The legacy of Mariachi Uclatlán is deeply rooted in the cultural history of UCLA and is currently under the artistic direction of Jesus “Chuy” Guzman, Grammy-Award winning artistic director of the renowned Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano. Leticia Soto, an Ethnomusicology Ph.D. student and assistant coordinator for the Mariachi Uclatlán explains that the organization name is rooted in Nahuatl, an indigenous language from Mexico. “Tlan” means land; adhering it to the name of the university in Mariachi Uclatlán literally means “Mariachi Land of UCLA.” The group has solidified a union between the musical and cultural history of Mexico and the academic expansion of UCLA.
The group’s development began in the 1960s when UCLA granted ethnomusicologists with academic space to form an ensemble in exploration of the Mexican culture outside of Mexico. The current ensemble consists of 13 musicians, all of whom are trained in at least one instrument and vocally.
In the past two years, they’ve managed to assert themselves as an integral part of the Ethnomusicology Department. Guitarist Mary Alfaro explains, “UCLA is the first university to have a mariachi class in the country. So I believe that this group should always be strong. We strengthen what UCLA has to offer.”
Last year, the group was invited to perform at the Mexican Embassy in Los Angeles in honor of anthropologist Jesus Jauregui’s new book “El Mariachi: Símbolo Musical de México,” which chronicles the origins and the evolution of this music. The group also seeks to fuse the aspects of education and artistic performance in an academic setting. “We can educate our audience through music. In educating our audiences, structures, ideologies, and stereotypes can change,” Soto said.
The group draws strength from its historical significance to this university and also their dynamic as an ensemble. I asked them to choose a song that they felt was definitive of the group. Soto, along with several others commented, “When I think of Mariachi Uclatlán, I think of “Fiesta en el Corazón.” Violinist Vanessa Sanchez added, “Yeah, it’s what we’re all about. A party in the heart.” The success that Mariachi Uclatlán has obtained in such a short time can directly be attributed to their collaborative efforts to expand the influence of their music beyond an artistic level; they seek to jointly fuse love and expand their audience’s scope of appreciation for mariachi music.