North Texas Daily

Mariachi Quetzal: tradition with a blend of new culture

Mariachi Quetzal: tradition with a blend of new culture

Mariachi Quetzal: tradition with a blend of new culture
March 06
00:22 2014

Obed Manuel // Senior Staff Writer

UNT alumnus Josh Garza plays a few notes on his trumpet and belts out the words “El mariachi loco quiere bailar! El mariachi loco quiere bailar!” The lyrics, meaning, “The crazy mariachi wants to dance,” are part of a song played by mariachi groups everywhere.

Garza moves from left to right and does a half twirl in his black mariachi uniform. His four fellow mariachis do the same. With smiles on their faces, the ensemble closes out the song to a round of applause from the dining patrons at La Milpa Mexican Restaurant.

Mariachi Quetzal is a Denton-based mariachi group that was born out of UNT’s Mariachi Aguilas. The group has performed at music festivals and plays private events like weddings and birthday parties.

Garza, a 2011 music graduate and director of UNT Mariachi Aguilas, has been playing with Mariachi Quetzal for about two and a half years.

“I think with the amount of time that Mariachi Quetzal has been playing in Denton, we’ve developed such a good following here in the restaurant and the community,” Garza said.

Forming the group

Mariachi Quetzal formed in 2008 when the founding members of the group met while playing for UNT’s Mariachi Aguilas—the school’s student ensemble.

Alexia Quintero, a 2012 UNT political science graduate, is one of the founding members of Quetzal. She sings for the group and plays the vihuela, a variant of the mandolin.

“We were all friends and we were all with Mariachi Aguilas,” Quintero said. “We just wanted to continue to play together.”

The original, and current, line-up was made up of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic students.

Donna Emmanuel, music education professor and adviser of UNT’s Mariachi Aguilas, said the crop of students in Mariachi Aguilas has always been made up of different ethnic backgrounds.

“There is a lot about mariachi that is different from other more classical ensembles, and the Anglos find this attractive,” Emmanuel said.

Mariachi style

Mariachi Quetzal’s nine-member line-up features two trumpets, four violins, one vihuela (small guitar), one guitarron (bass) and one guitar.

The group’s sets range from traditional Mariachi songs to more pop-oriented songs, like covers of Johnny Cash and Stevie Wonder.

Quintero said that because the group plays for such a wide array of events, it has to select the right songs for each occasion.

“We cater to a lot of people who aren’t Hispanic, so we have to play music they’re familiar with,” Quintero said. “At the same time they did hire a mariachi, so we don’t want to deprive them of that cultural experience.”

Emmanuel said that mariachi music can be contagious because it is played in very social settings.

“There is a lot of interaction between the musicians and the audience,” Emmanuel said. “There is always a possibility of unexpected things happening.”

Quetzal’s accolades

Quintero said that in the five years she has played with the group, it has been able to play on some big stages and open for big music groups.

Among the performances that stand out, Quintero said, are opening for The Toadies and playing with the Dallas Wind Symphony.

Quintero also had the opportunity to sing “Blue Bayou” with Grammy-winning UNT alumna Norah Jones at a private wedding Mariachi Quetzal was hired to play.

“She was a friend of the bride and groom. The bride just got the idea that we should do a song together,” Quintero said. “She sang and I did harmony on the chorus.”

In 2011, the Dallas Observer selected Quetzal as the Best Latin/Tejano act in the Dallas area.

A growing trend

For Roberto Calderon, Mexican-American history professor, the fact that Mariachi Quetzal was born out of UNT’s music school is a sign of the growth of the Hispanic population of UNT and the North Texas region.

Calderon said mariachi music has always been more prevalent in South Texas, but over the past eight years or so he has seen an increase in the style’s prominence in this area.

“The music in many ways is a harbinger of change,” Calderon said. “It’s been allowed literally to trumpet its style, the fact that it’s present.”

Since 2000, there has been a steady increase of Hispanic students at UNT, according to a 2008 report from Gilda Garcia, vice president for Institutional Equity and Diversity.

The North Texas Daily reported that Hispanic enrollment increased 11.4 percent from Fall 2012 to Fall 2013.

Calderon said it is not uncommon for him to be at informal university activities where mariachi groups play.

He said some of his colleagues will ask why mariachi music is being played and he responds by saying: “Look around. There’s a lot of brown faces. There’s a lot of Latino students.”

Emmanuel said that the availability of mariachi music provides Hispanic students with a sense of familiarity.

“Mariachi is a strong cultural expression that is active in the lives of Mexican-Americans. They are present at weddings, quinceañeras, graduation parties, birthdays, etc.,” Emmanuel said. “It’s really great for second- and third-generation Latinos to reconnect with this form of music that is part of their heritage.”

Garza said playing mariachi music is his passion because he has been doing it for about 20 years now. Playing for a receptive crowd, Garza said, makes performing a much more positive experience.

“Since we’ve been playing here at La Milpa, it’s been great. We have a good audience, a great feel and a great restaurant that supports us,” Garza said. “We try to give it 100 percent, so we do well, we have fun and we have fun with the music.”

Feature photo: Mariachi Quetzal members Melina Ocampo (left) and Josh Garza (right) present traditional mariachi music at La Milpa Mexican Restaurant Friday night. Photo by Zixian Chen / Senior Staff Photographer 

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