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'Y Volver, Volver': As Restrictions Lift, Mariachi Are Back

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As the pandemic slowly recedes in the U.S., the sounds of neighborhood life are coming back. In many Mexican and Mexican American neighborhoods, the mariachi musicians serenading backyard family parties signal a return to normalcy. NPR's Adrian Florido reports from Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF PARTY CHATTER)

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: It's early evening. The sun is casting a warm glow over the L.A. suburb of Rowland Heights. Carlos Samaniego is dressed in a crisp white mariachi outfit.

CARLOS SAMANIEGO: And we are about to perform for a party at someone's home.

FLORIDO: Today, it's a backyard wedding.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR BEING TUNED)

FLORIDO: The bride's mother hired Samaniego's group, the Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, because they are an LGBTQ mariachi. The newlyweds are queer, and this performance is a surprise for them.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLORIDO: After a year with almost no gigs, Samaniego's calendar is packed now.

SAMANIEGO: People really want to have parties again at home and birthday parties and baptisms and graduations. And last year was a lot of funerals, unfortunately.

FLORIDO: In Mexican neighborhoods, mariachi are part of community life because when you hire a mariachi for your party, the whole block knows it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARIACHI ARCOIRIS DE LOS ANGELES: (Singing in Spanish).

FLORIDO: Last year, neighborhoods went silent. And even the few gigs mariachi groups did book, Samaniego says, weren't very satisfying because it's hard to sing through face masks.

SAMANIEGO: I personally hurt myself singing that way. I developed vocal nodules. My doctor said, OK, once you start singing again, you have to sing with microphones or you have to be amplified if you're going to be singing with face masks.

FLORIDO: They bought a sound system. They still travel with it. But today, they're fully vaccinated and maskless. It's maximum projection.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARIACHI ARCOIRIS DE LOS ANGELES: (Vocalizing).

FLORIDO: Things are feeling a little more normal.

SAMANIEGO: It's just so necessary to have live entertainment, live music. It really, really feeds our souls.

FLORIDO: It was a busy weekend for Mariachi Arcoiris. They also played for families reunited after being separated at the Mexican border.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARIACHI ARCOIRIS DE LOS ANGELES: (Vocalizing).

FLORIDO: Elsa Collins, with the group This is About Humanity, organized this event.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

ELSA COLLINS: There had to be a mariachi. It's a feeling of connection, you know? They're that fabric of what it is to be, like, in family, in community.

FLORIDO: What these families, what the whole world, is seeking after a tough year.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLORIDO: Adrian Florido, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARIACHI ARCOIRIS DE LOS ANGELES: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.