Interview: A Q&A with Mariachi Las Adelitas’ Anna Csergo

Formed back in 2013, Mariachi Las Adelitas,  features members originally from Mexico, Cuba, Colombia and the UK – and is Europe’s first all-female mariachi band. Created by its members to shatter stereotypes within a very male-dominated genre, the septet features a collection of fantastic instrumentalists and no less than three lead vocalists. (That’s right, three!) Their repertoire includes the mariachi classics, as well as mariachi-styled arrangements of well-known and beloved classics — in English. 

Since their formation, the band has quickly become an in-demand live act: they’ve serenaded Selma Hayek for her birthday. They’ve opened for Arcade Fire at London’s Earl Court. And they received standing ovation at the International Mariachi Women’s Festival where they shared the stage with the two-time Grammy Award winning Mariachi Divas. Adding to a growing profile, they’ve played the Victoria & Albert Museum and at The Roundhouse.

Earlier this month, I wrote about the sepet’s debut single “El Toro Relajo.” Rearranged by the band’s founder Anita Adelita (a.k.a. Anna Csergo) and recorded during pandemic-related lockdowns, the gorgeous Mariachi Las Adelitas rendition reveals a super talented band that can really play – and a vocalist, who reminds me at points of a young Linda Rondstadt. Shortly, after the official release of the single, the members of Mariachis Las Adelitas played a streamed set at this year’s virtual International Women’s Mariachi Festival, where the official video for “El Toro Relajo” saw its world premiere.

The DIY video was filmed and edited during pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions. And as a result, we see the individual band members performing – in full regalia – in their backyards, in their home studio set ups, in a local church or on the street. And there’s an adorable appearance by Csergo’s kids, also in full regalia dancing and stomping around in her backyard. It’s a homey family affair. 

I recently conducted an emailed Q&A with Mariachi Las Adelitas’ founder Anita Adelita (a.k.a. Anna Csergo) – and we discussed women in mariachi, her and the band’s inspirations and aims, their recent International Women’s Mariachi Festival performance, their new video and more. Check out the video and the intenrview below. 

WRH: I’ve mentioned this on Twitter: I happen to adore mariachi. Way before the pandemic, you’d occasionally come across a mariachi – in the full uniform, too! – on the subway. Every single one of them would be amazing, I can think of maybe one or two all-female mariachi groups here in the States/North America. Your group, Mariachi Las Adelitas is currently Europe’s only all-women mariachi act. So how rare is it to come across a female mariachi? And why is that the case? 

Anna Csergo: Although now enjoying growth and recognition, female Mariachi bands are rare even in Mexico and the U.S, let alone in Europe. 

Mariachi is traditionally a very male dominated genre, perhaps it doesn’t help in a society where women are traditionally the main caregivers to children, that gigs are often last minute, late at night, at dawn, and sometimes with a very drunk clientele!  

Female mariachi bands are not a new phenomenon however. The original Mariachi Las Adelitas was formed in Mexico in 1954.

 WRH: How did you get into mariachi? 

AC: I was already intrigued by mariachi firstly due to the prominent violin sections and then by all of the rhythmic elements slotting together, and the power in the vocals and the trumpets! So, when I saw an advertisement in a local paper, I replied straight away . . .  the rest is history!

WRH: What is the inspiration behind Mariachi Las Adelitas? What do you and the other women in the group hope to achieve? 

AC: The warrior women of the Mexican revolution, known as the ‘Adelitas’ or ‘Soldaderas‘ are our greatest inspiration. These women, despite their caring duties, took to arms in the frontline alongside the men, and were pivotal in revolution’s success. 

The black and white photos of these women holding a rifle in one hand and a baby in the other are mind-blowing.

We hope to empower and inspire women from all nationalities, and young men too, to know that anything is achievable.

Being a woman or a mother or coming from any background doesn’t have to limit your expectations or the possibilities available to you as a professional.

WRH: The band does a mix of the mariachi standards along with mariachi renditions of beloved and familiar classics in English. How do you pick the songs in your repertoire? How do you go about rearranging a song? 

AC: We pick songs that strike a chord with us. It’s not difficult in a genre which easily stirs up the whole spectrum of emotions and has so many amazing rhythms to choose from.

The most important thing for us is to ensure that we are respectful and faithful to the genre in our arrangements. 

We didn’t want to do straight covers of English songs with only our instruments and mariachi suits making the difference. We wanted to do everything to remain faithful to traditional mariachi style even when covering non-mariachi songs. I think that is a unique feature of our band.

WRH: The band features women from Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Italy and the UK. With pandemic-related lockdowns affecting everything and everyone, how have you and your bandmates managed to remain creative. How has your creative process changed as a result? 

AC: It was deflating to suddenly lose all of our work and suddenly not see one- another anymore. When a musician stops practising his or her art something falls apart inside. We are hugely grateful to Arts La’Olam organisation who secured funding for us from Arts Council England so that the musicians could be paid a fee for their recordings. Although initially it was just going to be ‘amateur’ lockdown videos, the purchase of some very basic recording equipment (mic and soundcard) made it possible to create quality audio recordings from our homes on a budget. We are very pleased with the results and are now inspired to keep going!

WRH: How was it like to record remotely? 

AC: It was a challenge since it was very hard to explain exactly the feel I was looking for and then make revisions after the musicians had sent in their recordings. 

It will definitely be easier to be with the musicians when recordings are made in future. Here’s hoping Covid19 conditions allow!

WRH: How do you and your bandmates balance being a mother with professional and creative work?

AC: It is certainly not easy! I fell pregnant with my triplets soon after forming the band and had their baby brother within less than 2 years. For the first few years it really was about survival for the band as well as for the children! To be honest, I really don’t understand how we managed it, we literally scraped through somehow! 

Now the children are a little older we try whenever possible to rehearse during the school or nursery day, but there are many times when they are with us for rehearsals and even performances. Luckily, they have learnt to love and respect what we do, often pulling out their little instruments and joining in with the noisemaking or coming up onto the stage and dancing!  

WRH: You recently participated in the International Mariachi Women’s Festival for the second time. How did that go for the band?

AC: It’s an absolute honour for us to be slotted between Jose Hernandez from Sol de Mexico‘s Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles and twice Grammy award-winning Mariachi Divas! We are just a drop in the ocean and have been self-taught through listening to recordings and watching YouTube, so to have our music featured in between these two institutions is surreal! Thanks to the organiser of the festival and founder of the Mariachi Women’s foundation Dr. Leonor Xochitl Perez for coming to London, finding us and believing in us!

WRH: This year’s International Mariachi Women’s Festival also featured the premiere of the video for “El Toro Relajo.” The video was also shot and edited remotely. The video features your four children dressed up in Mexican outfits and dancing in your garden. it’s adorable. How did the video treatment come about? How was the video received?

AC: As with the audio, the video was shot in or around our own homes during lockdown. Schools were shut and our children were with us 24/7.  Mine wanted to join in so instead of resisting I had them dress up in their Mexican outfits and dance around in the garden. A short clip of the video has been available for a few days on Facebook and has already had a crazy number of views, let’s hope the audio and full video do just as well!

WRH: What’s next for the band?

AC: Our next step is definitely to continue the process and complete our first album. In pre-pandemic times we were so busy with gigs and special requests and our own families that recording has always taken a back seat. So, we are using the pandemic as an opportunity to focus on creating and recording.