Mariachi Ensemble brings a taste of Latino culture to campus

David Spector

Elyanna Garcia stands with her guitar in hand on the steps of the Tower, adorned in a black and silver embroidered suit and sombrero. When she and the rest of her mariachi ensemble begin to play, they send up-beat notes cascading through campus.

Since the 1800s, mariachi music has served as festive party music for multiple Hispanic cultures. UT Mariachi Ensemble began in 1977 and has been providing lively concerts that showcase students’ musical energy since. The ensemble will perform Sunday Nov. 13 in the Music Building and Recital Hall with local flamenco dancers. 

Director Zeke Castro, the ensemble’s faculty leader of five years, played in symphonies before his foray into mariachi music. He said the strict orchestra was not as free-flowing as the mariachi band. 

“Mariachi is a musical expression,” Castro said. “The orchestra was so strict that when it came to mariachi music, I found it much more relaxing, and I wanted my students to feel that same enjoyment.” 

After teaching music in AISD for over 30 years, Castro retired, but only lasted six months before growing tired of his new lifestyle. When he was invited to teach the mariachi ensemble at UT, he accepted the position. 

Currently, Castro and the UT ensemble are fundraising to create scholarships for high school students who want to attend their mariachi summer camp, a five-day program where students are taught mariachi performance. 

Radio-television-film junior Michelle Alanis plays guitar and harp for the ensemble and said she hopes the camp will encourage Latino youths to get involved in music. 

“The thing about mariachi is that a lot of the kids participating are not in traditional band or choir,” Alanis said. “This gives an opportunity for a lot of minority students to participate.” 

To radio-television-film junior Garcia, the ensemble serves as a connection to her childhood and culture.

“Growing up, I would watch Colombian soap operas about a mariachi band with my mom,” Garcia said. “One day I saw videos of the UT mariachi group on Youtube and called my mom and said ‘I think I’m going to join the mariachi band.’”

Garcia said the music influenced her at a young age and appealed to her passion for storytelling. She said some of her favorite songs sounded almost like scripts.

“It tells a story, and I’m a screenwriter so I love storytelling,” Garcia said. “The music changes constantly. There are so many types, you have slow and sappy love songs and then you have fast songs.”

She also found the ensemble as a way to reconnect with her Hispanic culture.

“Freshman year, I just found myself playing sports and I was on the rugby team, I hardly ever reached out to my Hispanic culture,” Garcia said. “The band brought me closer to it.”

Through lively, textured music, Garcia said she hopes the ensemble will attract more students and encourage live performance.

“I would like to see the mariachi band achieve a broader audience,” Garcia said. “I just love the emotion that the music brings out.”

Mariachi Ensemble Recital

When: Sunday Nov. 13 7:30 p.m.

Where: Recital Studio, MRH 2.608