Spotlight Series: Flor de Toloache

Sheboyganites, get ready to give a rousing “¡Olé!” to Flor de Toloache, the GRAMMY-nominated, all-female mariachi sensation from New York! On the heels of last Friday’s performance at the Levitt Shell in Memphis, these talented ladies are headed to Wisconsin, where they’ll launch the 2016 Levitt AMP Sheboygan Music Series tonight at The Art Center’s Festival Green.

Named after a poisonous Central American flower known for its use as a love potion, the musicians of Flor de Toloache wear flowers in their hair instead of traditional sombreros. In 2014, the band’s self-titled, self-released debut album was nominated for a Latin GRAMMY Award in the Best Ranchero Album category. Since then, Flor de Toloache has collaborated extensively with Dan Auerbach—guitarist and singer for the Black Keys—touring the world with his new band The Arcs and contributing to its 2015 debut album, Yours, Dreamily. With 13 rotating members singing and playing violin, trumpet, flute, guitarrón (bass) and vihuela (five-string guitar), Flor de Toloache’s mostly traditional instrumentation belies its true nature. The women of Flor de Toloache are musical innovators, challenging expectations through their band’s unique identity, presentation and sound.

In 2011, UNESCO recognized mariachi as a crucial form of Mexican cultural heritage, calling for its protection and promotion through the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This hasn’t stopped the musicians of Flor de Toloache—some of whom hail from Puerto Rico, Colombia, Cuba, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, the U.S., Germany, Italy, Egypt and Australia—from imbuing the traditional art form with their own unique flair. Flor de Toloache’s music reflects both its members’ diverse cultural backgrounds and its home base of New York, often alternating between Spanish and English lyrics in the band’s original songs. These ladies gain inspiration from the varied cultures they encounter, so don’t be surprised if a Punjabi folk dance turns up in this ensemble’s repertoire. In 2013, Flor de Toloache toured India as part of a cultural exchange initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

As women in the traditionally “macho culture” of mariachi, many of Flor de Toloache’s musicians have faced discrimination throughout their careers. Following in the footsteps of Mariachi Divas—an all-female mariachi ensemble that won two GRAMMY Awards and headlined multiple Levitt shows in Los Angeles and Pasadena—Mireya Ramos founded Flor de Toloache in 2008, challenging the notion that mariachi was a strictly male art form. Band member Shae Fiol says, “For people who are used to seeing men play, we’re making a statement.” Like Mariachi Divas, Flor de Toloache heightens the visual nonconformity in their dress, forgoing long skirts for pants, the traditional male mariachi costume. This decision has attracted criticism from some in the mariachi community, but it is “pretty cool and empowering for a lot of women,” Ramos says. “We wanted to wear pants because it looks good, and it’s way more practical if you’re in New York and you’re running for the train.”

If you’re not already intrigued by Flor de Toloache’s story, just wait until they start to play! The group draws from myriad genres—mariachi, pop, soul, salsa, jazz, cumbia, Afrobeat and more—constantly pushing musical boundaries to create exciting new fusions. Whether they’re playing mariachi standards, original songs such as their R&B tune “Let Down,” pop favorites like Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” or new takes on jazz standards such as “Blue Skies,” Flor de Toloache thrives on the unexpected.

Earlier this week, Flor de Toloache had the honor of performing at The United State of Women White House Summit, hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Experience these extraordinary mariachi trailblazers on the Levitt AMP Sheboygan stage tonight at 7:30pm, as part of Levitt AMP Sheboygan’s opening weekend!

Each week during the 2016 Levitt concert season, we’ll be turning the spotlight on a different artist performing on a Levitt stage, so stay tuned for more Spotlight Series posts!

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