Latin Grammy-Nominated Artist Hosts Event for Women’s History Month: “You’re Not Alone”


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Photo credit above: Mireya Ramos is the founder of the all-female mariachi band Flor de Toloache. She created an inaugural event to empower women to create “Ladies Rock,” which debuted in Kansas City. (Image credit: Kelvin Pagan)

Mireya Ramos of Flor de Toloache, an all-female mariachi band from New York, isn’t slow to take her foot off the gas.

Today, the Grammy-nominated artist is gearing up for a St. Patrick’s Day show with Trevor Turla at The Ship. Then she returns to record her next album in Kansas City. But amid her busy schedule, she felt compelled to honor Women’s History Month. She wanted to give something back.

Ramos has been coming to Kansas City for 10 years and connecting with local leaders and artists like Enrique Chi and Erika Noguera. This visit is different. She focuses on community building and women empowerment.

On Saturday, March 18, Ramos will present a three-part event that will include a workshop, a vendor-plus-networking event and a concert entitled “Ladies Rock” at the Charlotte Street Foundation.

Flatland caught up with Ramos ahead of her event on Saturday to learn more about her family’s connection to mariachi, her writing process, and the importance of Afro-Latinx representation.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

Flatland: What was your first memory of connecting to music?

Mireya Ramos: My father is from Mexico (and) my mother is from the Dominican Republic. They are both very fond of music – they both sang. My father was a mariachi singer. And so I grew up going to his concerts and watching him connect with people through this beautiful mariachi tradition.

f: Can you describe what genres or experiences have influenced you as a musician?

MISTER: I grew up in Puerto Rico. So that’s what I have on my cultural journey. It’s a very big part of me and my music, what I like and how I express my music.

After high school I moved to New York. … (Then) I started my musical career. I can say my first job was with a mariachi, which is totally unexpected. It’s not what I imagined.

But it was a great and wonderful way to reconnect with my roots and (to) my father, who I wasn’t dating at the time I was in New York. It was my way of remembering and connecting with him. I learned so much about my Mexican heritage through this experience.

Q: Join us on this journey from New York music student to starting your own mariachi band.

MISTER: (In the) mariachi tradition it is not traditional to improvise. It really… made me want to learn to improvise even more. I started playing with salsa bands and hip hop DJs and Brazilian music – all kinds of music.

New York was simply the best platform for it. There is so much variety and so much to absorb. New York was like my music school.

In 2008 I founded Flor de Toloache, the first all-female mariachi in New York City. … We were nominated for the Latin Grammy in 2015 and that literally opened the doors for us. We’re an independent band, so to even be considered a part of the Grammys was quite an achievement. People[who]had never seen mariachi before were connected to our music because we were doing original stuff, we were doing fusion.

Q: If you had to describe your sound to someone who has never heard Flor de Toloache, what would it be?

MISTER: We have influences from New York hip hop, salsa and bachata and everything. We put a lot of effort into our arrangements. And we use the mariachi instruments in very different ways.

We think about which songs are rhythms that we haven’t done yet or what kind of songs we would like to write. What message do we want to convey with this album as a whole? Our latest album is a really personal album because we talk about stories of things that happen to us as women.

Q: Tell us more about being an all-female mariachi band.

MISTER: We’ve expanded the genre in a very free way. It’s very reflective of the New York platform and our experience (there) as everyone is from different countries. Everyone gives the arrangements their own touch.

We contributed a lot to the mariachi genre. And actually, we started wearing mariachi pants, which wasn’t traditional. We got a lot of heat for it. We weren’t the first… but we made it internationally known.

It has also opened the doors for other female groups to create freely without worrying, “Oh my god, I’m going to be criticized by these traditionalists.” You’ll be criticized anyway. So simply, you might as well be happy with what you do… publish it.

Our approach to the music we make is that we want to be real and as close to our stories as possible and make sure our stories are heard.

Flor de Toloache appeared on NPR’s Tiny Desk in 2016.

Q: How did your double identity and your experiences in different areas influence your process?

MISTER: Music really saved me and was really a big way for me to find myself and really understand myself.

It was tough growing up (in Puerto Rico). My parents are both (from different places). My mother was very Dominican. My father was very Mexican. And I was in a different context, a different space and a different culture.

I grew up not knowing where I belong. Then even when I moved to New York, although everything is there, I still heard: ‘Oh, you’re not Latina enough, or you’re not Mexican enough. You’re not Dominican enough. You are not this, you are not that.’

Music has really made me connect with myself and come to terms with the fact that I don’t have to be those things. I can be what I feel

Q: What other experiences inspired your desire to empower women?

MISTER: There are many people like me out there, I’m not the only one. And, you know, sometimes you feel alone, but… they’re out there.

It definitely plays a big part in what we do and what I do personally. It has become very important for me to always talk about representation, especially Afro-Latinos.

My mother was very keen that music made my brother and I proud of being Afro-Latinos. She taught us all these songs like “Angelito Negros” which is on my album. It was her way of making sure this (we knew) mattered. She did it very organically, but it really worked. Because it’s been with me the whole time.

Q: What feedback do you get when you sing songs passed down by your mother?

An ombre of purple to green background is overlaid with the image of a singing woman.  The words
Poster of Mireya Ramos’ Ladies Rock launch event. Activities will include a singing workshop, vendor and networking market followed by a special concert. The event is sponsored by FMK Music, the Mexican Consulate and the Charlotte Street Foundation.

MISTER: What we do is needed. I’ve had shows where I sang “Las Caras Lindas” (by Afro-Puerto Rican composer Ismael Rivera) and little girls come after the show. you look like me They are mixed race with curly hair and they are Afro-Latinos. They say, ‘I’m so glad you sang that song.’

Even though this is a song they probably don’t quite understand, but they feel it and are so glad someone is speaking for them. I had nobody but my mother that I looked up to, who looked like me, (who) did what I did.

Q: What was the impetus for “Ladies Rock”?

MISTER: It struck me that there is no such celebration of Women’s History Month.

We need it as artists, especially women. It’s also a way to connect with other women and share your stories and network. And create a community. Sometimes (when) we feel really alone, we get discouraged.

You’re not alone. You can come together in so many ways. You can even collaborate in ways you hadn’t thought of.

Ladies Rock is a ticket only event what you can buy here. The workshop starts at 4 p.m. She will teach breathing techniques, singing styles and playing with different genres. After 5:00 p.m., there will be an all-female vendor and networking market. The concert starts at 7:00 p.m

Vicky Diaz-Camacho covers community affairs for Kansas City PBS.

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