The members of Mariachi Mestizo are still glowing after landing a performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., last month.
After receiving a personal invitation last fall from Manhattan Concert Productions in New York City, which heard of the group after an acclaimed 2017 performance at Carnegie Hall, the group couldn't resist a chance to return to the East Coast.
According to Juan Morales, founder and director of The Mariachi Studio in Delano where Mariachi Mestizo was formed, a team of family, students and the community banded together to raise funds needed for the trip. Benefit concerts included Dia de Los Muertos and a Valentine’s Dinner Dance, plus generous contributions from private sponsors.
Since opening The Mariachi Studio as a physical teaching space in 2010, Morales has helped keep the honored musical mariachi music traditions of Mexico alive with young performers all over Kern County. Morales’ wife, Leticia, also acts as studio’s academy director.
“Our youth are thirsty for means of artistic expression that allow them to be who they are without having to disconnect from their roots," he said. "Mariachi music serves as a passage to bridge the intergenerational gap.”
From community events to school performances, the 22-member group has been able to travel to places they didn't expected to visit so early, if ever. Students and families of Mariachi Mestizo explored our nation’s capital, from the Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials to the Smithsonian and Georgetown University to name a few.
“Our students come from a culturally and economically disadvantaged area, and many of them had never been out of California or flown in a plane,” said Morales. “Of course, the simple fact of being jet-lagged and waking on the other side of the continent was mind-blowing for them. Seeing in person the monuments, the memorials and museums they had only heard of in books was surely thrilling. However, the experience of making music in such an awe-inspiring venue as the Kennedy Center, was undoubtedly superior any other.”
Mariachi Mestizo holds the distinction of being one of the first mariachi ensembles to ever perform at the prestigious Kennedy Center. While there have been several generations of the group since 1998, the current group, together since 2012, has been the most active of all its previous incarnations. Band members range in age from 10 to 21 and perform on a variety of mariachi instruments including guitarron, trumpet, violin, garana, vihuela, guitar and harp.
“Many of our students have not grown up listening to mariachi music and are even shy about singing in Spanish because they are not fluent in that language," Morales said. "Nevertheless, we believe that anyone can learn to love this music, regardless of their cultural heritage.”
Morales added the universal and festive message of mariachi music is a source of comfort during the current political climate.
“Our academy offers music education and performance opportunities that are culturally meaningful to the community in which we live. In these times of racial turmoil, it is crucial to offer our youth ways to validate their cultural heritage and boost their self-confidence.”
In addition to the Kennedy Center performance, this year also marks the 20th anniversary of Mariachi Mestizo. To celebrate that milestone, the group recently released a commemorative album, “Mestizo: XX Aniversario,” recorded at Capitol Records in Hollywood.
On July 13, the group will perform at Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles during the “Take A Stand” Symposium, bringing together educators and stakeholders from around the world who have a vested interest in the El Sistema music education movement, which promotes progressive practices in music education. Members of Mariachi Mestizo will conduct a live demonstration during a workshop on student leadership and peer-teaching.
And that’s not all: The group will also hold an album release concert performance at The Freight & Salvage venue in Berkeley.
“Preserving the musical tradition of mariachi in our community is important, but I think the effects of this preservation in the lives of our young ones is even more transcendental,” said Morales. "It started with 12 students in 1998 and we have now over 100.”
For more information on Mariachi Mestizo and The Mariachi School in Delano, please visit themariachistudio.com, or call 203-1183.