Thursday, March 21, 2019
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20190227 Mariachi 09.20Founded in 1989, Mariachi Aztlán has gone from a local treasure to an internationally lauded ensemble of musicians who perform regularly before packed houses across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Small wonder Dr. Dahlia Guerra, the classically-trained musician and educator who founded Mariachi Aztlán, describes her students as “musical ambassadors” who are duty-bound to share the wonders of mariachi culture to the world. “We have to represent the beauty of our culture,” says Dr. Guerra “and we’re here to show the beautiful side.”

Dr. Guerra sees Mariachi Aztlán as a way to bring people together. “Music unites,” she says. “Culture unites and so what we’re doing is we’re representing the beauty of the region, the beauty of the Hispanic people,” she says, adding: “We are here to sooth and to give joy through music and culture.”

In recent years, the young performers who make up Mariachi Aztlán have taken their talent before audiences at the Hollywood Bowl, the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

In 2010, Mariachi Aztlán accepted a White House invitation to perform before President Barack Obama. The performance was symbolic, as the private concert was meant to celebrate the signing of an Executive Order commemorating the renewal of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

According to Dr. Guerra, who acts as the Assistant Vice-President of Public Art at UTRGV, the expectations tied to mariachi music has changed dramatically over the recent years. “The mariachi culture has grown from being a group in a bar or maybe street musicians to a highly trained, musically talented act,” she says.

Dr. Guerra feels that the immense respect given to Mariachi Aztlán has become a source of major pride for the young musicians who represent the Hispanic heritage of their communities. “These mariachis go out all over the country and compete and so they bring pride to their communities and so it goes beyond just pretty music; it is a source of pride for the city and a source of empowerment for the students,” she says.

Francisco Loera, co-director of Mariachi Aztlán, stresses the emphasis on excellence before every performance. “Musically speaking, you want to be perfect,” says Loera, “I want perfection every time they go on stage.”

Kassandra Castillo, one of the Mariachi Aztlán performers, echoes her director’s passion for perfection by saying: “Every time I play I try to play the best I have ever played, so I think I would want the audience to kind of recognize how much I love what I am doing.”

This commitment to craft has obviously paid off.

As a much sought after example of musical excellence, Mariachi Aztlán has been invited to perform at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference, the San Diego International Mariachi Festivals, and the Chicago Mariachi Festivals. In 2010, Mariachi Aztlán collaborated with the Houston Grand Opera, in the stage production of the world’s first Mariachi-Opera, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna. In 2015, Mariachi Aztlán worked with the Chicago Lyric Opera to present the mariachi opera El Pasado Nunca Se Termina, which is set on the eve of the Mexican Revolution.

Although Mariachi Aztlan is accustomed to performing before audiences in major cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago, Dr. Guerra has a special fondness for the Winter Texans who make it a point to catch local performances in the Valley “I just want to thank our Winter Texan friends for appreciating our culture, for appreciating the talent on the campus,” says Dr. Guerra. “They are an inspiration to us because they love us and they come and enjoy the show, so they make us want to keep performing.”

The next opportunity to see Mariachi Aztlán perform will be March 2 during the FESTIBA 2019 Mariachi Concert on the Edinburg UTRGV campus. This concert will feature the first place vocal competition winners, the group winners in the Middle School level, and the first place winners of the 4A, 5A, and 6A High School Varsity levels. The concert will also feature our guest artists Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, the first all female mariachi in the United States, operatic baritone, Octavio Moreno, and UTRGV Mariachi Aztlán. For ticket information, go online at patron.utrgv.edu. Tickets are $20 for adults.

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