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'American Mariachi' Explores The Transformative Power Of Music

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March 19, 2018 1:34 p.m.

"American Mariachi" Explores The Transformative Power Of Music


José Cruz González, playwright, "American Mariachi"

Jennifer Paredes, actress, "American Mariachi"

Related Story: 'American Mariachi' Explores The Transformative Power Of Music


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

>>> This is KPBS Midday Edition I am Maureen Cavanaugh. The question is is it possible to break tradition and honor that tradition at the same time? The answer is yes. According to a world premiere musical opening at the old Globe. The play American Mariachi is a celebration of the traditions of that most distinctive Mexican music and the innovations that have kept it relevant including the introduction of female Mariotti bands. Most of all it is the story of how family can make everything possible. Joining me to talk about the new players playwright José Cruz Gonzales joining us by skype. Welcome, José. And Jennifer Prentice's lead actor in the role of Luciana. What inspired this play? It is based on an actual event ?
>> Know it is based on my journal -- journey as it would be I am Maureen Cavanaugh five if you will. I teach at the UC University of Los Angeles. I decided to audit a I am Maureen Cavanaugh five class they had at the University and stepped into a world I knew nothing about other than being raised listening to it on the record or radio as a child with my family. It gave me an opportunity to learn about the music, to play it, but more importantly, listen to the stories that Mariachi shared with me. The biggest discovery for me was learning that there are ways of -- women play this music as well of that was intriguing to me. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to start this quest of wanting to hear those women and their stories about playing this music.

>>> José give us a brief idea of the plot of American Mariachi.
>> This play takes place in the 1970s. It is a journey of a young woman named Luciana and her mother who has early set of dementia. She is the primary caretaker while her father is the one trying to keep a roof over their heads and working as a cook at a restaurant by day but at night he is and the weekends he is a Mariachi a working Mariachi not the show -type guys . They are struggling. They are barely getting by. There is the song that her mother loved to hear all the time. Somehow, this record gets broken. It starts Luciana her daughter on this quest of wanting to learn her mother Song. This begins the journey of a young woman stepping into a world that really does not permit young women to enter into the world of Mariachi.

>>> Jennifer, there is a lot of music as I understand in this play American Mariachi. You provide some of that music. Have you ever before played I am Maureen Cavanaugh five music?
>> No I have never played I am Maureen Cavanaugh five music before the show. I have listened to Mariachi music , it was always in the background. My family did not actively listen to it. Whenever we would go down to Tijuana or Mexico, it was part of the culture or part of the world and the atmosphere. So really investigating what Mariachi music is and where it comes from and its origins was an eye-opening experience.

>>> Did you learn to play an instrument?

>>> Yes.

>>> Tell us about that.
>> I got a violin two weeks before our rehearsal started. I know how to play the guitar, the ukulele, the piano, the violin is a different monster. I like to think of it as this mystical creature because it is so difficult to make it sound pretty. Actually, yesterday we got a new violin. We don't have tapes on the violin which usually put tapes a violin to learn how to play and where to position your fingers. But Doreen and I decided we did not want to use tapes anymore. We graduated. That was exciting. It was really empowering to play without the tapes.

>>> Let me ask you, José, how much of a radical change in tradition was the introduction of female Mariachi musicians?
>> In Mexico it happened first in the 1940s. It was really a novelty act. The women were serious. Here in the United States, it was not until the 60s and the 70s where we begin to see women in different communities across this country embrace the music. Of course, since they are pioneers, and this is a physical format passed down from father to son, they were challenged at every turn. First of all playing this music, where do you play it? Is this music played in bars and women are not permitted there. it was just so many challenges. It was really exciting to see these women in Topeka Kansas or Texas or California where they began to play.

>>> With this emphasis on music, the music all around, music as life, do you see similarities between this play José, and the Oscar award winning film Coco ?
>> there are so many parallels with cocoa and of course American Mariachi. At the heart of it is you have a musical family. I think one of the differences for us with American Mariachi is I find that our audiences have embraced the story but also the memory in terms of loved ones who struggled with illness, dementia, Alzheimer's.

>>> That, I believe is one of the lines of the play that music is memory. That is the effect on music on Lucia's mother. In the context of the play, that line has a different meaning, doesn't it?
>> Yes. One of the most profound things I've taken from the story is I think that collectively, whenever I hear Mariachi music, part of me goes back to Mexico and to what it feels like to be walking around in that atmosphere with the smells, and that culture. One of the magical things about the show, I think, for people who are Latino is that it awakens this part of themselves that is connected to their ancestors. I think that tapping into that is really important because Mariachi music was meant to kind of crystallize that Mexican identity.

>>> Let me ask you about some of the other events taking place during the run of American Mariachi at the old Globe . There are discussions, I believe? I believe there is a Mariachi contest that is already taking place. Is that right?
>> That is right. They have been really working hard to reach out to the community. They have an impressive record already with their audiences. This is an opportunity for them to reach out to the Latino community who is hungry to hear their own stories. I know through their access program, on March 31, there is going to be a scholar named Lenora -- who is a scholar of women in Mariachi. She will speak about the Mariachi. She has also brought this amazing exhibit of history of women in Mariachi. You have this really beautiful exhibit and displays of women in Mariachi suits and descriptions of the pioneers of this music. And then, later that morning, Mariachi -- which is one of the premier professional women's Mariachi role-play. What is exciting for me and for many folks is this will take place there and free for the community.

>>> American Mariachi runs from Friday, March 23 through April 29 at the old Globe . I have been speaking with José Cruz Gonzales and actor Jennifer Barabbas. Thank you so much .
>> thank you.
>> Thank you.