Victor Valdes


He might hail from south of the border down Sydney town way but make no mistake: Victor Valdes is as Mexican as Speedy Gonzales.

While he cuts quite a dash in archetypal mariachi clobber of large wide brim sombrero and embroidered charro-styled suit, Señor Valdes is no caricature.

Indeed, as leader of the Real Mexico Mariachi Band you could say he’s the personification of música Mexicana down under — as performances at premier Australian festivals, including WOMADelaide and Bluesfest, amply attest.

Victor and his five-piece band will be out to wow local world music lovers at the end of the month when they bring this year’s global series at the Tanks Arts Centre to a conclusion.

This maestro of the Mexican Jarocho folk harp is looking forward to playing and singing corridos, rancheras and cumbias in the heat of far north Queensland. “It will remind me of home,” he says in heavily accented English that betrays the fact that he has lived in Australia for the best part of 20 years.

Señor Valdes, a walking-talking encyclopaedia of Mexican and Latin music past and present, has redefined the harp as a solo and lead instrument in a multitude of musical contexts and keys.

Alluding to the latter, he explains that whereas most traditional harps are confined to a solitary key, his instrument has a special mechanism that facilitates a gamut.

That’s why he’s been able to sit in with everyone from Angus & Julia Stone to Jimmy Barnes and with America’s most celebrated Tex-Mex band Los Lobos, whose lead members hail from his home state of Veracruz.

Señor Valdes forged his reputation during a ten-year stint in Mexico’s most famous folk ensemble, Tlen Huicani, a group that has toured the globe, and played a score of concerts at Sydney Opera House.

The harp virtuoso has returned to his homeland many times over the past few years, most recently in January to participate in a major concert staged by the University of Veracruz.

Quizzed about the role played by his instrument in the evolution of mariachi — an in-vogue genre that has been adopted by the likes of Linda Ronstadt and the band Calexico in recent years — Victor replies: “In the 18th century, mariachi only had harp, violin and baroque guitar. Later Mexican bass guitar, called a guitarrón, was added, then the harp lost popularity.”

Thankfully, Mexican harp has returned to the fold, as this scribe witnessed on a visit to the Mecca of mariachi, Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi, a few years back. I’ve also had the pleasure of catching Victor Valdes and his amigos in concert, at the 2011 Rainforest World Music Festival in Borneo.

Valdes will be accompanied at the Tanks later this month by trumpet, violin, guitar and bass — all integral mariachi instruments — and also by a dancer.

Victor has not only played and taught music with/to the very best, but also Mexican and Latin dance. Indeed, he was his country’s national folkloric dance champion three years in succession. After re-locating to Australia, he taught Latin dance at the Sydney Dance Company for four years.

As the harpist reports, Mexican-Hispanic culture is rich in dance, including a form of tap dancing that dates back to Aztec and Mayan times. “I’ll be inviting everyone in the audience in Cairns to dance with us,” he says.

Mariachi singing, which is characterised by tight harmony arrangements, also exhibits influences from a number of styles such as bolero, huapango and son jalisciense.

In short, Victor Valdes and His Real Mexico Mariachi Band will be bringing the whole kit and caboodle to the Tanks Arts Centre on Friday October 31, generating a genuine fiesta ambience with a colourful mix of tradition, choreography and authentic Mexican sounds.

The show starts at 7:30pm, with a performance from support act, young guitarist extraordinaire John Buttigieg. Tickets are available through Ticketlink or at the door on the night.

 Tony Hillier

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