EVENTS : A MARKET FOR FIESTAS : Mariachi Appearances Are Part of a Monthlong Latino Alternative to German Celebrations

<i> Zan Dubin covers the arts for The Times Orange County Edition. </i>

Gabriel Zavala can relate to Stu Sutcliffe. Like the ill-fated “fifth Beatle,” Zavala once left a rock band before its big success. Only Zavala’s band was in Mexico, not Liverpool.

But the main difference between Zavala and Sutcliffe is that Kismet ultimately led Zavala to a contented life in Mariachi music.

“Mariachi is the essence, the soul of the Mexican people,” Zavala said. “When you hear it, something stirs inside you.”


Zavala and his 21-year-old son, Oliver, headline Los Amigos Mariachis, which will take the stage all this month at Fullerton Market, held every Thursday through Dec. 15 on Wilshire Avenue between Harbor Boulevard and Pomona Avenue in Fullerton. The mariachi band’s appearance is part of “Octoberfiesta,” a Latino alternative to the more well-known German-flavored Oktoberfest celebrations.

Along with Los Amigos Mariachis (who play between 5:30 and 9 p.m.), the admission-free outdoor market offers fresh produce, arts and crafts, children’s activities and other entertainment from 4 to 9 p.m. Also tonight at 7, Fullerton High School students will perform Latin American dances. Next Thursday, the children’s dance troupe Xochitlpitzahuatl will present Mexican folk dances. Fanfarryas Colombyana will perform Colombian folk dances the following Thursday. (See accompanying schedule for Fullerton Market entertainment in November and December.)

Octoberfiesta reflects Fullerton officials’ desire to celebrate Latino culture. Latinos, who contribute significantly to Fullerton’s artistic life and lend civic and community leadership, make up roughly one-fifth of the city, leaders say.

Zavala, an Anaheim resident who performs throughout Orange County, was raised on mariachi music in Acambaro, a small town northwest of Mexico City. He first took lessons at age 12 from the eldest of his six brothers, all of whom still make music.

He made his debut in a community band, then picked up the guitar and joined the Rocking Devils, the group that hit the big time (releasing at least 10 albums), after he departed.

“You see, I was very poor,” Zavala, 49, said in a recent phone interview from his home, “and I needed to buy a nice electric guitar and amplifier. So, I came to the U.S. to make some money.”


He planned to buy the instrument and rejoin the Devils. But, while in America, Zavala became disenchanted with the ‘60s rock scene, which he described as rife with illicit drugs.

“That’s when all the bad things started to happen with the acid and LSD,” he said, “and the music went real, real crazy, psychedelic.

“Being a nice clean hometown boy, I didn’t go into drugs, and I didn’t like rock anymore. I didn’t see myself performing with long hair and love beads. So, I picked up my old acoustic guitar and started strumming the old familiar (mariachi) folk tunes. From there, my brothers, who had also moved here, and I decided to do something together.”

Los Hermanos Zavala (the Zavala Brothers) performed throughout Southern California for a decade. It disbanded in the mid-’80s when the younger siblings split off to play rock, but Zavala has kept his family tradition alive with his father-son-led octet, which is now 5 years old. None of the other members are related to Zavala.

“I started teaching Oliver notes on the accordion when he was about 6,” Zavala said, “then moved him to the guitar. Now he is working toward his bachelor’s degree in music at Fullerton College. He wants to score for film.”

Five of Los Amigos Mariachi’s members will appear at the Fullerton Market. Gabriel plays the violin, arranges and writes many of the group’s tunes. Oliver plays trumpet and guitar. Their program will include spicy jalicience, the fast, staccato trumpet rhythm most identified with mariachi, waltz-like rancheras, romantic bolero ballads, and cumbia, the danceable, upbeat music of Colombia.

The popularity of such non-mariachi styles as cumbia and rock pop Espanol--the rage among young Latinos that’s making mainstream inroads too--doesn’t worry Zavala. He believes that mariachi, more closely “connected to the Mexican psyche” than any other music, has lasting power.


“We enjoy a nice salsa , a nice cumbia and cabraditas ,” he said, “but when people hear mariachi, they go ‘Eeeeeeaaaahh!’ ”


In addition to the events going on at the Fullerton Market, there are other ways to celebrate Latino culture in that city.

The Fullerton Museum Center is exhibiting a Day of the Dead ofrenda (altar) at 301 N. Pomona Ave., and waives admission from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Dec. 15. This Saturday at 6:30 p.m. (and every weekend in October), the museum center will screen the video “La Ofrenda: The Days of the Dead,” and Xochitlpitzahuatl will dance at 8 p.m. Admission to the video screening is $2.50; admission to both is $8.

* What: Los Amigos Mariachis perform between 5:30 and 9 p.m. during Octoberfiesta at Fullerton Market.

* When: Fullerton Market runs Thursdays through Dec. 15 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

* Where: Wilshire Avenue, between Harbor Boulevard and Pomona Avenue, Fullerton.

* Whereabouts: Orange (57) Freeway to Chapman Avenue, Fullerton exit; go west; turn left onto Pomona to Wilshire.

* Wherewithal: Admission is free.

* Where to call: (714) 738-6575.

More at the Market

Even after Octoberfiesta ends, there will be plenty going on at Fullerton Market. The following events will take place in November and December, held every Thursday through Dec. 15 from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Market:

Nov. 3 and 10:

Crrrunch plays oldies rock, contemporary pop, Latin music and show tunes between 5:30 and 9 p.m.


Nov. 17:

The Chris Abernethy Trio plays jazz between 5:30 and 9 p.m.

Fullerton High School students perform international folk dance at 7 p.m.

Dec. 1, 8 and 15:

The Country Store Band plays original country tunes and cover hits between 5:30 and 9 p.m.