Mariachi Aztlan Joins Pro Group For Christmas Concert

By Alexis Vargas

The Grammy-winning, fifth generation, and world-famous Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez, visited Tucson on Dec. 15, for their annual “Merry-Achi Christmas Show” at the Fox Theatre.

It has been four years since Mariachi Aztlán de Pueblo High School was invited to perform alongside the professional mariachi group, and PHS Mariachi director Mr. John Contreras described the very special feelings he experienced.

“I know Jose Hernandez’ [the musical director’s] expectations as a musician that has grown up listening and learning from him and knew that we had our work cut out for us to be able to impress him and the members of Sol de Mexico,” said Contreras.

In preparation, Mariachi Aztlán learned three of the mariachi’s arranged pieces, including the well-known Christmas carol, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”

Clarissa Salinas, a senior violinist, said, “Performing was definitely exciting, but as the day arrived, the nerves really kicked in. Nonetheless, it was an honor to play with them and experience the concert live.”

Everybody interviewed for this story felt thrilled to be playing alongside their favorite professional mariachi ensemble.

Armonía section leader Jorge Ramirez expressed how he felt playing the final pieces to conclude the show, including “El Son de la Negra” and “Viva México.”

“The faces of the audience reminded me of why I love being a mariachi,” he said. “Even with these songs being mariachi standards, there’s such a difference when they are performed by professionals.”

Former Principal, Mariachi Aztlan Teacher Visits Pueblo

By Emely Villanueva & Jose Jovel

Mr. Richard Carranza with current Mariachi Aztlan.

Mr. Richard Carranza, Pueblo High School’s principal from 2002 to 2004, visited his alma mater on Tuesday, Aug. 29, spending most of the morning with current mariachi teacher Mr. John Contreras and mariachi students.

Carranza graduated from PHS in 1984 and returned to Pueblo, becoming a social studies and mariachi teacher for many years before becoming an administrator.

“I love Pueblo,” Carranza said, “and I’m glad to be back to visit. I grew up a few blocks from Pueblo, so this wonderful place has always been my second home.”

Few know that Carranza created PHS’s mariachi program—at first, with just a few students and then dozens by the time he transitioned to administration, “graciously” leaving his mariachi program to Contreras, one of Carranza’s guitar students.

“I came up with the name ‘Mariachi Aztlan de Pueblo High School’,” Carranza said. “Before Southern Arizona became part of the United States, this region was known as ‘Aztlan’, so it made sense to name our mariachi group in honor of its original regional name. One of my colleagues, Ms. Estrella Gonzalez, agreed that would be a great name for PHS’s mariachi program.”

[In 1853, the United States purchased more than 30,000 square miles from Mexico, courtesy of U.S. diplomat James Gadsden, to ensure a safe southern railroad path across Arizona to the Pacific Coast in California.]

During his visit to Pueblo, Carranza was interviewed by Ms. Sarah Wilson’s radio students.

Carranza spoke with us about the founding of Mariachi Aztlan and its impact on Pueblo and our community.

“I created an entire [mariachi] program,” Carranza said. “I was fortunate that a very visionary principal, Mr. Richard Gastelum, approved my idea to proceed with mariachi. There was no curriculum, so I had my work cut out for me. We had no instruments at first, but that changed quickly as the program expanded.”

After leaving Pueblo in 2004, Carranza became the Northwest Region superintendent for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nev., and then served the San Francisco Unified School District as superintendent.

In 2016, Carranza moved to Houston, Tex., where he became the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District until 2018, when he was hired as New York City Schools Chancellor.

Carranza was inducted into the Mariachi Hall of Fame of the Tucson International Mariachi Conference in 2016—creating the first music curriculum-based program in the Tucson Unified School District.

“I’m amazed at all the improvements at Pueblo since the last time I visited, and I hope the improvements continue,” Carranza said. “I’ve always been proud of Pueblo—as a student, teacher, and administrator. I will visit Pueblo every time I come back to Tucson.”

He and his wife now live in San Antonio, Tex.

Mariachi Aztlan De Pueblo Psyches-Up For Conference

By Jacquelyn Gutierrez

Pueblo High School’s 17 members of Mariachi Aztlán will be participating in this year’s Tucson International Mariachi Conference (TIMC) later this month and hopefully bringing home an impressive fifth consecutive first place.

The TIMC is a prestigious event that includes participants from mariachi groups all over the country, including world renowned Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan, and this year, Mariachi Sol De Mexico is coming to Tucson from Los Angeles.

