THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
World Class Ensemble Brings a Synthesis of Traditional & Modernistic Mariachi Music to the Midland Center for the Arts October 8th
21st September, 2021 0
As they embark upon their 50th season of bringing top-notch multi-cultural entertainment to the Great Lakes Bay Region, Midland Center for the Arts kicks off their Windows on the World series with a special performance of Mariachi Herencia de Mexico on Friday, October 8th at 7:30 PM.
This four-year-old ensemble that started as a student group in Chicago Public Schools and is composed of teenagers, mostly between 14 and 19, features eighteen eminently talented young Mexican-American musicians who have managed to release four highly acclaimed studio albums celebrating the historic tradition of mariachi music, which carries roots in cities like Guadalajara and Mexico City where this festive folk style endured well beyond its glory days in the mid 1950’s and 1960’s.
Four years ago the group released their debut CD, which garnered them a Latin GRAMMY award nomination and the group recently released its fourth studio album back in May titled Esencia, Vol. 2, which is a collection of classics from the Mexican folk songbook. Additionally, each of their highly acclaimed studio albums have witnessed chart-topping debuts on both the Billboard and iTunes Latin album charts, defying a music industry trend by cultivating a revival in recorded mariachi music.
According to director Cesar Maldonado, “This group started and evolved out of an educational program that I also founded, which teaches Mariachi music in the schools that began right here out of Chicago.”
“After about a year many of the kids that had signed up for the program brought such an enormous amount of natural talent to the music, that I decided to stage an audition to put together this touring ensemble that was born out of the audition program and meets during the weekends, which is when we started doing performances, seeing as many of the members have classes and attend different schools during the week,” he continues.
When asked how he got the idea for starting this ambitious project, Cesar says it stems from his upbringing. “I was brought up in a home where both of my parents were deeply into an appreciation for Mexican culture, and my wife was in the same situation - this was a big part of how we grew up.”
“Instead of listening to contemporary music on the radio, my Dad had me listening to old records of music recorded from Mexico in the 1960s and 1970s, which gave me an appreciation for the quality of the music that came out of that era,” he reflects. “Because so many music programs were evaporating in the school curriculum, I decided to start this special degree program, seeing as Chicago has a very strong Mexican minority community and there existed a need for a music program that kids could identify with while also offering them an opportunity to earn about their own culture.”
Cesar says their first GRAMMY nominated album more or less grew out of a lesson plan. “I took the ensemble into the studio four years ago to teach them the importance of playing in tune and the principles of recording like a professional, so it started out as a project more than anything, but ended up doing very well on all platforms for independent artists and shot to number one on the charts.”
“The group earned lots of natural attention from this and we went on to perform and tour at places like the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, but overall the object is to bring the most important music in Mexican culture to audiences around the world and share that culture and music tradition in other communities such as Midland. So far we’ve toured throughout Canada, the United States, China, and are excited to get out there and engage new audiences with our show.”
While some of the founding musicians have gone on to college, Cesar says that a majority of the core group of the ensemble is still the same as it was four years ago, seeing as a majority of them are attending college in the Chicago area.
The selections of material that populates their four albums derives from the genre itself. “The Mexican songbook has tons of classic music that’s been lost because it’s not played on the radio anymore,” he explains. “The goal with the two Esencia albums was to re-record those classic songs with new arrangements in order to bring a modern feel to it, but also to hopefully attract some younger generations to look into this beautiful music,”
“With this tour we want people to leave with a sense of awe at what this music truly is,” he notes. “There are so many different rhythms and styles because it is generated from so many different areas of Mexico geographically. If it is their first time seeing a live Mariachi ensemble, we want patrons to leave with an appreciation for the culture.”
When asked what poses his biggest challenge, Cesar references scheduling. “Because the members are teenagers in school, the experiences lived with this group hav made them more mature than many kids their own age. The difficult part is the scheduling and working as a performing artist, traveling, recording albums, and going to school at the same time. But our infrastructure is set up in such a way that we get commitment both from parents and the school themselves, which also teaches the kids the responsibility of multi-tasking. It’s rewarding seeing how mature and evolved these musicians are.”
Seeing as they were on such a roll prior to the COVID lockdowns, how did the group weather the past 18-months of the Pandemic? “It was a weird time for us,” confesses Cesar. “We had to stop touring entirely and when I figured out things would be shut down for awhile we decided to record our fourth album during the pandemic in April and May of last year and released it in the summer. We started rehearsing as a group after the album launch in July and are excited to get back on the road.”
Notes Jonathan Clark, a mariachi expert and historian. “This is mariachi music at its most sophisticated and most modernistic. It’s almost the antithesis of folklore, almost futuristic. Maybe 20 or 30 years from now, all groups will sound like this, I don’t know. But it is state-of-the-art."
Mariachi Herencia de México has also performed . The group has performed alongside major artists like Lila Downs, Aida Cuevas, Los Lobos, and Pedro Fernández, as well as some of the most respected mariachi groups from both sides of the border, demonstrating that this group of young musicians have the talent, training and bravado to hold their own with the best in the world.
Sixteen-year old violinist and singer Karla de la Cerda says the goal is to record and record classic Mexican songs with a fresh and progressive quality, while staying true to the original sound that made these songs so popular before.
“We’re teenagers and we feel a responsibility to share these songs with our own generation, so they’re not lost. These songs are part of our culture, our history, and it’s our job to make sure they’re not forgotten. One of my favorites is “Amor Eterno”. There are so many different versions of this Juan Gabriel classic, but our version has a modern and elegant twist to it.”
Mariachi Herencia de Mexico will be performing at Midland Center for the Arts on Friday, October 8th at 7:30 PM. Tickets can be obtained by visiting midlandcenter.org or phoning 989-631-8250.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)