Canciones for the people: Roma mariachi’s viral performance inspires new trend as RGV schools entertain via video apps

ROMA — They strummed their guitars, plucked from the guitarron, stroked their violins and blasted their trumpets — each one in delightful harmony and in tempo — to the joyous, old Mexico sounds of the famed mariachi cancion, “El Relampago.”

And they weren’t even in the same place.

While it’s true that shelter-at-home orders have forced local school districts to find new ways to instruct students amid public health measures designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, educators who’ve utilized technology such as video conferencing app Zoom have found a way to not only continue their lessons, but provide some much-needed joy to the masses in the process.

Take, for instance, the director for Roma High School’s Mariachi Nuevo Santander.

“The idea was to somehow keep the kids productive and be creative in some way,” said Eloy Garza, who is in his seventh year heading the mariachi program for Roma ISD. “The district wanted us to send individual videos of the students so that they can post on Facebook and the community can see that our kids are practicing. They’re still being productive at home.

“From that idea, I thought, ‘How can I make this more creative?’ That’s when the idea came about to put the videos together and make a whole song with the kids playing from home. Let’s have the whole mariachi playing the song from home.”

Once he sent the students the link to the song and asked them to record themselves playing along, his students’ initial uncertainty turned into excitement.

“It was just something — no big deal,” Garza said. “I said, ‘Let me post it on Facebook for the district and the community to see.’ That was it. The rest was history.”

But it was a big deal.

The video of the decorated mariachi group performing “El Relampago” has since amassed more than 1,216,641 views on Facebook and was shared over 23,000 times, not to mention feedback from residents of the Rio Grande Valley not only praising their musicianship, but thanking the outfit for providing a source of pride in Valley culture, and something to smile at during otherwise dire times.

“After that, it was just more views and more views; more comments and more comments and messages,” Garza said. “After a couple of days, it was just going up and up every single day. It was just totally unexpected.”

It’s only been less than a month, but Garza said his idea to inspire his district and community already surpassed his expectations. In addition to messages of encouragement from fans not only in the U.S., but internationally, his video has since motivated other school districts to follow suit and post their own creative videos.

Mariachi Oro from Edinburg North High School posted a video on their Facebook page of the group performing their own rendition of “La Cuarentena y Yo” on March 27. The video has over 99,000 views and has been shared almost 3,000 times.

The Veterans Memorial High School Patriot Stars posted a video on the Mission CISD Facebook page on March 30 in which each individual dancer performs their own routine for a few seconds before seemingly tossing a pompom to the next dancer. That video has over 168,000 views.

The Los Fresnos Elementary Conjunto posted a video of their musicians, hailing from grades third through fifth, performing “El Sapito” on April 2.

“The parents of the students had been asking if there’s anything that they could do to practice at home and keep them busy and keep them active,” said Santiago Castillo, music director at Los Fresnos Elementary. “Actually, I was influenced by the Roma video. I saw that video, and I thought, ‘Maybe we could do something like that.’”

Many teachers and coaches have been posting videos of short activities to be shared on the Los Fresnos CISD Facebook page, including Castillo, who recorded a video of himself singing and playing the guitar, bass guitar and drums on his own version of “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley.

Castillo, who is in his first year at Los Fresnos Elementary, said that he did not expect the Conjunto video to get as many views as his own, which has over 22,000 views

The conjunto video, which shows six of the dozen or so conjunto members, has since garnered over 68,000 views.

“I was very surprised,” Castillo said. “Being that it was just done in one day, actually. I’d told the parents about this free app (Mixcord), but it was only a trial period so I only had until Friday to do it and it was like Wednesday. So the parents started sending me the videos.”

“We were all very surprised when I showed them the final video. It really blew up as well.”

Castillo said that the use of the technology available to most districts benefits the students by making connections through the internet, a connection that Mariachi Nuevo Santander plans to continue.

Garza said that he is currently hard at work at creating a video that will feature all 60 students in the mariachi program, which includes the two middle schools, the JV and varsity groups.

“It’s going to take a little more time to coordinate everything, but that’s the plan,” Garza said. “I’m really excited to put it together.”