When Adrian Quesada brought his Boleros Psicodélicos project to the Austin City Limits stage last year in our Season 48, one of his featured guests was singer and violinist Mireya Ramos, who brought the house down with an impassioned performance of the Latin love song “Tus Tormentas.” With her musical partner Shae Fiol, Ramos leads the Latin Grammy-winning and Grammy-nominated New York mariachi group Flor de Toloache, and it became clear after her appearance with Quesada that an invitation to the band to tape their own show was inevitable. We were thrilled to have the five-piece combo join us in support of their latest recording Motherflower.
Eschewing the traditional mariachi outfits for clothes more glittery, Mona Seda (trumpet), Claudia Rascon (guitar), and Vaneza Calderon (guitarron) strummed a slow mariachi beat before Ramos arrived to begin “Bolero Para ti Motherflower,” the defiant title track to Motherflower. Ramos’ voice soared and swirled, joined by her partner Fiol’s on the second verse, both women pulling every ounce of emotion out of the lyrics. Fiol picked up her vihuela and Ramos her violin for the cumbia “Bailando Penas,” driven by both the danceable rhythm and Seda’s melodic trumpet lines. On the ballad “Esta Ranchera,” which Ramos called their tribute to Patsy Cline, Fiol switched to flute, while she and her partner shifted from Spanish to English and back to enforce the emotion behind the heartbreak ballad.
“This is another women empowerment song,” noted Ramos, before double violins from she and Rascon kicked off “Ruiseñor,” a tune from the band’s Las Caras Lindas album – and one that featured clogging, pizzicatto violin, and whistling during the breakdown. “This is the most personal song [on Motherflower], said Ramos in the lead up to “Brinda por Ella.” “You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else. It’s okay to take yourself out on a date once in a while!” That sentiment adorned a joyful 6/8 groove and sparkling violin from Ramos.
The band then invited Grammy-winning producer and musician Adrian Quesada – “a legend here and around the world” – to join them onstage with his Telecaster. He gave a new texture to the gorgeous Motherflower ballad “Soledad,” a song written during the pandemic – appropriately enough – since the English translation is “Loneliness.”
After Quesada left the stage, Ramos introduced the next song “Let Down” as a fusion of ranchera, blues, and R&B. A showcase for the golden-voiced Fiol, its writer, the tune was originally featured in the band’s Tiny Desk Concert, which helped introduce the quintet to the wider world. Ramos and Seda also engaged in some playful locking of horns with their violin and trumpet. The group then paid tribute to their style’s history with the “Huapango Medley,” starting with the Trini Lopez classic “Malagueña Salerosa,” and including mariachi standards “El Pastor” and “La Cigarra.” For the ranchera “Regresa Ya,” written by Ramos for a bandmate going through a breakup, the group asked for an assist from the enthusiastic audience. All five members gave a brief workshop in the art of the grito, those spontaneous cries that punctuate the emotional heft of a good mariachi ballad. The crowd was already primed for participation, inserting gritos into the luminous heartbreak ballad without prompting.
After that exercise in tradition, the quintet jumped feet first into another arena, dazzling with a briskly performed medley of contemporary hard rock songs, incorporating riffs, melodies, and lyrics from Rage Against the Machine, Nirvana (both “Come As You Are” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”), and Led Zeppelin. The temperature level was already spiked by that epic performance, so Flor kept it going with the cumbia “Dicen,” which got the audience dancing and singing along in call-and-response. The band closed the set with “Besos de Mezcal,” a tune that drew just as heavily on crowd participation, with the Austin crowd singing the chorus alongside Fiol and Ramos. The latter also led the audience in some enthusiastic cries of “Tikki-tikki-ta!”
The theater went wild after the magical set, as well they should have. We’ve never had a show quite like this before, and we’re excited for everyone to see it when it airs this fall as part of our upcoming Season 49 of Austin City Limits on your local PBS station.