The Mariachi Heritage Foundation in Chicago is preserving and keeping traditional Mexican sounds alive through music programs and young musicians.
“Mariachi is the music of my parents and grandparents, it’s always been a part of me,” adds Maldonado, who like Rodríguez has moved all music classes to online learning due to the global pandemic. “It’s important to me to help preserve the tradition with new generations, which is why Mariachi Herencia de México is so important. The group is making mariachi music cool and relevant again.”
What they’re all about: Founded in 2012, the Mariachi Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit organization, aims to celebrate and preserve the cultural heritage of mariachi music and other Mexican heritage arts. Currently, the music program teaches 2,100 students across Chicago in partnership with the Chicago Public Schools District. “Our mariachi program is taught as part of the school day and integrated into the general curriculum of the school,” MHF founder Cesar Maldonado says. “Some schools also have after school programs for performing ensembles.” The Latin Grammy-nominated Mariachi Herencia de México was formed in 2016 with 75 percent of the musicians come from the in-school program.
Since its inception, “the mariachi curriculum has evolved tremendously,” Maldonado says. “While most music curriculum includes a variety of unrelated compositions, MHF’s program makes a unique contribution to students’ learning — they learn how music represents a culture. So, instead of learning about tempo and tone with any music, the students become proficient musicians as they listen to, sing, and play the music of Mexico.”
Latest release: The mariachi’s cover of “Amor Eterno” is included in their fourth studio album, Esencia, Vol. 2., released in May. The set includes 13 songs with arrangements by award winning composer and musical director Rigoberto Alfaro. The album was recorded by the 18 musicians that make up Mariachi Herencia de México in the middle of a pandemic. While mariachi instruments are usually recorded by section, on this album they had to record each of the young musicians individually, in order to abide by the COVID-19 guidelines.
Meet a student: 17-year-old trumpet player and singer Marco A. Villela stepped-in as musical director for their latest album as Alfaro was unable to travel due to the global pandemic. Born and raised in Chicago, Villela joined Music Heritage Foundation’s mariachi program in 2016. “I decided to join because I wanted to learn more about different styles of music to be able to connect to my Mexican roots. What a better way of doing that than through the culturally beautiful music of mariachi,” says the CPS student, who grew up listening to “a lot” of regional Mexican music. “I’ve loved music ever since I was like four years old. As a mariachi musician now, I feel great pride to represent our culture and sounds.”
Vision for the remainder of 2020 and beyond: “I consider [the pandemic] just a standstill, a moment of pause, and once things get back to normal, I look forward to getting back to teaching [in-person] and [continue] making mariachi music,” Maldonado says.