In the doctor's forest...

...while I certainly don't ignore new books, I don't focus on them, either. I'm a slow reader and can't keep up with the publishers, the professional reviewers, the advanced bloggers. After I finish one book, I like to choose the next at random from a range of "genres" - classics, historical fiction, mysteries, world literature, history, biography, drama, the usual. There are many "old" books that I read long ago but still feel like talking about. The current "hot topic" won't even be tepid by the time I get to it. I also like to bring in other cultural matters - art, theatre, music, opera - when they fit in the context of a certain literary work. The content of "the Canon" and literature in translation also pop up occasionally.

August 18, 2007

La Hija del Mariachi (The Mariachi's Daughter): The Best of Love and Rancheras

I try to convince myself that I haven’t posted in so long because I just haven’t felt inspired to write. The pathetic truth, however, is that I’m lazy. Now, happily, a bit of inspiration has arrived to shake me out of my sloth, inspiration not from literature but from the exquisite emotion and pathos of mariachi music.

Telenovelas, icons of Latino pop culture – I watch them to maintain my Spanish-language skills...

As if...

They’ve held me rapt in spite of myself ever since I lived in Ecuador over twenty years ago. The stories are frequently set in incredible places and audiences get treated to gorgeous views – beautiful countryside, charming colonial towns, tropical beaches, nighttime urban vistas. Then there’s the romance...the wooing, the sexual tension between two strong personalities, the beautiful men who cry so easily but with quiet dignity...the sentimental melodrama, the far-fetched plot lines, the frequent episodes of outrageous scenery chewing, the slapsticky humor. Telenovelas are, after all, soap operas...

One important thing about telenovelas makes them so much better than North American soaps: they end. Each telenovela ends and a new one begins. I watch a few episodes of each new one to check out the cast and the chemistry between the romantic leads, to get an idea of the plot. If I stick with one, it’s usually because I've noticed some unique quality about the production: a hot actor...

But there’s a novela running at the moment that’s unlike any other, a production of Colombia’s RCN network being shown on Telefutura (a “sister station” of Univision) here in the states - La Hija del Mariachi (The Mariachi’s Daughter). It’s the best written, best acted novela I’ve ever watched. It's so good that I rank it among the best TV shows I’ve ever watched, not far behind PBS’s Mystery! and Masterpiece Theatre, Homicide: Life on the Street and the first season of The Wire, and a few slots ahead of Six Feet Under and Rome (two more soap operas that got a lot more attention...).

