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Spring Sing 2022: Mariachi de Uclatlán aims to bring Mexican music to forefront with lively set list

Each holding their respective instruments, members of Mariachi de Uclatlán stand in a triangular formation and wear their signature gold and blue charros. 12 of the ensemble’s members will perform their rendition of “El Pasajero” at Spring Sing on Friday. (Photo by Sandra Ocampo/Daily Bruin. Photo illustration by Ashley Shue-Lih Ko/Daily Bruin staff)

By Talia Sajor

May 17, 2022 3:30 p.m.

This post was updated May 19 at 12:34 p.m.

Mariachi is traveling onto the Spring Sing stage

On Friday, Mariachi de Uclatlán will be stepping onto the Los Angeles Tennis Center clad in blue and gold charro suits. The musical ensemble, established in 1961 as the first collegiate mariachi band in the country, is led by student director, violinist and fourth-year biology student Cesar Puente. Upon entering the music competition, Puente said, he decided to sign up for this year’s in-person event to help bring exposure to the group and reestablish its presence on campus.

“They (people) might wonder what happened to the ensemble. Did it fall apart? Is it still together? Did they survive the remote aspect of the pandemic?” Puente said. “We just want to either introduce ourselves or remind people who may know us that we are still here, that we are still going strong.”

The group is planning to debut its rendition of “El Pasajero,” or “The Passenger,” which tells the story of a traveler as he explains the scenery and views of his journey. Puente said Mariachi de Uclatlán decided on this particular song for Spring Sing because of its high energy and buoyancy. Additionally, he said the piece was chosen because it was composed in Jalisco, the same state in Mexico where mariachi was first established.

“It’s one of those songs where the melodies, the lyrics are very lively, which I think is the best way to get the audience’s involvement and attention to our performance because there’s many different styles and genres when it comes to mariachi music,” Puente said.

[Related: Grammys 2022: UCLA professor celebrates Afro Latin jazz in nominated album, track]

Second-year education and social transformation and ethnomusicology student and secretary of the group Alexis Romero said rehearsing the song has improved her skills with the guitarrón, a six-string acoustic bass guitar, and as a musician overall. Romero said “El Pasajero,” classified under the son jalisciense genre, differs from songs on the usual set as they typically perform sones and rancheras, two additional styles of mariachi. The song is split into two sections, she said, beginning with a complexity of regularly changed time signatures.

In preparation for a performance such as Spring Sing, Romero said the ensemble – consisting of guitars, violins, trumpets, guitarrónes and vihuelas, a five-stringed guitar – gathers weekly to fine-tune its set. She said the group rehearsals include continuous run-throughs of the specific song they plan on presenting. While practices are held as a group effort, she said regularly designated time is given to individual sections to make adjustments and corrections as needed.

“We always rehearse on Mondays for three hours, 7 to 10 p.m.,” Romero said. “It’s really just playing the songs over and over and trying to polish and perfect them.”

Fourth-year, ethnomusicology student and trumpet player Samantha Cabral smiles and holds her instrument. The ensemble is composed of guitar, violin, trumpet, guitarrón and vihuela players. (Sandra Ocampo/Daily Bruin)
Fourth-year ethnomusicology student and trumpet player Samantha Cabral smiles and holds her instrument. The ensemble is composed of guitar, violin, trumpet, guitarrón and vihuela players. (Sandra Ocampo/Daily Bruin)

Although Mariachi de Uclatlán is a class within the Herb Alpert School of Music open to all students, only 12 of its 20 musicians will be performing at Spring Sing. Puente said on top of availability on the day of the event, he considered commitment and musical capability in selecting the musicians. Being chosen for a performance serves as recognition for one’s dedication to the ensemble, he said.

Contributing in the rhythmic armonia section – consisting of guitarrónes, vihuelas and guitars alongside Romero – is third-year anthropology student and guitarist Ricardo Dollero. He said the performance at Spring Sing differs from previous concerts during the academic year because of the broader audience the event advertises itself to at UCLA. With Mariachi de Uclatlán typically playing at Latino events, including the Hermanos Unidos de UCLA block party and the Cinco de Mayo concert, Dollero said he is excited to promote the group on a stage dominated by American mainstream artists and music.

“I hope the people that are of Latino descent, of Mexican descent, feel pride in their school, that they decided to add a mariachi into this concert that’s always been more contemporary music,” Dollero said.

[Related: UCLA PEER Lab to host symposium amplifying voices in musicology research]

Committed to bringing mariachi music to light both on and off campus, Puente said participating in a larger-scale performance such as Spring Sing is important because of the representation of Mexican culture. He said with a campus as large as UCLA, having a performance by Mariachi de Uclatlán at a widely regarded event pushes the barriers for other ethnic artistic groups and reflects the diversity within the student body.

“That’s the thing that we should be focusing on – to make it more of a natural thing that ensembles like mariachi or any other minority ensemble to be able to be performed in these big concerts or big performances given the opportunity,” Puente said.

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Talia Sajor | Arts editor
Sajor is the 2023-2024 Arts editor. She previously served as the 2022-2023 Theater | film | television editor and a Photo, Opinion and PRIME contributor. She is also a third-year communication student from Oxnard, California.
Sajor is the 2023-2024 Arts editor. She previously served as the 2022-2023 Theater | film | television editor and a Photo, Opinion and PRIME contributor. She is also a third-year communication student from Oxnard, California.
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