Love the culture behind the 'Day of the Dead' before you dress up, says Mexican musician

All the band members of The Mariachi Ghost wear traditional Mariachi suits when they perform - even though most of them aren’t Mexican. And Jorge says that’s okay by him.
The Mariachi Ghost (Jay Poturica)

Jorge Requena Ramos left Mexico a little over 10 years ago. One of the first things he did when he got to Canada was to look for some like-minded musicians.

Requena Ramos drew upon the folklore he grew up with in Mexico for the look and sound of his new band The Mariachi Ghost.

When designing their makeup, Requena Ramos and his band looked to the Day of the Dead imagery and important Mexican artistic styles, including illustrator José Guadalupe Posada's depictions of La Catrina, a female skeleton dressed in fancy clothes.

Calavera Catrina by José Guadalupe Posada

"We decided to take traditions of Mexican art ... and we adapted them into the make-up, so that the makeup would have a more intricate understanding of Mexican culture," he said.  

"It's not just that it looks like The Day of the Dead makeup, which it does. Every single scribble that is encoded into the makeup is another little bit of Mexican culture that took a certain amount of research and work to get there."

The Mariachi Ghost's sound is as unique as their look. Requena Ramos combined traditional mariachi music and instruments with electric guitars and progressive rock to create their sound.  

The Mariachi Ghost in performance

Every band member wears a traditional charro suit when they perform — even though most of them aren't Mexican. And Requena Ramos says that's okay by him.

"I feel the guys in the band have shown an impressive degree of love, respect and veneration for Mexican culture. And in a couple of cases, they've actually travelled to Mexico … [and] learned to play the traditional styles that are almost disappearing," said Requena Ramos. "That love and respect, I feel, has earned them the right of calling themselves honorary Mexicans."

Many fans of The Mariachi Ghost attend performances dressed like the band — in charro suits and Day of the Dead make-up. In these instances, Requena Ramos said cultural appropriation comes down to your intention.

"Symbols are important and they are valuable to us. And so if you're using them in the wrong way — and especially if you're using them to make fun of us — we're not going to like that," said Requena Ramos. "But if you're using them to learn to love our culture, we're going to like that. It's a pretty simple equation."

Note: The songs heard in Jorge Requena Ramos' story are in order: Cascabel, Cempazuchitl, Susana, The Mariachi Ghost.  Find these songs on Soundcloud and Spotify