Since the 18th century, the music known as “mariachi” has told many stories of Mexico, from love and death, heroes and heroines, to betrayal, machismo and even politics.
This music and the stories it contains had a huge impact on young musicians like Jimmy Cuellar.
âIt’s just a tradition that’s in my blood,â Cuellar said. “And it’s so nice.”
Cuellar had loved mariachi since he was 12, when he realized that the music his father and uncles played was so much more than something pleasing to his ears – it was his legacy. .
Now 39 years old, Cuellar turned his pride in this heritage and his love for music into a business, forming a band called “Mariachi Garibaldi”.
The group not only seeks to entertain – which they do all year round – but also to build bridges. The goal is to connect the older generations who love mariachi with the new generations who can help it survive.
Like all popular art forms, mariachi faces a paramount question: how to stay relevant and popular with younger generations.
It is a fear of Cuellar.
âIf young people don’t continue, it could beâ¦ it could go away,â he said.
So he and his wife started a school, called “Thee Academy” and located in a small building in Bell Gardens.
There, Daisy Villa-Torres practices singing after school. At 17, she discovers that mariachi can break down generational barriers.
âSinging in my family’s language – you know, where we’re from – feels good,â she said.
She loves the way her music, a gift she refines every week, connects her to her parents’ homeland in Guerrero, Mexico. She knows it because of her father’s reaction.
âHe’s not a very emotional guy, but every time he sees me sing I always see him in tears,â Villa-Torres said.
Thee Academy faced challenges during the pandemic. But Cuellar found ways to keep his students active and engaged: their spring recital was performed entirely online.
Villa-Torres is back in the studio, rehearsing with Gustavo Hernandez, one of Mariachi Garibaldi’s 10 regular members.
Villa-Torres is one of the performers on whom Cuellar relies to shine the torch of musical form.
Cuellar thinks mariachi is safe for the next generation, but it’s hard to say for sure. With art, trends come and trends go.
But this art form has over 200 years behind it, a new generation of talent and many more stories to tell.