Female mariachi honor Latino heritage while breaking new ground

Female mariachi honor Latino heritage while breaking new ground

Get a glimpse backstage as the girls of "Las Jovencitas" warm up for their Ford Amphitheater debut.

Get a glimpse backstage as Las Jovencitas warm up for their Ford Amphitheater debut.

Marking the first-ever performance at a major venue by students in the All Female Youth Mariachi Academy, the ensemble known as Las Jovecitas (The Young Women) took center stage this week at the Ford Ampitheater, showcasing the best of young vocalists, violinists, trumpeters and guitarists from around the Los Angeles area.

“Viva la Tridicíon: La Mujer y el Marichi” (Long Live the Tradition: Women and Mariachi) paid tribute to the legacy of women in mariachi. Featuring an all-female cast of musicians and dancers – including many current and former L.A. Unified students – the group performed numbers that ran the musical gamut from traditional folk songs from 19th century Guadalajara to medleys of 21st century pop, as well as original compositions.

Las Jovencitas shared the stage with seasoned professionals, including Grammy-winning artist Susie García. She has performed with a number of all-female ensembles for years; led the string ensemble Las Colibrí (The Hummingbirds) since 2009; and served as executive producer of the event.

“I am thrilled to offer these girls the chance to flourish in their music and their emotional development in a positive, culturally relevant, all-female environment,” García said. “I know what it’s like being of Mexican heritage growing up in America and having a desire to stay connected to my cultural roots. I was fortunate to have strong and talented women as mentors, and I’m looking for ways to offer the same to the many young Latinas out there who have a passion for music and the traditions of mariachi.”

From left to right: San Fernando High School senior Daniela Orozco, John F. Kennedy High School freshman Erandi Tapia, and Hale Charter Academy eight-grader Fatima Martinez.

Musicians include, from left, San Fernando High School senior Daniela Orozco, JFK High freshman Erandi Tapia and Hale Charter Academy eighth-grader Fatima Martinez.

Daniela Orozco, a senior at San Fernando High School and a violinist for Las Jovencitas, said the group allows her to carry on a family tradition.

“For kids my age, it’s easy to get caught up in all of the stress of being a teenager and to lose sight of the culture where you and your family come from,” she said. “I remember being 5 years old and listening to my dad play the guitar and telling him, ‘That’s what I want to do!’”

Orozco’s father encouraged her to learn music while she was in elementary school, where she studied guitar, accordion, piano, and now the violin. She has been playing mariachi music for about seven years now and was thrilled to win a spot in Las Jovencitas following a successful audition.

“I feel like this is opening a lot of doors for the many things I plan on doing after high school,” she said. “But, most importantly, my dad – who is here tonight – is proud and happy to see me growing as a person while carrying on my family’s traditions.”

Freshman Erandi Tapia from John F. Kennedy High School shared a similar story.

“I remember being surrounded by mariachi music while growing up near the border between Mexicali and El Centro,” she said. “I began playing mariachi music about three years ago and fell in love with it. Being able to play the music I remember as a child feels really special. It helps me stay connected to my native language and to understand what is really beautiful about my culture.”

Tapia has been studying the violin since she was in third grade and took an interest in the guitarrón, the large, bass guitar that forms the backbone of most mariachi ensembles, when she learned of the mariachi program available at Frost Middle School.

“I remember growing up that most of the mariachi musicians were men,” she said. “So, I wanted to do something different, and I am, and I love it.”

Mariachi veteran Suzie García (center stage) leads the Las Colibrí ensemble accompanied by folclorico dancers.

Mariachi veteran Susie García leads the Las Colibrí ensemble, accompanied by folclorico dancers.

Carlos Hernandez, who co-produced Viva la Tradición, spoke of the value of mariachi music as an outlet for young women.

“Many people don’t realize it, but rates of depression and dropping out of school tend to be higher for Latinas than other groups,” he said. “Studying mariachi not only provides a way to obtain discipline and develop emotionally, but it gives them a creative outlet they can use to express themselves. We’re hoping that with events like this, we’re able to expose more and more young women to this rich, graceful art form and help them grow to be well-rounded and strong women.”

In what was a lively and soulful concert, Las Jovencitas shared the stage with New York City-based, Latin Grammy-nominated artists Flor de Toloache, Guadalajara-based Mariachi Femenil Nuevo Tecalitlán, and Las Colibrí. An energetic García took turns taking center stage with fellow performers, and at one point even ventured into the audience inviting spectators to dance. The four-hour show culminated with a dazzling finale with dozens of talented women dawning vibrant costumes and performing together in rich harmony.

Eighth-grader Fatima Martinez from George Ellery Hale Charter Academy shared her excitement at being part of such a grand event.

“Music is such a huge part of my life,” she said. “I’ve been studying it in different forms – mostly classical – since I was in second grade. But, mariachi just gives you such a great feeling. Because it’s so emotional.”

Martinez now plays the vihuela, a small guitar representing the upper-register of mariachi rhythms, as part of Las Jovencitas. Formed in June, the group of 15 girls attended workshops over the summer that included hours of intensive practice and mentoring from experts in the musical art form.

Despite the hard work, Martinez said that the experience has been so meaningful that she is determined to ensure that mariachi remains with her throughout her lifetime.

Veteran mariachi performer and founder of the Female Youth Mariachi Academy Susie García.

Grammy-winner Susie Garcia is the founder of the Female Youth Mariachi Academy.

García explained that while discipline was a central component of the newly formed academy, another critical dimension was sense of family that the experiences is designed to bring.

“I remember being a teen-age girl,” she said. “There is so much pressure coming from so many directions, that it can really give you a lot of anxiety. It makes such a difference to have the sense of camaraderie that being part of a musical ensemble brings. You have to learn to listen to one another and work as a team to produce beautiful music like this. When you blend those factors with the cultural pride it brings, it’s something incredible.”

García aims to build Las Jovencitas into a foundation that will provide similar opportunities for growing numbers of young female musicians.

“There are so many brilliant and talented young girls out there that just need a chance to show what they’re capable of,” she said. “I see this becoming more of a phenomenon and for growing numbers of Latinas to have the chance to become anything and anyone they wish to be.”


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