From the large gathering of tents on the University of Arizona mall emerged a blistering sound of trumpets, violins and guitars. It showed how at any given event, mariachi is forever the heartbeat of the state of Arizona in terms of music.
Under an elaborate white tent outside off the side of the mall was a large gathering at the 5th Annual Nuestras Raices Youth Mariachi Contest. Bands composed of students and other teenagers each got their chance to show off in front of the judges as the crowd gradually grew bigger and bigger and bring life to a quiet book festival.
“All of our directors are music graduates,” said Betty Villegas, master of ceremonies for the event. “They’re all educated, and so while there may be some bad things about our community, there are so many more good things about our community that we need to keep at the forefront such as the mariachi community here in Tucson,” she added.
In a smaller city, mariachi has been a long thriving genre of music not only because of its sound, but also because of its culture.
The Tucson International Mariachi Conference has put the city on the map and made Tucson a pioneer for mariachi music. The conference takes place from April 24-27 and has been going on for 31 years.
While most genres or bands may just put on a traditional concert, the TIMC encompasses so much more and gives a tourist a taste of what the state of Arizona is all about.
Phoenix has put on a similar event called the Christmas Mariachi Festival for the past 20 years. Both events attract tons of tourism as well as volunteer opportunities to help give back to the community. There are also student workshops that entrench children into mariachi culture.
“It is a huge asset to the community since it is the largest cultural event, but I think it’s more important to the kids and the students who participate every year,” said Angy Shearer, coordinator of event sponsorships at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference. “It gives them something to keep them off the streets and to do something positive and productive with their lives,” she said.
Shearer raised a good point noting how kids can easily get sucked into negative lifestyles especially in Tucson. Mariachi has been used as an outlet to get them to channel their energy into something positive.
“I’ve been doing this for like five years and every year it just gets better and better,” said Adriana Dalton, student at Pueblo High School. “We are also involved in the Mariachi Youth Advisement Club, and we bring a new idea and try to get scholarships for new members of the club,” she said.
Together, Dalton and the rest of the band/club raised more than $4,000 at their own 3rd annual fundraiser this past year.
Mariachi has proven to be a pivotal cog in uniting communities in Arizona and keeping children involved in something positive.
Even on a rainy day at a book festival, the Mariachi community was alive and well.
“Obviously the man upstairs smiled on us,” said Villegas referring to the few hours of sunlight during the competition on an otherwise gloomy and rainy day.