Mark your calendars—a GRAMMY-winning mariachi experience will soon be coming to a Levitt stage near you! This summer, the all-female, critically acclaimed mariachi group Flor De Toloache will headline the 2019 Levitt National Tour. Levitt audiences across the country will enjoy the band’s energetic, mesmerizing shows that blend traditional mariachi with jazz, salsa and pop music.
Taking place between June and August, the 2019 Levitt National Tour will stop in seven cities including Arlington, Texas; Bethlehem, Pa.; Dayton, Ohio; Denver; Los Angeles; Memphis; and Sioux Falls, S.D. This year’s Tour follows on the heels of the 2018 Levitt National Tour, which featured Southern rocker Paul Thorn and gospel legends Blind Boys of Alabama, and previous Levitt National Tours featuring Gulf Coast soul sensation The Suffers (2017), genre-busting violin outfit Black Violin (2015) and the world-music fusion of Playing For Change (2014).
“We’re thrilled to present the exuberant mariachi of Flor De Toloache,” says Sharon Yazowski, executive director of the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation. “The Levitt network was unanimous in their artist selection for the 2019 Tour, as Flor De Toloache reflects the rich cultural tapestry of our country through their genre-crossing music. It’s going to be an unforgettable experience for all!”
Veterans of the Levitt stage, Flor De Toloache has performed at permanent Levitt venues in Denver, Los Angeles and Memphis, as well as Levitt AMP sites in Middlesboro, Ky.; Ocala, Fla.; Santa Fe, NM; Sheboygan, Wis.; St. Johnsbury, Vt.; and Utica, NY. The group looks forward to returning to some of these Levitt stages as part of the Tour. “It’s exciting to be headlining the Levitt National Tour this year,” says Mireya Ramos, violinist and co-founder of Flor De Toloache. “We’ve played some of the venues before, but we never imagined it would lead to an invitation to do something this special for communities across the U.S.!”
Co-founder and vihuela player, Shae Fiol, who has been with the group for 11 years, agrees. “What’s cool about Levitt is bringing music and that experience to places that don’t necessarily have the access and creating that draw. I love bringing mariachi and Latin music and culture to places that are open to learning. It’s everything.”
From the subway to the GRAMMYs
When Ramos moved from Puerto Rico to New York City over a decade ago, she thought that mariachi might be different in the Big Apple. She expected a divergence from the overly-masculine standards that so prevalently surrounded the genre back home, as female mariachis were not unheard of in the United States (think LA-based Mariachi Divas). However, New York turned out to be less of an escape than she had imagined: the only mariachi bandmates she could find were men who played in the traditional style. Craving both new contemporaries and a new sound, Ramos asked Fiol, whom she had been practicing music with at the time, if she wanted to try something different—something empowering. Then, in 2008, the first all-female mariachi group in New York City was born. Their first stop was the subway.
After several years of spreading the joys of mariachi all over the New York underground, Vivian Yee, a reporter for The New York Times, discovered the still emerging Flor De Toloache and in early 2013 brought widespread attention to the changing face of mariachi. The group, nine members strong at the time and led by Ramos and Fiol, was an all-female cultural melting pot. Some members were of Cuban descent, some Colombian, some Dominican. They played instruments ranging from the guitar-like vihuela to a blaring trumpet and laced their songs with violin and harp strings rarely heard from New York-based mariachi groups at the time. “That New York Times article was a big break. That cracked open the press world for us, and it’s been really kind ever since,” says Fiol.
Before they knew it, Ramos, Fiol and the rest of their rotating band mates were able to land a touring gig with The Arcs, a side project for The Black Key’s leader Dan Auerbach, after a friend of Ramos’ suggested that Flor De Toloache was the perfect group to add some mariachi flair to the record. Auerbach was impressed by the group’s ability to play a fusion of genres, but what sealed the deal was that they could also sing—The Arcs needed background vocalists, and Flor De Toloache was the perfect fit. They spent the latter half of 2015 travelling the U.S. and Europe as The Arcs’ opener and supporting band, playing live on “Stephen Colbert,” and even earning their first Latin GRAMMY nomination for Best Ranchero/Mariachi Album for their first full-length, self-titled project. Coverage from the likes of Rolling Stone, NBC News, Oprah, Billboard and a viral NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert further propelled the band into its imminent stardom.
Cue 2017—after the release of their critically-acclaimed debut studio album “Las Caras Lindas,” Flor De Toloache received its second Latin GRAMMY nomination for Best Ranchero/Mariachi Album. Having been seated close to the stage and invited to perform during the Awards telecast with Natalia Lafourcade, Flor De Toloache started to have a sneaking suspicion that history was about to be made. “We were holding our breath the entire time they were announcing our category, so when they said our name, we couldn’t believe it,” says Fiol. Flor De Toloache was the first all-female band to win the category in Latin GRAMMY history, and the group loves to point out that their win was a special moment for women in music. “We started on the subway with absolutely no money, just freelancing. We’ve been hustling for so long, and to be up there receiving one of the greatest awards was a dream come true!” says Ramos.
A reflection of our country
For the 2019 Levitt National Tour, audiences across the country will be treated to an incredibly diverse evening of song, instrumentation and genres. “What would summer be without music?” asks Fiol, remarking on the importance of free, live performances. “It’s therapeutic,” adds Ramos. “We love to [perform] because we connect with people from all over though our music, even if people don’t always understand what we’re saying. We still feel something, they still feel something, and that’s priceless. There’s nothing else that creates that.”
Flor De Toloache will bring its pop-infused mariachi hits to the show, such as the immensely popular track “Juan Ga: Se Me Olvidó Otra Vez” and the fan-favorite “Amor De Mi Amores.” Audiences can expect a series of pop music hits to be performed with their signature Latin fusion twist that draws inspiration from Erykah Badu to Led Zeppelin and everything in between. “It’s really a unique composition. Both Shae and I listen to R&B, salsa, reggae, she comes from rock and soul. Our approach to the music is always like ‘Oh, what if we do this?'” says Ramos. “We all have such mixed backgrounds…it’s really a reflection of our country.”
Levitt audiences eager to hear more from Flor De Toloache before the Levitt National Tour this summer are in luck: there’s a new album on the way, and the first single “Besos de Mezcal” (featuring Camilo Lara, the artist behind the music of animated film “Coco”) is releasing in just two weeks on Valentine’s Day. There’s also a slew of collaborations coming up, including a guest appearance on No Te Va Gustar’s new album in March (alongside features from other Latin legends Julieta Venegas, Jorge Drexler and Draco Rosa), and perhaps most notably with platinum-selling R&B artist Miguel, who was put in touch with the band after family heritage was discovered between him and Ramos. “Our grandmothers used to sing together back in Mexico,” says Ramos, fangirling over the prospect of working with the artist. “You’ll hopefully be the first to hear it live!”
With a plethora of new releases slated for 2019, audiences can expect new songs and sounds every time Flor De Toloache takes to the Levitt stage this summer. “We have so much to look forward to,” adds Fiol. “We’re really excited for this year!”
Stay tuned for 2019 Levitt National Tour city dates in the coming weeks!