Mariachi Punks by Daniel Iñiguez Villa on OpenSea

Mariachi Punks bring the sights and sounds of Mexico to the Ethereum blockchain

A trip to Guadalajara with music, dancing, NFTs, and "un Vampirito" leads one writer to the value of bringing diverse cultures to the metaverse.

May 11, 2022 Art

7 months ago

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When I first discovered “Mariachi Punks” on OpenSea, I was immediately attracted to the potential of the collection. Serenading the metaverse with their sweet songs of passion, tradition, and bravado, “Mariachi Punks” were the first unmistakeable representation of Mexico that I saw on the blockchain. I decided to contact the developer to learn more about his work, so I looked up Mariachi Punks on Twitter and shot over a DM, saying I’d be there in a week. I packed my backpack, hopped on a flight, and two hours later I was in Guadalajara. My goal was not only to meet the artist behind these NFTs, but to immerse myself in the culture that played such a significant role in sculpting their formulation.

Mariachi Punks are a ten-piece NFT mariachi band created by Daniel Iñiguez Villa. Each NFT showcases an individual band member with a distinct personality and background. The members of the “Mariachi Punks” embody normal aspects of “Tapatio,” or Guadalajara culture. Villa’s collection is a beautiful clash between innovation and tradition that takes the classic Mexican pastime of mariachi and marries it to the classic, pixelated “crypto punk” avatar style.

Since their inception in 2021, the “Mariachi Punks” have helped to draw attention to Mexican art and culture in the digital marketplace. Mariachi music is a global symbol of Mexican culture and the “Mariachi Punks” personify it with their celebratory appearance and detailed back stories.

“Alma Rosa” on OpenSea

Upon arriving in Guadalajara, I checked into my hotel, grabbed some tacos al pastor from a street vendor and took an Uber to meet Villa at Ta Bom! Quesos y Vinos en el Zapopan neighborhood.

Guadalajara is a city that makes no excuses for itself. It is the epitome of classic Mexican culture. It’s a place where “In Bitcoin We Trust” stickers cover coin-operated pay phones and horse-drawn stagecoach drivers look up directions on their GPS.

Looking outward from the city center, dry dusty air and blurry structures blend together into a hazy mist that seemingly never ends. The streets are full of the smells of sizzling meat and cigarettes. In the city’s main corridors, the buzz of daily life is punctuated by chirping car horns and the rhythmic punches of Mexican trumpets. The gargantuan city of Guadalajara is where definitive Mexican traditions intermingle with worldwide technologies, creating an epicenter of cultural fusion. 

My Uber driver dropped me off in a residential area near an off-white house that looked as if it was decorated to welcome guests. Candles lined the window sill. The floor was set with big orange tiles and led through a plastered adobe archway and down some stairs. A few people sat at tables, sipping wine and eating charcuterie by candlelight. I noticed Daniel seated alone and sat down with him. We drank a few rounds of craft beer from Baja, and I got to know the man behind the creation of “Mariachi Punks.”

Villa grew up in Guadalajara training as a musician and studying computers. As a child, he spent time in Memphis where he learned English. He got into the crypto world during the blockchain bull run in 2017 and co-founded ETHGDL, a meetup that hosts talks and workshops about ETH. He then began to pursue the idea of merging blockchain and music, sensing there was power in that particular combination.

“When words such as ‘decentralize,’ ‘cut the middleman off,’ etc. came into sight, I was hyped with the idea of the possibilities this could bring to art, specifically music, as I am a musician, too,” Villa told me. “With that in mind, I started studying and enrolling in some online courses to start developing.”  

In early 2019, Villa first heard about NFTs from his co-founder at ETHGDL. Hugo de la Cruz introduced him to CryptoKitties, one of the first NFT projects ever minted on the Ethereum Blockchain. Based on what he learned, Villa began writing basic front-end programs and hosting online meetups with ETHGDL. 

“I was really interested in creating my own collection of NFTs; by that time I didn’t have a clear idea of what I should create. Mostly I was oriented to mint music in the first place,” he explained.

In February 2021, Villa attended the ETH Denver Online Hackathon where he won part of a pool of prizes awarded to the winners of the open-track category. 

“I came up with the idea of creating a collection of illustrations depicting some of Denver’s iconic places. The whole idea behind this project was to depict an iconic place throughout the whole hackathon (9 days, i.e. 9 illustrations) delivering one illustration daily. I successfully was able to deliver and that was it, that was the first ever collection I made,” Villa said.

