Trio Bembe Interviews Gabriel Fields of Mariachi Ghost

Gabriel Fields – Crazy for Mexican Music

Gabriel recently played atJuss Jazz as part of Trio Bembe’s Latin Music Showcase. The show went over so well that there is now a regular Latin Night at Juss Jazz on Sundays, from 8 – 11 pm. You can catch Gabriel with Mariachi Ghost this Sunday, Jan 15.

TB: Who are you, what do you play, and who do you play with?
GF: My name is Gabriel Fields, I am a stringed instrument nerd and I play “jarana” (a Mexican rhythm guitar, pronounced ha-rana), guitar, and “guitarra vozarrona” (a big Mexican bass melody guitar also known as “Leona”). I currently play with the band Mariachi Ghost and from time to time accompany spoken word artist T’ai Pu.

TB: Why are you always going to Mexico? What’s down there anyway?

GF: The people, the music and the food! I went down there a few years ago for a semester abroad when I was in university and I fell in love with the place. When I had the chance to travel again, a couple years later, nostalgia and my burgeoning obsession with Mexican “son” (regional folk music styles) called me back. On this second trip I discovered and got sucked into the wonderful world of Son Jarocho music and the culture of Fandangos in southern rural Veracruz. I was welcomed into a community of musicians passionate about living and preserving their traditions, traditions which often involve playing music together till the early hours of the morning… Having been bitten by the Son Jarocho bug, or el “bicho”, as they say in Spanish, when I go back, I had to be part of that community and to play this music that makes me incredibly happy.

TB: What do you like to eat in Mexico? How is it made?

GF: Everything! But if I had to chose, I would say “Tacos al Pastor”. They (and pretty much all tacos in general for that matter) are nothing like the tacos we are used to; no lettuce, no ground beef, no taco spice. These tacos are made with pork, the meat is covered in a red sauce or “adobo” and is cooked on a spit in the same way kebabs or shawarma are prepared. At the top of the spit, generally there’s half a cut pineapple. The meat is then shaven off and served with onions and cilantro on a small corn tortilla, and if you want they’ll slice off some of the pineapple too, I always do. Then you can choose from a number of salsas and condiments. I always squeeze lime juice on mine, I almost always go for the green salsas and “pico de gallo”, also, if they’re available, I like put some marinated radish slices on them. I generally get 4 or 5 but I have eaten up to 8 in one sitting. They’re delicious and cheap, I just wish Canadian food safety laws would permit “Taco al pastor” stands…just one more reason to go back to Mexico!

TB: How did you come to play with the Mariachi Ghost, and what project are you working on with them now?

GF: My good friend and musical jam partner Jorge Requena was getting together a band to orchestrate some music he had written, inspired by a comic he was creating by the same name, for the Winnipeg Fringe Festival and he asked me if I would play jarana. Five more musicians joined us, the show was a success and we became Mariachi Ghost. That was 2.5 years ago, we now play in different configurations;  the 8-piece Mariachi Ghost band with musicians and dancers plays original pieces fusing Mexican traditional music with rock, funk, and Latin rhythms. The quartet plays traditional Mexican Mariachi, Son Jarocho and Bolero tunes like what we played at Juss Jazz last weekend. We’re playing there again this Sunday (Jan 15th) and our next show as a full band will be on March 9th at the Park Theatre. It’s a double bill, Mariachi Ghost and Sandy Taronno (Qunizy).
TB: Explain Son Jarocho music to us (layman’s terms please!)

GF: Son Jarocho is the music of southern Veracruz in Mexico. It’s a vibrant musical tradition that spans over 300 years and is born from the mixture of Spanish, African and Indigenous cultures that region. Its maximum expression is the Fandango or Huapango, a celebration that brings together entire communities not just the musicians, singers, and dancers. The music is played on different handmade guitars (often carved out of single pieces of wood) native to southern Veracruz. The jarana is the backbone; it’s the rhythm guitar, and comes in many different sizes, from the deep voiced “tercera” to the bright sounding “mosquito”. The melody is played by the “guitarra de son” and the bass-like “guitarra vozarrona”, these instruments lead the music by declaring which “son” or tune is going to be played and setting the pace (In some parts of Veracruz the harp takes this role). The driving force and heart of the Fandango is the “tarima”, the raised wooden stage that is placed at the centre of the party. It acts as the main percussion instrument and is played by dancers stomping the rhythms on it with there feet; without dancers there can be no Fandango. Each “son” has its own dance steps and choreography and its own set of lyrics often involving call and response. Lyrics are not set; as long as they fit with the theme and structure of a “son”, singers are free to sing the verses that best express how they feel at that moment; the best singers will sometimes even improvise them. Son Jarocho has a raw energy and a warmth that needs to be experienced first hand (like this Sunday at Juss Jazz), but make sure to get in a late afternoon nap, because a good Fandango lasts till the early, and sometimes late, hours of the morning…

Gabriel has his own roadie to carry all his different Mexican guitars to his shows.

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