The all-female mariachi group - Mariachi Femenil - at The University of Texas-Pan American showed they could play with the big boys in the usually all-male musical tradition when they were crowned the national champions in the university division of the 15th Annual Mariachi Spectacular in Albuquerque, New Mexico July 8.
The 16-member UTPA Mariachi Femenil competed against the best of the best in mariachi music - professional and university musical groups - at the competition. Dr. Dahlia Guerra, chair of the Department of Music, said the group had never competed in a national competition. In Albuquerque they faced off against mariachi performers from California, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and Arizona.
"This was all new for the girls and they rose to the occasion," Guerra said. "They really shined and everyone was impressed with them. It was definitely good exposure for UTPA; everywhere we went people were talking about us."
Guerra said she considers her students "musical ambassadors" of the University and said their seven-minute performance in front of more than 5,000 audience members in the Sandia Casino Amphitheater floored many who were watching including internationally famous mariachi groups such as Mariachi Sol de Mexico and Mariachi Internacional Guadalajara. The renowned mariachi performers invited the UTPA group to perform with them at musical festivals during the year as well as instruct a workshop at next year's Mariachi Spectacular, which also features three days of training in workshops conducted by mariachi music's finest instructors in the world.
Valerie Patterson, a sophomore pharmacy major and member of UTPA Mariachi Femenil, said during their performance they felt a connection to the audience and their outstanding show reflected the group's commitment. She said they began practicing twice a week in June but as the competition date drew closer practice went to two hours every day. The group performed "Juan Colorado," "Popurrí Mexicano" and "El Fandangito."
Overall the group finished second, six points behind, to Mariachi Jalisciense of El Paso, winner of the "Professional Open Division." UTPA Mariachi Femenil and Mariachi Jalisciense were the only mariachi groups invited to perform at the Mariachi Spectacular Concert.
"It is really cool to know that you are just as good as a group that has all males," Patterson said.
Mariachi Femenil member Karina Alanis, a UTPA sophomore, said the win was a great honor for the group and also a tribute to all other female mariachi performers across the nation.
"We are very proud to represent the girls all over (the state and nation), who want to play mariachi music. It just shows that it can be done," Alanis said.
Mariachi Femenil is a three-year-old program and since its inception has garnered recognition in other competitions. The group placed third two years ago in San Antonio at the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza, which is a competition for mariachi groups from across the state. Most recently the group won second place two weeks ago in Laredo at the Six Flags over Laredo Mariachi Competition.
Members of the 2005 Mariachi Femenil include: Abby Gonzalez, Arlen Garcia, Beatriz Gonzalez, Corina Cantu, Jennifer Gifford, Juanita Suarez, Karina Alanis, Karina Lopez, Laura Campos, Lorena Lopez, Mary Washington, Mayra Martinez, Mirelle Castaneda, Pamela Garza, Vanessa Alejandro and Valerie Patterson.
For more information on the UTPA mariachi program, contact the Department of Music at 956/381-3471.