It’s odd when you realize that Flor de Toloache — made up of Mireya I. Ramos on violin, Shae Fiol on vihuela, Julie Acosta on trumpet and Eunice Aparicio on guitarron— is New York City’s first all-female mariachi band. After all, this is a musical expression formed in 18th century Western Mexico, and the West Coast has had Mariachi Divas since 1999 and Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles since 1994!
But this East Coast dearth was exactly the reason founder Ramos started the group in 2008. “I had already been playing with male mariachis in NYC prior to forming this group, and was amazed at the fact that NYC — being such an important city — had almost no female mariachi players. I knew that if we were to be known as the first all-female mariachi in NYC, we would make history.”
Ramos, whose father who was a mariachi, says she has powerful memories of the genre from childhood her back to her childhood. “Listening to my dad’s powerful voice, going table to table serenading people at our family owned restaurant and seeing people’s faces looking at my dad with admiration at times crying of joy because they have been touched by music.” After playing for with male mariachis for half a decade, she started seeing videos of women mariachis in the West Coast and got inspired.
She corralled Shae into forming Flor de Toloache. “I even had to learn Guitarron (bass) because we couldn’t find a female guitarron player.” The group is named after a sacred Mexican flower, used by the Aztecs for medicinal purposes and by women as a love potion. “I thought it was the perfect name for us,” Ramos said. Firsts aside, Ramos wanted to show off New York City’s diversity by expressing it via music and original arrangements. “It was also important to create a platform for women to come together make awesome music and be able to make money by doing what we love,” she said.
They gigged everywhere in the city, and played consistently in the subway. “[We] put ourselves out there to play all over the city which lead to our first big story on the Daily News … that opened the doors to all the other main media including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and more.” With the media attention, Flor de Toloache’s sound and style has gotten stronger. Their outfits are still based on traditional mariachi suits, just sexier; their musical set is often a fusion of cumbia, Latin jazz, rancheras and reworked American contemporary songs. “We also started creating a new sound by trying new things of all genres we loved so much. With Shae’s knowledge of American rock, soul, salsa and my knowledge of Latin/mariachi, R&B and more, we started making our own arrangements and medleys.”
Today, Flor de Toloache plays to audiences worldwide. “A lot of these people have either never seen a mariachi or didn’t even have interest in the music; after watching us and being able to connect with the music in a unique way, interest to mariachi happens. It has been remarkable to see that,” she says.
The band, which has been nominated for a Latin Grammy for “Best Ranchera Album,” has an OC connection to the West Coast now, too; they’ve collaborated with Angelenos Chicano Batman on their latest album. Flor de Toloache are performing at Segerstrom Center’s Samueli Theater on Jan. 14 as part of Off Center 2017.