The plot, of course, sounds rather ridiculous: Emiliano, a sophisticated yet somehow naive young man from a wealthy and powerful Mexican family is framed - by his business partners and lawyer no less, who are supposed to be his friends - for laundering drug money through his very high-end car dealership in Mexico City, and upon the advice of the unscrupulous lawyer, flees the country when the police raid the business, ending up in Bogotá, Colombia where he is mugged and robbed of his money and passport and left dazed and confused with a bleeding head wound to wander lost through the streets of the strange city until he happens upon a bar with a familiar name, La Plaza Garibaldi (the name of an actual park in Mexico City where strolling mariachis play everyday and where stands a statue of one of Mexico’s greatest composers of mariachi music, José Alfredo Jimenez), and suddenly, under the bright lights of the bar’s marquee, he sees standing before him the girl of his dreams, the beautiful, and as it turns out, very kind Rosario Guerrero, who takes pity on the lost but handsome young Mexican, believes him when he tells her his name is Francisco Lara (Lara – the last name of a famous mariachi singer/composer, Agostin Lara) and that he’s an auto mechanic who was just passing through Bogota on his way to a job in Argentina when he got mugged, dresses his wound, finds him a place to stay, gives him food and money, and who happens to be the one and only lady singer of the mariachi band at La Plaza Garibaldi and the daughter of one of its past stars (long since dead) and discovers that the young Mexican has a fantastic singing voice and helps him get a job as a singer in the band...and the Mexican becomes one of the stars at La Plaza Garibaldi and known to the loyal house audience as “El Príncipe de México” (The Prince of Mexico)...and he quickly falls completely in love with Rosario (and she with him) who is known on stage as “El Lucero de México” (The Star of Mexico)...and he becomes fast friends with the band’s lead violin player, Fernando Vladimir Molina, proud union member and son of a martyred union organizer, who’s so smart that he figures out pretty damn quick who Francisco really is and then sticks his neck out over and over again to help him, and is known on stage as “Mil Amores” (1000 Loves), an appropriate but frequently inconvenient nickname, and also with its lead trumpeter, Sigifredo de la Cruz, known on stage as “El Sentimentál” (The Sentimental One), older and wiser mentor to the young and foolish members of the band, who loves all things Mexican...and he gains an almost mortal enemy in the band’s lead singer and boss Manuel whom everyone just calls “Coloso” because his stage name is “El Coloso de Jalisco” (that’s “The ‘Colossus’ of Jalisco (the state in Mexico where mariachi music was invented).” My question is, “What exactly does “Colossus” refer to? – a colossal singing voice, a colossal presence on stage, a colossal...something else?? What’s really colossal about him is, of course, his villainous ego...) because he’s always wanted Rosario for himself...and he has to fend off the amorous advances of Virginia, the uber-spoiled, whiny, conniving daughter of the bar’s owner, and stop Rosario from being jealous of her...and he has to control his own jealous rages towards Rosario’s suitors, Coloso and a rich, pompous lawyer named Javier Macias who frequents the bar, even though he hates mariachi music, because he lusts after Rosario (and he’s married, the sleazy bastard)...and, of course, he has to stay one step ahead of the Mexican police, the Colombian police and Interpol who all believe that the young Mexican businessman has turned money launderer and is on the lam somewhere in Colombia.

So - its main plot line is the usual: two beautiful young people love each other passionately, but before they can live happily ever after, they have to overcome certain obstacles, primarily their own dopiness but also the evil intentions of several selfish people who, for various reasons, want to thwart their love. But La Hija del Mariachi has so much more:

A well-developed, well-acted friendship between two smart, witty men:

Mark Tacher (a Mexican actor) as Francisco/Emiliano is, of course, incredibly handsome and very charming, and he has great chemistry with Carolina Ramirez who plays Rosario. I like 'em, but they're just so sweet, really sweet, sickeningly sweet...

The best relationship in the show, an unusually interesting relationship for any tv show, is the one between Francisco and Fernando (Mario Duarte). The show could almost be called “Las Aventuras de Fran y Fer.” They first bond when Francisco helps Fernando fight off a gang of thugs who have hunted down the violin player to remind him again to stay away from his latest “amor,” a married woman whose husband is a mobster. But they keep getting into trouble together, especially after Fer figures out the truth about Francisco's identity. Fernando keeps a close watch on the internet for news stories about the police's search for the Mexican fugitive and listens with endless patience to Francisco's fears and heartaches. And he teases Francisco mercilessily, about his jealousy over Rosario, his "knack" for finding problems for himself, his inability to understand Colombian Spanish. The two actors make a talented comedy duo, with Tacher usually playing the straight man and Duarte improvising the funniest bits. While Tacher is almost too perfect in his Hollywood looks, Duarte has an unconventional handsomeness and his smile twinkles with so much charm that it takes female breath away.

As the show has progressed, these two have developed into sort of a macho male version of "Sense and Sensiblity."

Pertinent social commentary:

Novelas frequently tackle the ills that plague society at large - substance abuse, domestic violence and rape, child abuse, even mental illness. And, of course, the disparities between the rich and the poor. But the serious sociopoitical problems endemic to the country where one takes place usually don't crop up. Drugs cartels, kidnapping and political corruption rarely get mentioned in a Mexican telenovels. So I was almost shocked when Colombia's horrible history of murdered union members popped up in La Hija.... Early in the story, Fernando agrily laments to Francisco that his father had become another Colombian statistic as an assasinated union organizer. The revelation has never develped into a plotline, but the writers must have wanted to acknowledge the national problem.

