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Spirited energy

Theatrical local band has one foot in the grave, but its debut CD is full of life

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Long live the Day of the Dead!

The members of Winnipeg's Mariachi Ghost have chosen Saturday, El Dia de Muertos in Latin America, to release their first full-length album and give life to their hopes of becoming a global touring act.

It seemed the only fitting day of the year for an eight-piece band named after a fictional early 1900s Mexican cowboy who straddles the void between life and death. Each of the 11 songs on their self-titled recording is a chapter in the adventures of the character created for a graphic novel by lead singer Jorge Requena.

"It's a big tradition for me and my family to celebrate the Day of the Dead," says Requena, a filmmaker by day. "A lot of the band's themes are Day of the Dead-inspired. Our makeup is Day of the Dead-inspired. The superhero of my comic book is inspired by the Day of the Dead.

"Making our dreams come alive is happening that day."

It is a Mexican custom since the time of the Aztec civilization to gather, often in graveyards, with the spirits of loved ones who have died and return to Earth on the Day of the Dead. It is typically celebrated with music, so Mariachi Ghost saw it as an ideal date on which to introduce its new work, a picante mix of traditional Mexican music, progressive rock and spaghetti western soundtracks.

The launch party at the West End Cultural Centre will be the highlight of the band's five-year existence. It is the largest venue Mariachi Ghost, a spirited live act, has ever headlined and the most attention it has attracted. The band successfully raised $10,000 last summer through the international crowdfunding site Indiegogo, so the musicians, whose faces are painted as if half their skulls are missing, will be performing for many of their financial backers Saturday.

"This is really the new way to make music," says Requena, who came to Canada from Mexico in 2004. "In this instance you are begging from the people who have the most at stake, your audience, where as before you were begging from a record label."

Requena typically creates the skeleton of the band's Spanish songs before the rest of the players flesh them out, a process that can take years. The musical pieces go through many revisions before they hit the stage and then, based on the reception of the audience, will be modified some more.

"We try to discover what is hiding in the song and bare its soul," says Requena.

The song Cham°n tells the story of how the ghost finds his power to shape-shift into a jaguar, while Sal deals with forced labour in Mexico and the ghost's crusade against it. La bruja narrates the story of the ghost's adoptive sister as she turns into a dark sorceress and the way the power consumes her.

Onstage, Mariachi Ghost will be joined by five contemporary dancers, five acrobats and contortionists, as well as the Flaming Trolleys, a radical marching band that performs anarchist anthems from Spain. Requena is seeking to create a theatrical listening experience.

"I thought the acrobats and contortionists would complement our show," he says. "They push what a human being is to the edge of human capacity in a sort of supernatural way. How better to explain the supernatural nature of our music than to bring them onstage with us?"

Mariachi Ghost is teaming up with the Trolleys again in an effort to increase the expectations on their concert. They expect the show will spill off the stage into the audience, with the Trolleys leading the way.

Like most bands, Mariachi Ghost is optimistic its album will open doors to new audiences and venues, but the members are realistic about what it can accomplish.

"It could be possible after Saturday night, things go downhill, we break up and we never make another album again," Requena says. "It's also totally possible some people in Europe will like our album and call us over there to play.

"Anyone that comes to the show will see five years of work in the making. We will make it an entertaining, beautiful, extravagant and mystifying show. Maybe they are bold claims, but we have been working hard on it."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2013 G9

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