by Isabella Soares
The last few years have been artsy-filled for Jorge Requena Ramos. From perpetuating the 70’s Mexican sounds in his band to working as a filmmaker, it seemed nothing but fitting for him to become the Artistic Director at the WECC (West End Cultural Centre). Even though Jorge was occupying a new job post shortly before a pandemic crisis, he was able to easily transition into the role due to some of his prior experiences off-screen.
“I consider myself lucky to be in this role during this time because I was able to use the years of TV production experience to pivot our programming accordingly. We were amongst the first to be ready with high quality online concerts in June last year. We have produced over 70 shows now and we plan to continue this. Navigating the pandemic has indeed been strange, but we want to be here for people when it’s time to come back to in-person shows. We are taking steps to come back with a force!”
Fast forward to two years at the WECC: Jorge is appreciative of the work they continue to accomplish when it comes to providing a deeper understanding of music and culture. He also acknowledges that his occupation is much more than just booking and organizing events in Winnipeg.
“The WECC has always been a beacon for cultural unity. Now with an anti-Racist/anti-oppressive mandate we are making efforts to help the people who live close to us. To celebrate our cultural wealth as Winnipeggers, Manitobans and Canadians. This job is about so much more than concerts. The WECC is a reflection of Winnipeg’s soul and we want to ensure that reflection includes everyone.”
Requena Ramos was born and raised in Mexico City. When he immigrated to Canada to further his horizons in filmmaking, he also attempted to share his country’s music identity through his band’s repertoire. The Mariachi Ghost features Jorge on lead vocals, and they perform tracks that blend Spanish and English lyrics. The intent behind the band is to present more of his culture to his local community and beyond.
“The Mariachi Ghost was my first effort to try to build a new system of cultural appreciation. When we created The Mariachi Ghost, every member of the band made an effort to see, feel, understand, and musicalize this rich cultural background and we think of this as a success. We poured over many cultural details for years and tried to show them to audiences in hopes that they would understand why those details are so important to the Mexican people.”
The singer detailed the importance of confronting cultural stereotypes. Despite Canada being a multicultural country, he felt that there was a lot that people didn’t know about the place he grew up in. Due to this, Jorge saw himself in the position of filling in the gaps in regards to his home country.
“When our audiences have misconceptions about our cultures, not explaining those misconceptions becomes a disservice to us and to them. We were lucky to have represented Canada in international stages wearing a Mariachi suit…We also had to fight against cultural appropriation, racism and stereotypes and developed an understanding of “cultural mutual appreciation’ with other artists like us. Now that concept is guiding our work. We do it for others, so they also have a platform to showcase their culture. “
When Stylus asked him about the inspiration behind The Mariachi Ghost’s folk-led tunes, Jorge said there were too many to count. Yet, he revealed that it wasn’t the Brit-pop and blues he listened to growing up that stood out. It was his grandfather’s guitar fiddling and his mother’s singing lessons that gave the ultimate spark.
“When I moved to Canada, I missed the substance of music. The soul of what my grandfather did with his raspy voice and his out of tune guitar. I wanted that back, so I made it. I focused on listening to the sultry singers of Mexico. Chavela Vargas, Lucha Villa, Jose Alfredo Jimenes. People who understood pain and longing. And crafted that into modern songs.”
As mentioned before, Jorge has a foot in multiple creative avenues, including film. This enabled him to combine both his passion for storytelling within the lenses with his music side in an exciting project. At the end of our interview, he revealed that The Mariachi Ghost have been working on a short film, which will be out soon.
“We are releasing a short film in the next couple of months and we are also releasing a symphonic instrumental track to celebrate the film’s release. Stay tuned!”