Gay men have also long been portrayed in the macho world of telenovelas. As in all tv shows, these characters have been drawn with varying degrees of fullness and stereotyping, from the "swishy" comedian to the conflicted young man to the loyal friend of the heroine. While homophobia has been portrayed in a negative light, gay characters themselves have never been sexual towards each other. Finally, in LaHija..., two gay men have kissed each other in a romantic way. Granted, they were passing characters - one hired the band to serenade his lover - but it was the first gay kiss I'd ever seen in a novela, and I was impressed as hell.

Actors of African descent play characters who are not either servants or criminals.

Some of the greatest romantic music ever written – mariachi music – is integral to the story.

The story takes place mostly at night in La Plaza Garibaldi when the band is performing. It attracts a large loyal audience that knows the songs by heart and enthusiastically sings along (evidently, mariachi music is almost as popular in Colombia as it is in Mexico). The intrinsic romanticness of the music fits perfectly into a novela, and there are dozens of songs for each stage of a romantic relationship (granted, most are to be sung by men):

For the pre-relationship stage, there are the I’m-a-true-lover-of-women songs;

For wooing and declarations, there’re the polite Please-know-that-I-love-you songs and the more suggestive Just-wait-‘til-you’re-mine songs;

Then there’re are We-love-each-other-and-life-together-is-beautiful songs and the When-we-make-love songs...;

For when things turn to shit, there’re the You-broke-my-heart songs, I'm-no-good-for-you/I-don't-want-to-hurt-you-anymore songs, You’re-a-rotten-so-'n-so songs, Please-forgive-me songs, Please-don’t-leave-me songs, and She’s-left-me-and-I’m-not-going-to-survive-without-her songs.

The huge majority of these songs involve crying, drunkenness, dying of love, all three or in some combination. Francisco, Rosario and Coloso sing these songs and many more. They sing them to the audience and to each other, in duets and in duels (yep, duels). The band hires itself out for serenades and plays these songs to help the love-lorn citizens of Bogota with their romantic dilemmas.

I've been a lover of Latino culture, especially Latin music, for over twenty years, but failed to discover Mariachi music. Until now. Now I'm in permanent swoon for this music. Something about it has grabbed me and won't let go. It has a romantic aura about it similar to that of tragic opera. I can't really explain exactly how the two disperate genres are the same but the feeling I get when I listen to both is very similar so I know they both hit me in the same place in my soul.


La Hija... has, sadly, ended here in the States. For some really dumb reason, Telefutura decided to cut it short, even while the saga continues in Colombia. It was a dull, anti-climactic ending to the greatest of all telenovels. There will never be another like it. Look for it on dvd...


Anonymous said...


Thanks for your commentary! A friend and I were teaching in Nicoya, CR and got hooked. Wonder where we can find the channel in the USA to continue to watch. I'd also love to get a recording of some of the fantastic music. Dorothy Kimball

Susan E. Neill said...

Hi Dorothy, thanks for the comment. I watched La Hija here in Alexandria, VA on Telefutura. Unfortunately, as I said in my blog update, it ended on Telefutura in September. It was a horrible ending to the best telenovela ever. It doesn't make sense that they didn't give us the whole show but they didn't. I imagine that it's over in Colombia too by now (I think it started there in September of 2006), but don't know how it ended. RCN's website will tell you and give you synopses of all the episodes. I used to read them daily but haven't in a long while.

The good news is that the whole show should be available on dvd before too long. I've seen an announcement on the web. Hopefully it won't be butchered for conversion to dvd like so many other telenovelas have been.

I now have lots & lots of mariachi music on cd, including many of the songs that Rosario y los muchachos sing on the show. All the mariachi masters that the band talks about - Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Javier Solis, Augustin Lara, Vicente Fernandez, etc, etc - did tons of recording and it's all on cd. Just search on Amazon, etc. Lyrics are available in the web too.


Dragana said...

