“We are the future,” said 16-year-old ZullyDiana Gomez, who is one Mariachi Herencia de Mexico’s violin players. “We don’t want our culture to die and we want to keep celebrating it through music.”
Mariachi Herencia de Mexico is composed teenagers, ages 11 to 19, from Chicago, whose new album -- titled Herencia de la Tierra Mía -- debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Latin Album Sales chart and No. 5 on the Regional Mexican Albums chart (dated June 9).
“To be on the Billboard charts is a great honor because we’re city kids, we’re students and we’re coming from such humble roots,” said violinist Angelica Perez, 19. “So, to be placed in such a nationwide publication, that’s amazing and it gives me so much pride.”
What started out as a music program for students enrolled in Chicago Public Schools, the third largest district in the nation, in 2014 has become much more than he could ever envision, said Cesar Maldonado, founder the education program.
“It’s a group kids, but it’s impressive to see their playing level, where they’re at musically and how much they have evolved,” Maldonado told Billboard. “It’s them being trailblazers, leading the genre.”
Maldonado also runs the Mariachi Heritage Foundation, a nonprit organization that seeks to preserve the cultural heritage mariachi music and other Mexican heritage arts.
Since the band’s inception in 2016, Mariachi Herencia de Mexico, managed by IMG Artists, was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2017 for their debut album Nuestra Herencia, and the young musicians have already shared the stage with singers like Aída Cuevas and Lila Downs.
It’s safe to say that when we think mariachi music, icons like Pedro Infante, José Alfredo Jiménez and Vicente Fernández come to mind, not teenagers from Chicago.
Aware that they’re stepping into a music genre that has years history and tradition behind it with big names attached to it, the band members hope to reach a new generation listeners while respecting the music and its authenticity.
“Our philosophy is that first, you have to love and respect the music because there’s hundreds years culture with this music,” said Maldonado. “We’re making the music relevant to a new generation but also respecting it for people that have worked so hard on it.”
Aside from reaching a new generation, Maldonado wants to see mariachi music in a world music genre next to flamenco and Latin jazz instead being placed in the regional Mexican music space.
“We’re not on the radio. If the radio has Banda El Recodo and narcocorridos and all this other music that is completely different music, we might as well be moved to the more sophisticated side music and expand the audience because mariachi hasn’t reached its potential.”
Hoping to help mariachi music reach its potential and attract new listeners, their new album features covers classical mariachi tunes while adding their own twist and recording some Selena Quintanilla’s songs.
The band members also co-wrote their very first song titled “Herencia de la Tierra Mía.” They partnered with producer and songwriter Javier Limón for the song where they pay homage to their hometown Chicago. Limón also produced the new album.
The video was recorded in the neighborhoods where they grew up, which are all predominantly Hispanic and immigrant communities.
It’s because their upbringing in Chicago and living in a moment when an anti-immigrant sentiment seems to thrive across the country that makes them realize how important it is to wear thetraje de charro (mariachi suit) and represent this music with pride and dignity.
“I go to a Catholic school and there aren’t many Mexicans students so every time when I walk through the halls in my traje, many people stare at me and say, ‘nice costume.’ I tell them it’s not a costume,” said Bryana Martínez, 15-year-old violinist. “It makes me proud to wear my traje in that school and represent my culture, my heritage and show people that I am proud who I am.”
“We’re also trying to give a message hope by recording this music,” Gomez said. “This is who we are. We’re honoring Mexico, our tierra (land) and it’s important that in times like these, when it’s hard for people to go visit their family due to what’s going on and the president we have, it’s important to give our people a sense hope.”
Chicago pride also plays an important role in these teens’ lives, said Maldonado.
“For it to be kids from the ‘hood,’ we’re not embarrassed that, we’re proud it and if we can teach people a little bit more about where we come from through this music, great. That’s what music is supposed to do. Inspire emotions, evolvement culture and push forward.”
While school’s out for summer break, Mariachi Herencia de Mexico members will be busy touring the U.S. and Mexico. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m usually always with the group,” said Gomez. “Maybe we’re not practicing or in gigs but we go to the movies together because we can basically call each other family.”