Smithsonian Institution
Winter 2010: Featuring Roberto Martinez



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The online, multimedia magazine of Smithsonian Folkways

El Rey de Alburquerque¹

Roberto Martínez and His New Mexican Mariachi: A Transnational Legacy

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By Enrique Lamadrid
University of New Mexico

In New Mexico, the name Roberto Martínez is synonymous with royalty. Los Reyes de Alburquerque (The Kings of Albuquerque) is a Nuevo Mexicano–styled mariachi group he founded with Ray Flores, Miguel Archibeque, and other friends in 1962. For nearly a half-century, Los Reyes has performed all over the region and the nation in a wide variety of venues both humble and grand—from schools, nursing homes, and the live local talent shows of the 1960s to community dances, concerts, feast days, state fairs, and festivals, including several appearances at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. These public performances as well as the group's exposure on Spanish-language radio stations generated a demand for recordings, and dozens of them, from 45s to cassettes to CDs, have been issued on the homegrown M.O.R.E. (Minority Owned Record Enterprises) label founded by Roberto Martínez. The collection is now part of the Smithsonian Folkways with many albums available. Their music features mariachi favorites in familiar arrangements of guitarra, requinto, vihuela, guitarrón, violín, and trompeta (guitar; soprano, rhythm, and bass guitars; violin; and trumpet), but what distinguishes Los Reyes is the lyrical New Mexican violin as well as Martínez's original compositions.

Don Roberto is also the patriarch of one of New Mexico's most prominent musical families. His five children (Roberta, Doris, Lorenzo, Debra, Roberto Jr.) and several grandchildren (Sheila and Larry) have all played with the group, and many young musicians got their start with Los Reyes as well. Two stars emerged from this family constellation: the late Debbie "La Chicanita" Martínez, whose meteoric singing career was tragically ended by deafness and illness, and Lorenzo, whose violin has introduced a new generation to the resonant instrumental music of the past.

Born in 1929 in the farming and ranching village of Chacón in the upper Mora valley, Roberto Martínez grew up deep in the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains. He was surrounded by Nuevo Mexicano musical traditions, the very breath and spirit of his family and culture. He heard the venerable violin and guitar repertory of nineteenth-century Mexicanized waltzes, polkas, schottisches, cunas, redondos, and cutilios that were associated with a lively social dance tradition. Religious and ceremonial music accompanied rituals and rites of passage. Roberto's parents sang a wide variety of songs and narrative ballads including romances, inditas, and corridos. He was amazed by the occasional visits of the "Carpas" or traveling tent shows that brought musicians and singers like the great Lydia Mendoza from such places as Texas and Mexico. These shows also featured movies illuminated by gasoline generators and projected onto bed sheets. Martínez remembers seeing charro musicals with stars like Jorge Negrete and Pedro Infante singing the emerging rancheras (Mexican country music) and the newly popularized mariachi traditions. The impressionable teenager from northern New Mexico idolized Mexican music and dreamt of becoming a mariachi.

¹Founded in 1706 and named in honor of the Viceroy of New Spain, Alburquerque (original spelling) is New Mexico's largest city. After the American Invasion of 1846, its first "r" disappeared from maps and signs. In 1992 Rudolfo Anaya's famous novel, Alburquerque recovered the missing letter. After 1992, Los Reyes proudly added the "r" as a demonstration of cultural pride and recovery. New Mexican is an adjective that translated into the Spanish Nuevo Mexicano, refers more specifically to the state's Hispano/Latino/Mexicano/Chicano people and their culture.

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Click to watch video

Los Reyes de Albuquerque y La Familia Martínez. A Public Radio and Online Documentary by Paul Ingles and Genevieve Russell. For more, visit www.losreyesstory.org

Click images to enlarge and view captions