I don’t know if blogs have expiration date... I stumbled upon La hija on YouTube accidentally following links trying to find the music and the lyrics of Chavela Vargas songs - it was the No volvere clip with the drunk and angry Rosario and then Volver, volver from the end of the series. I was hooked from the start. Since in Norway Colombian series are even less (read not) accessible than perhaps in the States I had to settle for YouTube 10 min clips. I did not mind at all. I have been now watching for days and am on the 109th episode - the entire series is there. What is strange about my infatuation is that I don’t even speak Spanish although I know some from living in Texas and can recognise words from other Latin languages. Also finding lyrics for the numerous songs helped along the way. But despite the language obstacles I fell completely in love with La hija. I have come across some Latin soaps in the past and could never pass the first episode - everything seemed, as it usually does in soaps, too fake. This was not the case with La hija - the characters (even the sweet and handsome ones) seemed so close and familiar. The important part is the fact that so much of the relationships, dialogues, fights and you-name- it is in songs and I love ranchero music dearly. The mixture of tragedy and humour is perfect and there seems to be much less evil and spite and much more kindness than in other similar series. I don’t know why, even with all the hard to believe plots, twists and turns the story felt so believable.

I would love to get my hands on the DVD, perhaps there will be some kind of subtitles and I will understand more than 50% of the conversations. I would not mind a better sound and picture either.

Anonymous said...

Please let me know how I can go about buying the DVD of the soap
Liv Bennett


Dragana said...

I have been searching the google world to find it. This is what I found but have not tryed yet (and I am not sure that these sites are trustworthy)

Lesl!e... said...

i completely agree that La Hija Del Mariachi was the best telenovela ever!!! And ive been watching them for thirteen years:]
I dont thing no other one will top this one...

Do you know where i could get a hold of a copy in DVD but in the original Colombia version beacuse telefutura rip us off and cut it short???

Anonymous said...

I truly love "La Hija Del Mariachi" and like you I am truly hooked on mariachi songs. I was able to watch the 25 chapters that were cut out in the United State's version on youtube. The ending made a lot of sense where as the ending in the US version did not.

Dragana said...

I think rancheras is the key here - for rancheras to sound good you really have to sing your heart out and when such heartfelt songs are, in reality, dialogues the characters become believable and so easy to relate to (I could easily see myself inviting them all for dinner). This is very unusual for a soap opera.

Another unusual thing is what happens in episodes 89 (when Rosario goes to La Laguna) through 93 (when they are finally reunited) – four hours of songs and conversations between Rosario and Francisco covering about 12 hours of real time.

I know I am over-thinking the whole thing but I find the whole concept fascinating.

There are few websites where one can buy (as far as my practically non-existent Spanish could judge) pirate copies of La Hija for about 150 dollars. I don’t think it was ever on the market

romat said...

I have also discovered this wonderful Latino soap opera on the Youtube.Your commentary is so beautiful and I agree totally.
I found a few links where is possible to download telenovela:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Susan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Susan said...

Hi, I just wanted to say thanks a lot to everyone who's posted on my "commentary" on La Hija del Mariachi. I too would love to find it on dvd, though not one that's been horribly butchered for conversion to dvd like so many Mexican telenovelas.


William said...

Hi, as a very big aficionado of musica ranchera, I've been aware of LHDM for quite a long time via the numerous segments viewable on youtube, but I never really understood the breadth of the story, nor did I take the time to appreciate the fine acting and the incredible chemistry between Mark Tacher and Carolina Ramirez. Instead of getting into the plot, I just jumped around from one segment to another, in no particular order, enjoying the very fine singing performances of the three leads. But now I've gotten hooked on the plot and the dialogue and have begun spending hours at a time enjoying the novela in ten-minute slices. I'm not even a quarter of the way through and already hopelessly addicted.

