Terrence “Diego” Smedley-Kohl wants you to forget all the resort posters you’ve seen of Mexico.
You know the ones that show typical mariachi men wrapped in rainbow-coloured serapes, with wide-brimmed straw sombreros, singing “ay, ay, ay, ay” on ukulele-sized instruments.
The former Armstrong resident, and son to George Ryga Centre founder Ken Smedley and actress/artist Dorianne Kohl, was born and raised in Ajijic, Mexico, and he is all for debunking the stereotype.
As a seven-year member of one of Vancouver’s most prominent mariachi bands, Los Dorados, Smedley-Kohl says there’s a lot more to the Mexican art form –– it’s about story telling, passion and history, told through music. And it is played by top-notch musicians from around the world.
Okanagan folks will be able to hear for themselves when Los Dorados returns for its annual tour of the valley, hosted by the George Ryga Centre.
“Mariachi is an oral tradition, and it comes from hanging out with other musicians. It’s transmitted by ear,” said Smedley-Kohl, citing that mariachi is taught in some college programs in Texas and elsewhere.
“We are all trained musicians… some of us have classical backgrounds, and we read complicated arrangements. This has brought the level of recording and playing up.”
A professional musician since graduating from Pleasant Valley Secondary School, Smedley-Kohl is himself a classical, Latin and flamenco-trained guitarist, who also performs in the Vancouver salsa band, Tabasko.
He plays the guitarrón (a six-string large-bodied acoustic bass) in Los Dorados, which was founded by his Mexican-born bandmate Alex Alegria.
Los Dorados’ reputation as one of the most known mariachi bands from Canada comes from their involvement with the International Mariachi Festival, which takes place annually in and around the city of Guadalajara, known as the birthplace of mariachi.
Los Dorados have performed at the festival, where hundreds of bands from around the world congregate annually, the past three years.
“It keeps getting bigger and better for us,” said Smedley-Kohl. “They rolled out the red carpet for us this past year. The organizers saw the quality of our performances, and they monitor us, and notice that we are always on time, ready to play.”
Also known for their charisma, the band appeared on national television in Mexico during last year’s festival. The footage was taken from a live performance at a casino in Guadalajara, and it was also shown on CNN.
“My father-in-law saw us on TV,” said Smedley-Kohl. “There’s been a real build up of success down there… One of our violin players, who sang a few songs, has become the Justin Bieber of our group. There’s always a lineup of young girls that want to get his picture or autograph.”
Besides greeting their fans, Smedley-Kohl says one of the best parts of the festival is meeting the other musicians.
Often after a performance, an impromptu jam will last into the night, he said.
“We all have this love of music, and it’s at the jams where we learn the most. I’ve picked up a lot of ideas from those sessions, and have become the bass player for almost all of the jams, so I know practically all the songs.”
Smedley-Kohl also tries to visit his hometown village, located about an hour north of Guadalajara, whenever he is in Mexico. And he can still hear radios blaring music from everyone’s window when he’s wandering the streets.
“There’s never any volume or dance restrictions in Mexico,” he laughed, adding there’s also a difference to what people request at live shows in Mexico, compared to those in Canada.
“In Mexico, usually after a few tequilas, they want to hear the slow, heart-felt songs, the rancheras,” he said. “They really feel the music. It’s almost like therapy; they really belt it out.”
Those who catch Los Dorados performances in the Okanagan are also encouraged to express their emotions. The band welcomes hand clapping and dancing.
“When we do our concerts, it’s about entertaining people,” said Smedley-Kohl. “It’s about expressing a sense of freedom, so cry, dance and yell if you want.”
Los Dorados will give two performances in the North Okanagan: at the Zion United Church Hall in Armstrong, Thursday, March 24 (Tickets are at the Brown Derby Restaurant, 250-546-8221); and at the Okanagan College Kalamalka Campus theatre in Vernon March 25 (Tickets are at the BookNook in Vernon, 250-558-0668). Both shows start at 8 p.m.