Frustration with the male dominated culture of mariachi music led Mireya Ramos to create Flor De Toloache – an all-female band of musicians who together have fused Latin music in a distinctive new way. On Las Caras Lindas there is a joyful spirit that is uniquely feminine and surprisingly modern too.
Starting as subway musicians and playing in restaurants this hardworking band have previously been nominated for a Latin Grammy for their self-titled debut album. They also performed a stunning NPR tiny desk concert which really showcased the quality of their vocals and musicianship. Along the way they have met with some naysayers who criticise them because they are not all of Mexican heritage, they are women wearing trousers and the music they play is not all traditional mariachi – but most of those idiots in the comment sections are men who seem to have a problem with this band mainly because they threaten the male hegemony.
On the cover of this album the girls have gorgeous flowers in their hair channeling Frida Kahlo and Billie Holliday – blooms of spring which are reflected in the spirit of the music. Their name Flor de Toloache refers to a moonflower which opens at night and is used in Mexican love potions – this is a nod to tradition but also signals the intent to seduce and bewitch their listeners.
The opening song Long Gone Girl is sung in English, and is an accessible way into the rhythms and style of this album. It’s a call to arms really – got to get up, it’s my time to live. This is a feminist anthem, reminding us to live our lives with optimism. I love the mix of sounds, especially the brass and there is definitely some country influence to this song (or maybe it’s just because they sing yee ha?).
Dulces Recuerdos has more of the traditional feel of a night out dancing salsa or tango and the final lines sung in English – dance me so sweetly then leave me – have real power to them. Este Vacio is beautiful and the slow jazz-inspired singing creates a real sense of melancholic longing. The title track Las Caras Lindas, translated as the beautiful faces, celebrates the diversity which is central to this band and is also a nod to Ramos’ Puerto Rican heritage. They bring in some guest vocalists on this track and there are nods to hip hop here too (it’s no surprise that Questlove from The Roots is also a fan of this band).
Regressa Ya is like Latin opera, the voice soaring with pain and heartache. Much like opera you really don’t even notice that the words are in a foreign language – you feel the spirit of the music go straight to your heart.
Throughout this album the band experiment with traditional styles and more Latin pop sounds with really enjoyable results. There’s a sense of joy created here which makes you forget about issues of authenticity or diversity or gender. To enjoy this music you just need to be human and alive.