Question: Having never watched LHDM on television, I'm puzzled as to why RCN opted to film two versions of the story. Reading the predominantly Spanish language comments attached to any and all segments of LHDM on youtube, I gather the decision had to do with wanting to cut short the number of episodes transmitted in the US. Of course, the consensus of viewers throughout Latinoamerica is that the shorter version is needlessly abrupt, unsatisfying and vastly inferior in almost every way when compared with the longer Colombian version. Can anybody out there shed additional light on this question? And does anybody know the approximate running times in minutes of the two versions? Gracias de antemano.
William Ing

Dragana said...

I don't know about the reasons for making more than one version. I watched both - many episodes also many times - it does not seem to wear off, pluss every time I learn a bit of Spanish which I don't speak. My favourites are from about 80 til 110 - by then Rosario's and Francisco's chemistry became really pronounced.

The US version has 125 episodes (5x10 min each) pluss the wedding. The Columbian version has 178 episodes but episodes 120 - 178 are only 2x10 min each. The series diverged in the 119th episode. I agree that the latter is better (although it has it's low points) but the wedding episode in the short version is quite funny.
PS. I downloaded all the songs from Youtube as MP3 files and have them on my ipod.

William said...

Thanks for your very informative reply, Dragana. It's puzzling, isn't it, that they'd take the time and expense to film additional episodes, with considerably different dialogue and plot twists, only to turn out a shorter and considerably inferior (judging by most of the comments I've read on youtube) "U.S." version. I must confess, I gave in to my curiosity and unwisely jumped into some of the later episodes, totally out of context. I have seen the wedding scene you speak of, which I agree is amusing. Yet it clashes with the overall mood of the occasion and seems to be the product of a brainstorming session among writers assigned to contrive dialogue for an entirely different pair of lovers. I also saw the (U.S.) episode where Emiliano introduces Rosario to his parents in a swank Bogota restaurant. It starts so promisingly and then abruptly devolves into utter humiliation for Rosario, for whom I felt mortified; and yet some of the viewers commented how horrible this segment was in comparison with the Columbian version (which I haven't seen).

BTW, Dragana, have you attempted to buy a DVD of the entire series? Do you know where I can obtain a set online without having to pay some exorbitant amount? There was some woman earlier who was asking $200 per VHS set, which totally outraged everybody.

Thanks again. Will

Anonymous said...

You can find two (yes, TWO) other endings for "La hija del mariachi" on YouTube. The best ending is the one called the Colombian ending (Version Colombiana).

The video quality if not always good, but the sound is fine. It starts here:

Right now, the CDs of the music are not available on Amazon, but one can hope that they will be made available again. The singing was not done by the main actors. The actor who does the singing for Emiliano is actually in the telenovela, under his own name. Watch: he's the one who leads the singing when the mariachis don't have some or all of their instruments. He plays the role of one of Coloso's sidekicks in the group.

You can also find on-line a list of all the songs and the names of the real singers. Rosario's singing is done by three different women.

For those who are willing to see it from the beginning, but with ads, there is another version on Univision.

Anonymous said...

Another thing: You should see the beginning of the good ending, starting from here:

"La Hija del Mariachi - Francisco escapa de las fiestas 1 (727)"

Those who have seen this telenovela will know where they are in the story.

Anonymous said...

I came accross this conversation while desperately looking for subtitled version of the telenovela. It seems that I am not alone in getting hooked on the movie. I also stumbled on it while searching for something, don't even remember what I was looking for, when YouTube came up with the little picture of two colourfully dressed men. Opened it just to check what it was and got straight to the Malaguena sang by Mark Tacher and Gregorio Pernia. Well, that was it. But reading the previous posts I am not worried anymore that there is something wrong with me. The charm of the movie lives on. Since the first encounter I spent a week till late at night searching the web and managed to get the music shipped from Amazon. There are also some DVDs on the web but all I found so far without subtitles. Is there anybody out there who found an original Colombian version with English subtitles? I would be very greatful for a link or any info. As you probably guessed, total ignorant in Spanish. This is totally new world for me and so different from the English speaking one.

Unknown said...

I was sure Mark Tacher sang his own songs. He is (had been) a musician and he studied singing. I think he talks in this interview about how he managed to learn all the songs
(my Spanish is self taught but I think I got this right)