Next Stop: Mariachi Plaza

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20160519

"I play regular guitar, even though I'm supposed vihuela," says Luis Molina. "As the head of the group, it's kind of nicer to have a guitar...then I can answer the phone for more gigs and the other guys can keep performing."

The mariachis of Boyle Heights, East LA, hang around Mariachi Plaza most days, to pick up work. You see them in their dark suits, embroidered jackets, silver buttons running up the sides of their trousers. They're different to the wandering musicians, the nortenos who, dressed in shirt sleeves and cowboy hats, will walk into a restaurant and play you a song for ten dollars. But like the nortenos, the life of a mariachi is pretty unpredictable. They work long hours. Many work two jobs.

Part of Luis's job is scouting band members. In the past, people used to drive, or walk up, to hire them. Now bookings often come over the phone. Boyle Heights is changing. Rents are rising and, especially since the arrival of the Metro Station, developers are moving in.

Writer, Evangeline Ordaz, was born a block from Mariachi Plaza and worked for years as a legal aid attorney in the neighbourhood. In a neighbourhood on the brink of gentrification, Evangeline meets mariachi musicians Luis Molina and Hilary Chavez-Bernal during local celebrations for Santa Cecilia - the adopted patron saint of the mariachi - and spends a night in the Latino suburbs of Los Angeles with Luis's band.

With Catherine Kurland (co-author of Hotel Mariachi), tailor Jorge Tello, resident Victor Borrayo, mural painter Juan Solis and the mariachis of Boyle Heights, East LA.

A Testbed production for BBC Radio 4.

20160519