The Hult Center is the perfect place for Mariachi Herencia de Mexico, says Director César Maldonado, because mariachi is a high art and should be celebrated with a performance in a music hall.
The Latin Grammy-nominated group, whose second album, Herencia de la Terra Mía, landed on the No. 2 spot on the Latin Billboard charts, is coming to Eugene on Saturday, March 16.
The group is a way to not only connect students with their Mexican heritage but also preserve the art of mariachi and its repertoire.
Although Eugene has a predominately white demographic, Maldonado says bringing mariachi here is a critical way for the art form to gain exposure.
“For the genre, because mariachi music has elevated to an art form, the show mariachi belongs in the performing arts center and in the world music category,” he says. “Going to places like Oregon and predominately white communities is absolutely critical so that the audience base can grow.”
Mariachi Herencia de Mexico started three years ago thanks to the nonprofit Mariachi Heritage Foundation, which implemented curriculum-based mariachi programs in Chicago schools. Maldonado says there was so much talent in the schools that they held auditions and created a more advanced program, which led to the group’s origin.
The group started in 2016 as then-candidate Donald Trump’s anti-Mexican narratives blew up in the U.S. Those nationalist narratives haven’t discouraged the students.
“I think it’s given them more passion to deliver the music in the best way possible,” he says. “It’s driven them to feel prouder of who they are, where they come from. When they put on that mariachi suit — that we call traje de charro — they just have a huge sense of pride.”
Ninety students are accepted into the advanced group, and 18 of those students make up the touring and recording group. Some students in the program are also in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, Maldonado says.
The quality of instruction and music demanded from the student youth orchestra are pretty much the same, he adds.
“It’s very intensive and we really try to push the kids musically so they can evolve as musicians,” he says, “but [we] challenge them emotionally so they can develop a work ethic and grow up to be great musicians and great human beings as well.”
Students in the program are Chicago-born, but their parents are also immigrants of Mexico — some documented, some undocumented — Maldonado says. The group toured central Mexico for a month and, for a lot of the students, it was their first visit to Mexico.
“People in Mexico seeing these kids at the musical level they perform at, and coming from the States, sends such a strong message about how important mariachi music and the culture are,” in the U.S., he says.
The month-long tour also led to some students meeting extended family members for the first time.
“Some of them can’t travel because their parents can’t travel,” he says. “So it’s been, musically, an extraordinary experience for them to bring the music back to Mexico, and the other part is an incredible emotional moment for the kids as they get to meet family they wouldn’t get to meet without being in the group.”
The group is planning on its third album, which will be a tribute to the golden age of Mexican cinema. The group will spend time in recording studios in both Chicago and Mexico City.
“It’s going to be an album that any mariachi lover is going to want to have in their collection because it’s going to have a lot of music that we almost forget about because it’s not on the radio or available anymore,” he says.
Mariachi Herencia de Mexico
Saturday, March 16 • 7:30 pm