The more he saw NFTs being traded, the more Villa was eager to put his art on the blockchain. 

“At that point, ‘CryptoPunks’ were now a sensation; it was madness, and thanks to that we saw a heavy influence of CryptoPunks upon new coming projects. Pixel art permeated the scene and projects were now basing their art out of what is now known as the ‘CryptoPunk’ aesthetic.” declared Villa.

After minting a collection and learning about the success of “CryptoPunks,” Villa conceived the idea for “Mariachi Punks.”

Mariachi Punks banner

“Soon after my first collection was delivered in February 2021, I immediately minted a song, too. And a couple of weeks later, on March 15, 2021, ‘Mariachi Punks’ were born with Lalo being the OG Mariachi Punk.” he explained. And with that, Villa officially threw his digital sombrero into the ring.

One quality of the “Mariachi Punks” is that each of the ten NFTs are multi-faceted characters that look similar but are individually different. Lalo, for instance, is the band’s trumpeter. His description reads, “Lalo is passionate about mariachi and enjoys traveling.”

“I think that a part of them was born out of irony. The irony being that these pixel art portraits were being sold for millions when some other really well-thought pieces were being practically given away for free,” Villa surmised. 

On March 23, Villa followed up Lalo with the band leader “Don Miguel” who plays the Guitarrón and has a gray mustache. He is the quintessential mariachi player in the “Mariachi Punks” who personifies the keystone rhythm instrument of a mariachi band.

Villa’s digital mariachi band is a fundamental symbol of the history and heritage of Guadalajara.

In 2011, UNESCO listed Mariachi as “intangible cultural heritage” in need of preservation. Originating from the region of Guadalajara, the iconic Mariachi “Charro Suit:” El Sombrero (hat), Botines (boots), Chaquitilla (short jacket), Cinturón Bordado (belt), Corbata de Reboza (tie), and full Botonadura (buttons) are a distinctly Mexican tradition. Each of the “Mariachi Punks” shows off their traditional apparel depicted in the NFTs.

Villa’s NFT “Don Miguel” sold only a minute after being listed for .27 ETH. Towards the end of March 2021, Villa sold “El Guero” along with the unshaven trumpeter Jose Peregrino for .27 ETH each, grossing just about 1.08 ETH within one month.

“Lalo” on OpenSea

“Don Miguel” on OpenSea

Contrary to the traditional “Don Miguel,” another member of the NFT band is “Elvira,” the pink-haired lead guitarist.  Villa’s description of Elvira’s varied musical preferences conveys the cultural complexity amongst the people of Guadalajara. As the last member to join the band, Elvira has the most eclectic background of the group. She not only likes Mariachi, but is a fan of jazz and rock music. When she isn’t playing with her Mariachi band, Elvira enjoys playing the drums.

When I wanted to find non-traditional music in Guadalajara, I was directed toward Chapultapec Ave. After about a twenty-minute walk from Guadalajara Centro, I heard the shredding of a distorted electric guitar blaring out into the street. I followed the music to a crowded bar. They were playing Metallica’s “Kill ‘Em All.” The music was loud and live. I was reminded of a life and a language I had left back in the States. The place was called the “Atik.” It was a Friday night and the band Blue Alice was playing for Guadalajara’s rockeros. The lanky bassist in a cutoff-jean vest strutted around the floor and the guitarist stood in classic power stance, dexterously running his fingers up and down the fretboard.

As the song came to its crescendo, the lead singer whipped his long black hair back and shouted into the microphone, “searching… seek and destroy!” then clenched his fist tightly like he was crushing someone’s soul. They played covers, but their attitude, drive, and power was raw. I stood out, but everyone was glad to see a foreigner bangin’ his head to the sound of Mexican rock. The lead singer Mario was excited to meet me and hear what I thought of their music. Joking with me he asked, “You heard the music from outside and you thought we were Metallica?” I totally agreed.

“Elvira” on OpenSea

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Before developing the art and smart contract for “Mariachi Punks,” Villa studied the cryptomarket and its emerging relationship with NFTs. He first learned about NFTs in 2019. “ It took around one year,” he told me, “to appreciate what NFTs were about and understand what this could mean with regards to applying them to art.”

By March 2021, the NFT market was booming and thousands of projects were showing up on the Ethereum blockchain. Drawing upon influences from daily life in Guadalajara and with use of programs like inkspace and Gimp, Villa produced his collection. “I guess it was a mixture of irony, the global crisis that musicians were faced with at the time, and the fact that I love Mariachi music. All those things came into the picture when I created the first character, that’s certain,” Villa noted.

