Chicago student ensemble Mariachi Herencia de México scores a surprise hit

Posted: August 9, 2017 in News, Videos
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Mariachi Herencia de Mexico (photo © Meg Rachel)

Mariachi Herencia de Mexico (photo © Meg Rachel)

Mariachi Herencia de México,
an Ensemble of Students from Chicago’s Immigrant Barrios,

Scores a Surprise Hit with their Debut CD, Nuestra Herencia (Our Heritage);

CD Debuts at #2 on iTunes Latin Chart, Showcasing Growth of Mariachi Music in the U.S.

Produced by Top L.A. Mariachi Musician José Hernández, CD Features Guest Vocalists
from Renowned Bands Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, Los Camperos, and others

With Support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Project Represents Success of Mariachi Program Model in Financially-Strapped Chicago Public Schools

NYC Debut August 20 at Joe’s Pub + Kennedy Center in Washington, DC on Sept 16

Mariachi Herencia de México, an ensemble of students from Chicago’s immigrant barrios, has scored a surprise hit with their debut album of traditional Mexican music. Nuestra Herencia (Our Heritage) ranked No. 2 in its first week on iTunes’ Latin chart, defying a music industry trend and pointing to a revival in recorded mariachi music.

The album is believed to be the first major mariachi recording released in the U.S. by a student ensemble, with members ranging in age from 11 to 18. It was produced and arranged by L.A.’s mariachi master, Jose Hernández, who calls the project “one of those labor of love things.” Much of that love and labor came from César Maldonado, an investment banker whose most important startup was a non-profit foundation that promoted mariachi music instruction in Chicago public schools, creating a classroom incubator for the talent on this album.

“It’s really nice, and very refreshing, to see kids that age who have so much love and respect for mariachi music,” says Hernández, best known as founder of Mariachi Sol de México, one of the top mariachis in Los Angeles.

In a historic collaboration, the album features guest musicians from some of the most respected mariachi groups from both sides of the border. It includes vocal contributions, recorded in Mexico, by members of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, a revered institution in the genre. In addition, members of three top Los Angeles ensembles – Los Camperos, Sol de México, and the all-female group Reyna de Los Ángeles – recorded guest vocals on the CD.

The release of the album, featuring 11 traditional mariachi tracks, comes paradoxically at a time when the genre had been waning. With more than 100 years of history, mariachi music had become an iconic art form, representing Mexican culture throughout the world, via records, movies and spectacular live performances by superstar singers. But the lack of major new artists in the field, coupled with the emergence of other popular folk styles, especially banda and corridos, mariachi music lost its commercial appeal for the recording industry. In fact, last year the Latin GRAMMYs did not offer an award for “Best Ranchero / Mariachi Album” due to an insufficient number of entries in the category.

Nuestra Herencia was released in time to qualify for this year’s Latin GRAMMY competition and features tribute medleys to two of the genre’s greatest stars: Juan Gabriel and José Alfredo Jiménez.

For the creators and members of Mariachi Herencia de México, the passion for mariachi music has never faltered. The group’s success represents the strength of the colorful folk style as a grassroots movement, very much alive in regional festivals and especially in the schools.

“I tell people that mariachi is a sleeping giant in this country,” says Hernández, who also operates music education programs through his L.A.-based Mariachi Heritage Society. “A lot of people in the mainstream don’t realize how big mariachi has become in the schools. This album might open people’s eyes to what’s happening to mariachi education in this country. It’s really growing.”

In Chicago, Mariachi Herencia de México was purely a barrio creation.

The band emerged from a plucky non-profit, the Mariachi Heritage Foundation, that pushed a cultural agenda in the schools. It was started in 2013 by a determined investment banker whose entrepreneurial spirit was aimed at doing good for his old neighborhood. César Maldonado, 33, was born and raised in the blue-collar, predominantly Latino community of Brighton Park on the south side of Chicago. At the time, he recalls, the public schools he attended had no formal arts or music instruction.

“I believe in the impact of the arts, especially when the art form is relevant. And this art form is completely relevant to Chicago’s growing Mexican and Mexican American communities,” says Maldonado.

Maldonado, who still lives in his old neighborhood, decided to make good on his convictions. With the blessing of Chicago’s arts-focused leader, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and support from a network of local businesses, a program of mariachi music instruction was launched, initially in five public schools. These were among the schools identified by a city study as most lacking in arts resources. And that included Maldonado’s alma mater, Davis Elementary.

The program, part of the regular school curriculum, has now expanded to eight schools and enrolls 2,100 students, who learn music theory and performance in the mariachi style. The ensemble Mariachi Herencia de México was created for students who showed the most talent and promise, and enrollment for the group was opened citywide.

For trumpeter Marco Villela, 14, who joined the mariachi last year at the urging of his mother, the experience has been a cultural eye-opener.

“It’s something that changed my life,” says Villela. “It really taught me how to look at music differently, and that there are more things out there than just classical and jazz.”

The group performs in major mariachi festivals, including upcoming events in Chicago, Orlando, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Guadalajara, Mexico’s mariachi capital. Maldonado says the band recently signed with IMG Artists, the New York agency that also represents international stars Aida Cuevas, Eddie Palmieri, and Diego El Cigala.

The aim is more exposure, so the world can see what these young musicians have to offer. Debut concerts at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and The Public Theater in New York City are now on the schedule.

“I want people across the country to hear about these kids,” says Maldonado. “These are kids from some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods, most of them first generation Mexican American, and all of a sudden, they enroll in this mariachi program and awaken a talent they never knew they had. And they become good enough to record something like this.”

Mariachi Herencia de México – Summer 2017 Tour

August 20 – New York, NY – Joe’s Pub – 7:00pm
Aug 25- Sept 3 – Guadalajara, MX – Guadalajara International Mariachi Festival
MEXICAN INDEPENDENCE DAY EVENTS:
Sept 16 – Washington, DC – Kennedy Center / Millennium Stage (FREE)
Sept 16 – Chicago NPR Radio – WFMT-FM Performance on “Introductions”

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