Mariachi cheat sheet

Five songs you will hear at this Saturdays Orange County Fair mariachi fest:

"El Rey": This José Alfredo Jiménez standard's popularity is perhaps the best insight into the Mexican psyche outside of the tortilla. I mean, what other nation would embrace a song advocating a machismo so obnoxious ("With or without money/I do what I want/And my word is the law") that just thinking about the song in front of a woman should constitute attempted rape?

"Cielito Lindo": Its "Ai, yai, yai, yai" cry is probably the only Mexican song stanza that gabachos ever bother to memorize. Their loss, since if you hum the rest of "Cielito Lindo" ("Beautiful Heaven") to your beloved, they'll pledge fealty to you forever.

"La Negra": What "The Stars and Stripes Forever" is to high school marching bands, "La Negra" is to mariachi combos. Every mariachi plays this slow, swirling song, where violins reach a pizzicato coda as the fat guitarrón plucks away toward the sky. Never gets boring even after it's heard for the trillionth time.

"Los Laureles": Made famous by Linda Rondstadt in her 1987 classic Canciones de mi Padre (Songs of My Father), it's an opportunity for women to prove that they can yelp as long and drunkenly as any man.

"México, Lindo y Querido": Translating as "Mexico, Beautiful and Beloved," it's an ode to Mexico that makes "America the Beautiful" seem as jingoistic as "God Save the Queen." The song's immortal refrain--"Dear and beloved Mexico/If I die far away from you/May they say that I'm sleeping/And that they return me to you"--serves as simultaneous catharsis and aspiration for the millions of Mexicans in el Norte. Which raises the question: Why did they move to the United States in the first place?

LA FIESTA MUNDIAL DE MARIACHI WILL RONCAR AT THE PACIFIC AMPHITHEATRE, ORANGE COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS, 88 FAIR DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 740-2000; WWW.OCFAIR.COM. SAT., 6 P.M. $45-$70. ALL AGES.

 
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