Cindy Shea is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed jazz-trained trumpeter who is making a name for herself in the macho world of mariachi, reports Miriam Jordan in The Wall Street Journal (10/11/13). Cindy’s Grammy-winning band, the Mariachi Divas, is "pushing the boundaries of mariachi," which is "traditionally associated with men in short jackets and trousers lined with silver buttons singing melodies about unrequited love, revolutionary figures and life in Mexico." The Mariachi Divas actually is one of "about 30 all-female mariachis" currently performing across the United States.
Others include Trio Ellas, who fuse "the traditional genre with bluegrass, flamenco and pop." As a trio, the group further disrupts convention, as an "authentic Mexican mariachi band has a minimum of eight members: trumpets, guitars, violins, a small guitar called the vihuela and a round-backed bass called guitarron." "We respect mariachi, but we are trying to mold our own music," says Suemy Gonzales, who plays violin in the trio, which also features Stephanie Amaro on guitar and Nelly Cortez on guitarron.
Mariachi is rooted in rural Mexico in the 1850s, and "became a national symbol of pride and patriotism" in the 1920s, following the Mexican revolution. All-female mariachi bands first cropped up in the 1960s, and several "began to emerge in the 1990s." A few women were admitted to otherwise male mariachis at around the same time. Cindy Shea – who isn’t Mexican – certainly had critics challenging her "cultural authority" to play mariachi. But Daniel Sheehy, author of Mariachi Music in America, sees it differently: "What we’re seeing now is the culimination of a mariachi social-rights movement," he says.