With “Mariachi Punks,” Villa documents life in Guadalajara on the blockchain. In this way, his NFTs serve as a digital timestamp of a place and time in history that will inform future generations.

For instance, there is “Margarito” who dons a Sarape, a traditional Mexican multi-colored scarf stitched together in Teocaltiche, a small Pueblo in Jalisco. According to Villa’s description, he “plays Mexican Vihuela in the band and has a taste for traditional Pozole,” a red, oily, stew that’s filled with hominy, white corn, onions, cilantro, and chunks of pork that slip off the bone.

“Since Mariachi is somehow related to fiesta, Tequila, celebration, shouting ’arriba,’ etc. I wanted to be really careful in how I was telling the story of the characters,” Villa said.

“Margarito” on OpenSea

“Aurora” on OpenSea

During my time in Guadalajara, I followed the lead of “Aurora,” a Mariachi Punk who plays the harp, trains dogs to sing, and slams tequila straight, or “encuerado.”

Mariachi and Tequila are world-renowned Mexican exports. Both help bring together the community of Guadalajara.

Each of the Mariachi Punks have individual qualities that separate them from the rest. “I wanted something funny that you won’t be able to demean,” Villa said. “And I think I succeeded on that end by driving people’s attention over to their peculiar and unpredictable personalities.” For instance, “El Güero,” the guitarist, is a morning person that’s fond of Tejuino, and has a facility with large numbers.

Like many, Villa is proud of his Mexican heritage and made it a point to feature Mexican delicacies when conceptualizing “Mariachi Punks.” I, for one, was curious what Tejuino was.

“Oh yes Tejuino, that’s a fermented corn drink, non-alcoholic, it’s delicious! You’ll find that on every other corner throughout Guadalajara, hope you have one! They’re delicious, man! And yes Tejuino is from Jalisco, too,” Villa explained.

“El Güero” on OpenSea

The next day, I approached a half motorcycle-half street cart under the shadows of Catedral de Guadalajara. The vendor ladled some Tejuino from a small wooden barrel and poured out a liter of a light brown liquid into a styrofoam cup. He added some ice and sprinkled sugar on the top and handed it to me. 

Tejuino is so sweet that it’s bitter. Its cinnamon flavor gives it an earthy taste. I sat down on one of the nearby public benches to drink my Tejuino. Random street dogs laid out on crowded corners.  A Vespa rode up on the sidewalk and almost ran over my foot trying to get around a mother pushing her baby in a carriage. By the time I got to the end of my Tejuino, it tasted more like someone had poured sugar into salt water than the sweet Mexican candy it had started out as. 

When “Lalo” was minted and later sold in early March for .27 ETH, or about $500 at the time, the hype around Mariachi Punks began growing. “Immediately, this guy messages me with a laughing and crying face. Then like two days after he is like, ‘dude, Lalo is amazing, thanks for this.’ Then I got an email telling me that I sold my NFT,”  Villa recounted. To publicize the collection, Villa opened up an Instagram account.  “A lot of mariachi players started following the account, Villa told me. “It was interesting to learn that because NFTs are not a thing here in Mexico.” At least, not with the general public. While conceptualizing Mariachi Punks, Villa was determined to be relatable but also respectful. He wanted the collection to be humorous but not something that people would mock.

The leading voice amongst Villa’s “Mariachi Punks” is “Delfino Barragan,” the band’s charismatic singer. According to his description, Barragan sells “vampiritos,” or “little vampires,” a pungent mix of Tequila, Sangria, and Squirt.

I tasted my first vampiritos later that night after I stumbled back to the corner, across from my room at the Hotel Don Quixote. Hearing  the enchanting scrape of a drumstick on a Guiro, I decided to follow the sound up the street into a cantina. After a few two-steps on the dance floor, I ordered a “Vampirito” The drink was bright red, with a rim coated in Tajin and Chamoi. The tequila’s kick counterbalanced the sweet citrus taste of the Sangria. Somewhere in between the daze of sharp fingernails, long eyelashes, and the confusion of calculating a bar tab in a foreign language, I decided to call it a night. 

Just like “OG Lalo,” the trumpeter who likes to travel, I knew there were other places that I needed to be.

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Tony Fantano

Tony is a freelance journalist who lives in San Diego and has been published in the East Village Times and Juxtapoz Arts & Culture Magazine

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