are going against everything I’ve worked to create. I can’t give you my blessing. There are no roads where you are going. Frankly, I think you’ll fail.”
“I think I’m going to prove you wrong.”
We talked for a few more minutes after that. I think, deep down, Vicente respected me because he gave me some advice. He said to always sing through my heart, to tell the truth, and that fame is less important than knowledge. “Always keep God first.” Then he gave me the number to the guy who makes his sombreros.