There’s truly no music that represents the Mexican experience more iconically than mariachi music. Transplanted to the U.S. in immigrant hearts, mariachi music has also come to be a symbol of Mexican American pride, and now, Mariachi Herencia de Mexico, a youthful ensemble from the diverse Mexican American barrios in Chicago, is taking the world by storm.
In classical mariachi, large ensembles elegantly dressed in festive charro attire, express emotions ranging from ecstasy to heartbreak through vibrant vocals, richly textured violin strings, bold and bright trumpets, percussive guitar strumming and rhythms that draw from European waltzes to African and indigenous folk traditions.
Mariachi Herencia de México hews faithfully to every single mariachi tradition, from the unapologetically passionate songs to the elegant costumes. The authenticity and passion of the ensemble of 12-18 year old youth from working-class, immigrant households garnered them a Latin Grammy nomination for Nuestra Herencia, their debut recording.
On May 25, Mariachi Herencia de México released their follow-up album, Herencia De La Tierra Mia, with 14-tracks that include guest vocals by superstar folk/fusion artist Lila Downs and renowned veteran mariachi singer Aida Cuevas. It’s also the first ever mariachi production for multi-Grammy winner Javier Limón, best known for his work with contemporary flamenco artists such as Buika and Diego el Cigala.
The CD, which just debuted at #2 on the Billboard Latin Pop charts and at #5 on Billboard’s Regional Mexican Music chart, is a delightful journey through tradition, sharing—as is customary in the genre—a sampler of Mexican rhythms delivered mariachi style. These include, for example, a jarocho medley with tunes from the Gulf region of Veracruz (and brilliant harp playing by invited maestro Ivan Velasco) and a boleros medley with a trio of lovelorn classics—“Gema”, “La Barca”, and “Reloj”. The CD also soundtracks the Mexican American immigrant experience with loving tributes to their musical heroes, including Tejano idol Selena.
Despite being classic takes on a classic genre, the songs are distinguished from other mariachi albums by the power and precision of the artistry and in particular, the vocalists’ rich, flowing harmonies. Theirs may be a centuries-old music, but Mariachi Herencia de Mexico’s 21st century vision of the music is fresh, albeit respectful. And unlike most mariachi albums, the new CD includes an original song, “Herencia de la Tierra Mía.” With verses that proclaim, “We live life singing,” that tune seems destined to become the first mariachi classic composed in Chicago.
At the CD release concert last week at the National Mexican Museum of Art, the standing-room only crowd consisted of people of all ages, often singing along to the beloved and well-known tunes and frequently cheering wildly at the mentions of Chicago and Mexico—revealing the most unique offering Mariachi Herencia de Mexico shares in these times.
At a point in history when the cultural gifts of immigrants are hardly recognized, Mariachi Herencia de México is here to proclaim the beauty and power of Mexican and Mexican American culture with an over-the-top music, which above all, excels at anthems to overcoming life’s hardships—whether the troubles come in the form of breakups, betrayal or others of life’s battles.
It was a soul-stirring moment when at the CD release concert, Mariachi Herencia de México sang “Mexico, you are in my heart!” The soaring melodies elevated people’s spirits in a tangible way as voices lifted and cries of “Viva México! Viva Chicago!” resounded through the room, reminding us of the immense cultural riches of a genre recognized by UNESCO in 2011 as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, now rooted on this side of the border.
All photos by Carolina Sánchez, courtesy of the artist.
Mariachi Herencia de México’s new CD is available now.
The ensemble will perform at the annual Chicago Mariachi Festival on June 25.
Check out Catalina’s weekly Beat Latino specials that included mariachi!