Mariachi bands pivoted to playing funerals in pandemic to survive

Entertainment

SAN DIEGO – The pandemic has reshaped many industries, but also one you might not expect: mariachi bands.

These local musicians had to pivot to survive during the height of the pandemic, largely playing at funerals. Typically, their upbeat sounds of trumpets and violins are heard at birthday parties, weddings and all types of celebrations.

But as the pandemic worsened bringing new restrictions, business nearly came to a screeching halt.

That’s when booking started to rush in to play funerals, singer Oscar Hernandez said.

“It did overwhelm us a lot because we didn’t expect to do so many, and most of them obviously were COVID related,” Hernandez said.

Mariachi Nuevo San Diego was playing up to six funerals a week during the pandemic compared to the typical few each month before it began.

Hernandez said it’s painful to see families lose loved ones, but noted that playing funerals is what kept some local mariachi bands afloat throughout 2020.

“When you’re singing, it’s not just only singing,” he said. You have to interpret the song and you have to also feel what you’re singing and it does take an emotional toll. For me, the hardest part is when I’m at a funeral and it’s an open casket.”

Now the group is happy options are reopening with San Diego County in the state’s red reopening tier and that funeral bookings are trending downward again.

“We’re getting back to business slowly but surely,” he said. “May’s starting to look good because people are doing the events for Cinco de Mayo; they’re celebrating Mother’s Day, etc., so May is actually one of our busiest months.”

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