Sharyland High School’s Mariachi Nuevo Cascabel won national grand champions at the Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque. They also won first place in the open category, which any of the 16 teams in the competition could enter.
Juan Lopez, director of Mariachi Nuevo Cascabel, said watching his team perform on a national stage left him speechless.
“They really gave it their all … and that was very rewarding for them,” Lopez said.
As champions, the group also performed as an opening act for Aida Cuevas, called “The Queen of Mariachi,” whose concert wrapped up the four-day event.
“Since the beginning it’s been pretty hard with all the practices … but I think coming back home after this trip, it’s all felt so worth it,” said Alexa Hinojosa, a 16-year-old upcoming junior said. “I think it really paid off.”
A YEAR TO PREPARE
“It was about a full year of just work, non stop,” Lopez said.
The team made plans to attend the national competition starting in August 2018. The total cost to take all 15 members of the mariachi to New Mexico, along with Lopez and their equipment, was about $35,000. The group fundraised all expenses through dozens of concerts, gigs, and shows.
“We fundraised close to $40,000 to go on this trip,” Lopez said. “We created a mariachi booster club. We [were] playing at all sorts of events, plus they had to keep up with their grades, keep up with their discipline and still do the local competitions.”
Lopez, who started playing mariachi in high school and now plays professionally, gave one example of how the mariachi performed serenades on Mother’s Day from the afternoon until around 2 a.m. Oscar Linan, a 17-year-old upcoming senior, said he had a very stressful school year.
“I had put myself in a difficult position between a lot of tough classes and what’s been so far the toughest year of mariachi,” Linan said, who plays the vihuela. “It was a lot of work… to balance practice … with studying for tests [and] taking classes, but it was definitely something that… bettered me. It made me a harder worker [and] a better time manager.”
Hinojosa, who plays the guitar, said she lost her voice in the spring from how much they were performing.
“I think it really got more intense the second half of the year,” Hinojosa said. “In the months of April and May we played — I don’t even know how many shows. We were exhausted.”
Like every group, they experienced good and bad days.
“They’ve had verbal fights and they’ve had physical fights,” Lopez said. “There’s days where they can’t even see each other and then they have some really great days. I’ve noticed that the best days are when they step foot on stage together as a team, but by the time we get there, there’s so much behind the scenes that takes place.”
The group used their performances as practice, all to prepare for the ultimate competition.
“By the time they went to Albuquerque, they had already been on stage together as an ensemble,” Lopez said. “Our goal was always that when we go to Albuquerque — that has to be our climax.”
The event consisted of days of workshops starting on Wednesday, July 10. The teams competed in the evening on Friday, July 12. The other 15 teams at the competition came from all over the country, such as California and Chicago. The groups were at both the university and professional level.
Lopez said the professional mariachis usually enter the open category, the category in which Mariachi Nuevo Cascabel won first place. Yackbeli Hinojosa, also a 17-year-old upcoming senior, said she did feel nervous performing at the national stage, but she also felt confident.
“Our group had spoken before we got onstage and we made sure that whatever happened, we left it onstage,” Yackbeli said. “We felt like, ‘OK, we have to do this right,’ but at the same time it was really fun once we were there. I wanted to keep going. It’s something beautiful.”
Hinojosa said she felt like every single person was giving 110% during their performance.
“It was just like everybody wanted it so bad and everybody knew that it was an actual possibility to win this thing,” she said.
The group said performing as an opening act for Aida Cuevas was “indescribable.”
“It was definitely something to remember,” Yackbeli said.
“To see them at the national stage … you see them just shining, you get goosebumps and of course my eyes get very watery,” Lopez admitted.
Hinojosa said everyone on the team really has a passion for playing mariachi. Yackbeli, who plays the violin, said for her, mariachi is also about keeping her Mexican culture alive.
“It just makes me forget about everything,” she said. “Its doing what we love with people that we love.”
LIKE A FAMILY
In the middle of the 2018-19 school year, a trumpet player quit the mariachi. Lopez went to the school’s band looking for another, and Mathew Vaughn, then a senior, volunteered.
“It was definitely something I regret not doing sooner,” Vaughn said, who’s now graduated. “I came here because they needed help and I became a part of a family along the way.”
Linan said he likes how mariachi is so close-knitted.
“It’s something to look forward to because I’ve known these people for … years,” Linan said. “It’s a really nice feeling to see the people that … you can count on and rely on.”
“I’ve built some of the strongest friendships ever here,” Hinojosa said, echoing the same sentiments.
Lopez embraces the title of the mariachi “dad.” He’s known most of the members since they were in middle school.
“To see them grow, to see how they have evolved, both as a person… and on stage is an amazing feeling,” Lopez said.