When the mariachis play on Cinco de Mayo, it’s OK to sing along.

Lifting spirits is part of the fun for the mariachis who perform tableside serenades of “La Cucaracha” and “Cielito Lindo,” the latter with its familiar “ay, ay, ay, ay” refrain.

“Mariachi music is party music,” says Marlon Cordon, 35, of Freeport, who plays the violin and vihuela, a 5-stringed guitar, in the Long Island-based Mariachi Charros de mi Tierra quintet. For Cordon, the music of his native Hildalgo, Mexico, is “something marvelous from heaven, to make hearts happy.”

Long Island-based mariachi trios, quartets and quintets will be playing to packed houses as local restaurants serve up live music along with their margaritas and fresh guacamole. Mariachis also play on weekends at area Mexican eateries, standing on stages or roving through the dining areas. Got a favorite Mexican ditty last heard on vacation in Cancun? Request it from the strolling band.

“They go around to each table, trying to make everyone happy,” chef-owner Roberto Herrera says of the mariachis that perform at his 5 de Mayo Mexican Restaurant & Bar in Westbury.


advertisement | advertise on newsday

Legend has it mariachi music was born in the 19th century in the town of Cocula, 35 miles southwest of Guadalajara, according to mariachi.org. On Long Island, the mariachi repertoire ranges from classics like “Besame Mucho,” an international hit from the World War II era, to chestnuts from the 1800s.

“We play traditional songs,” says Augustin Urbano, who was born in Atlixco, in the state of Puebla, Mexico, studied mariachi music with a native teacher, and now lives in the Woodside section of Queens. Urbano trumpets for the Mariachis Palacios quartet at Escorza’s Mexican restaurant in Levittown, and at parties in Manhattan and Queens.

Although Mexico is mariachi music’s birthplace, Long Island band members also come from Central and South America.

“All four of our members are from El Salvador,” Mauricio Reyes, 43, of New Hyde Park says of his group, Mariachi 4 Estrellas. Reyes grew up in Corinto, El Salvador, and learned to play from a mariachi-singing relative.


“My favorite mariachi songs are ‘El Rey’ by Vicente Fernández, and ‘Amor Eterno’ by Juan Gabriel,” Reyes says.

“We play ‘La Bamba,’ ‘Guantanamera’ and ‘Oye Como Va.’ We sing all the songs of Latin America,” says Quique Ureta, 61, who plays with a trio at Mangoes Mexican Bar & Grill in Bethpage. Making music is a family tradition for Ureta, who comes from a long line of mariachis in Lima, Peru. He sings and plays the guitar, an art taught to him by his grandmother.

Ureta says he enjoys playing mariachi music as much as his audiences enjoy listening to it.

“An artist feels good when he performs his art,” Ureta says. “It’s the music of the soul.”