Dinorah Klingler has been singing at the top of her lungs since the age of 4.
As a child in Mexico City, she would hop on buses with her sisters to travel across the town and perform traditional mariachi music in front of crowds in the subway. By her eleventh birthday, Klinger knew music would be her career.
She went on to join her first professional band at 14 and has enjoyed success over the last few decades. Klingler — who also sings in Italian, Portuguese, Greek and English — is a multi-award winning singer and has led multiple musical groups.
But in September 2020, the death of her father left Klingler reeling and seeking a new endeavor. So, she put out a posting on Facebook to find women to join Sacramento’s first all-female mariachi band.
It only took a few days for the responses to start pouring in and soon Mariachi Bonitas was born. By the next month, a few of them were performing at the Latino Center of Arts and Culture.
“We provide happiness to the world, we bring smiles, we bring tears and, most importantly, we bring emotion,” Klinger said.
Now, the band rehearses weekly in Klingler’s living room. It consists of 12 members.
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True to the music’s roots, the women dress in traditional outfits and range in age from 18 to 55. With trumpets, guitars and violins, their music conjures images of romance, anguish and jubilation.
The group’s popularity has grown so much that Klingler says she has to repeatedly turn down requests. They will perform on Sunday at Sacramento’s annual Mariachi festival, which Klingler began in 2014.
Mariachi bands have commonly featured women as singers, but the profession continues to be male-dominated. In some cases, all-male groups have been known to resist admitting women instrumentalists. It positions all-female ensembles, like Mariachi Bonitas, in a still-rare space.
“I feel incredibly proud to be part of an all-female mariachi,” said Sandra Arias, one of the band’s violinists. “We bring out strength and femininity in a genre not typically interpreted by women.”
Women in mariachi
In 1903, violinist Rosa Quirino became the first recorded woman to perform in a mariachi band. That led the way for more women to join and female performers soon became common.
But it would take more than 40 years until the first all-female band, Las Adelitas, formed in Mexico City.
“For the women, it ended up being a very empowering experience because, at that time, women didn’t even have the right to vote yet in Mexico,” said Leonor Xóchitl Pérez, the executive director for the Mariachi Women’s Foundation.
Pérez said more female bands formed sporadically over the next few decades. Then in 1967, Las Rancheritas became the first women-only band in the United States.
A few all-female bands have gained prominence nationally since then, but female bands in general are still catching up to male act in the market.
Jessie Vallejo, the director of Mariachi Ensembles at Cal Poly Pomona’s music department, said mixed gendered and female groups are seen more often at smaller venues.
As for headliners and larger festivals, it’s more male-dominated.
“It’s comparable to the issues that classical music has,” said Vallejo, who is also an associate professor of Ethnomusicology. “You look at all the women who play classical music at certain stages and then you look at some of the top orchestras where women have been historically excluded.”
Both Vallejo and Pérez agreed that there’s a recent increase in all-female bands. They attributed the rise to mariachi music being embraced in schools and mainstream Latino representation.
Arias said she was inspired by all-female mariachi groups, such as Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles and Mariachi Mujer 2000. She would watch them play at concerts and found herself captivated by the style and emotion. Arias eventually convinced her mom to enroll her in violin lessons with a mariachi teacher.
“Since then, I knew in my heart that mariachi would be part of me for the rest of my life,” Arias said.
Annual mariachi festival
In 2014, Klingler started the Mariachi Festival De Sacramento.
Klingler couldn’t believe Sacramento lacked a mariachi festival when she founded in the state capital in 2014. As of 2020, 22% of the Sacramento population is Latino.
“Sacramento deserved a festival that brings all the tradition, culture and beauty of mariachi music,” said Klingler.
The festival attracted 300 people in the outdoor area of a hotel during its first year.
This year, the festival will be held at the Safe Credit Union Performing Arts Center. Klingler expects about 3,000 attendees. It will feature Mariachi Bonitas, other groups and a ballet folklórico. The main headliner will be Lupita Infante, the renowned American singer and daughter of Mexican actor Pedro Infante.
For more information on the festival, visit its Facebook page.
“We are representing our country, traditions, music and all the mariachi in the world,” Klingler said. “That is absolutely important.”