Michelle Cormier is having fun, and why not? The leader of Las Estrellas de Vancouver is in Mexico City, playing music, researching future collaborations, and buying new clothes for her all-female mariachi ensemble.
“More glitz!” she says, laughing. “Well, you know, a mariachi group needs to present itself as a mariachi group, so we do have to look the part.”
It may come as a surprise to some that Vancouver has a resident mariachi orchestra, let alone one staffed exclusively by women. But over the past four years Las Estrellas have been establishing a good reputation for themselves—and an impressive collection of black, red, and silver stage wear. Building from her love of “the traditional music of pretty much everywhere”, VCC grad Cormier has gone from studying classical guitar, flamenco, and gamelan to leading both a youth mariachi band, which came first, and this relatively new, fully professional ensemble.
“I would often get calls for events that might not be appropriate for the student group, so having a professional group also on hand was a good idea,” she says, noting that some—but not all—of those events might involve the consumption of the occasional cerveza.
“A mariachi band is often called for parties,” Cormier explains. “For instance, I was going to meet with a friend today, but he’s just gotten called for a gig. They’re always on call: it could be for a funeral, it could be for a wedding, it could be for a birthday party, it could be for anything at any time of day. So a mariachi ensemble functions as a social party band, and then there are a lot of pop singers that have a mariachi band. And with the ones at the party, the client requests songs, so you have no idea what songs you’re going to play—which is kind of frightening and also sort of cool, because you have to have a million songs in your head.”
Most of those songs have a common theme, she adds: love. “They’re either love songs, or broken-hearted love songs. But there are also love songs about their place. It’s not exactly patriotism, but they sing songs about their town, about their state… That sort of thing.”
Some modern mariachi bands mix things up a bit further; Cormier notes that she recently heard a group covering Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” and, rather pointedly, “Another Brick in the Wall”. Las Estrellas probably won’t go that far afield for their upcoming Vancouver Folk Music Festival appearances, which will take place both on-stage and off-.
“We’ll be delivering a mix of romantic tunes, some that people can sing along to and some that people can dance to,” Cormier says. “And mariachi music is originally from the state of Jalisco, so we’ll have a couple of songs that are very specifically from there.
“I try to create a nice mix of repertoire,” she adds. “And then, for when we’re walking around and playing within the crowd, it will definitely be more dance-y!”
Las Estrellas de Vancouver play the Vancouver Folk Music Festival’s Stage 1 at 12:20 p.m. on Saturday (July 14). For more information, visit the VFMF website.