Closer to home, Pueblo Mariachi Aztlán member Carmen Membrila, a sophomore, said, “We’re very hopeful in winning for the fifth time this year. We have a very good set list, so the whole Mariachi group and I are very excited.”

This Conference is held at Casino Del Sol for three days—from April 25 through April 28. The Mariachi’s vary in ages—from as young as elementary-aged students to high school.

Pueblo mariachi teacher Mr. John Contreras said, “We’ve been working long hours during and after school. This [conference] is our main focus right now, so I wish us the best of luck.”

Practicing for a couple months now, Mariachi Aztlán has been preparing to keep up the number one record. For the five seniors in this year’s program, they are hoping for another victorious placing.

“Unfortunately this will be one of my last conferences,” said senior Liam Membrila, “but we have been working hard and playing the songs over and over, so I’m confident about how we do at this year’s conference.”

Mariachi Club president Destiny Olea, a senior who has been in the club since her sophomore year, said, “Between now and the conference, our group needs to perfect our set list enough for us to compete—as well as to remember to have fun and not stress.”

“Regardless of the new members this year, our mariachi group is just as dedicated as ever,” Olea said. “Our passion and our originality are definitely assets to our program.”

She added that the group does more than just play mariachi music. Earlier this year, Pueblo’s mariachi group raised approximately $5,000 for school children victimized by Hurricane Harvey in the Houston, Texas area by performing with other local mariachi groups.

Mariachi Aztlán Travels, Performs In Palm Springs With Pink Martini

America Cardenas Pueblo El Guerrero

By América Cárdenas

On January 31, 2016, eighteen students from Pueblo’s Mariachi Aztlán mariachi group, including several chaperones and teacher Mr. John Contreras, ventured to Palm Springs, CA, as an opening act for the group, Pink Martini, a pop jazz and Latin/lounge musical group from Portland, OR, that is traveling around the country.

Mariachi Aztlan De Pueblo with Pink Martini

The three-day trip began on Sunday, January 31, at 6:00 a.m., driving straight through to Palm Springs, a five-hour trip from Tucson. Most students slept on the bus, but perked up once they arrived at the hotel.

One member of the Mariachi Aztlán, senior Daniel Motley, said, “Once we got to the motel, we all woke up quickly. My favorite part of the trip was being able to share the stage with Pink Martini and learning a few of their songs.”

Mariachi Aztlán performed four times during this trip, and each performance was slightly different because the group played in different areas.

Rafael Miranda, another senior, said “In order to prepare for the Pink Martini Performances, I practiced throughout the entire year. I also listen to their recordings over and over.”

Senior Jaret Young said, “A member of Pink Martini who really influenced me was Miguel Bernal. He was very open and humble. He told me about his life in Cuba and how he told his family about me and the mariachi. He also offered me free Conga lessons. Another influential member of the group was Phil Baker. He wrote down music for me and offered me free bass lessons in Oregon.”

Mariachi teacher Mr. John Contreras said he was contacted by Pink Martini’s management over the winter break. They said that Pueblo’s mariachi group had been recommended as one of the student groups that excelled in Tucson by the manager of the Rialto Theatre, Curtis McCrary, who had dealt with Pueblo’s mariachi group in various capacities over the part of the 10-15 years.

“One of the members of Pink Martini found some YouTube footage of Mariachi Aztlán, and they liked what they saw,” Contreras said. “They invited us to perform a couple of their songs with them and possibly open the show for them, and that was the way we were put in contact with them.”

Several members of Mariachi Aztlán were interviewed by local news reporters in Palm Springs, who happened to attend the performances.

Senior Yajaira Othon said, “All of the experiences this weekend truly were magnificent! Pink Martini’s band members and their audience were extremely supportive and very nice. This three-day weekend ranks in one of my favorite moments in my high school years.”

Mariachi Aztlan Performs At Arizona State Capitol

This past Monday, March 4 Pueblo’s Mariachi Aztlan performed at our Arizona State Capital. Three performances were given, one to Secretary of State Ken Bennett and Senators Bradley and Lopez, one on the mall between the House and Senate and the third was at the opening of senate meeting.

Pueblo's Mariachi Aztlan Performs At Arizona State Capitol

Pueblo students with Secretary Bennett and Senators Bradley and Lopez.

This is the first time a student group has been invited to perform for a senate meeting. The students received a standing ovation by all the senators. The House plans to extend an invitation in the future and the comments from everyone were of the highest compliment.

Secretary Bennett, Senators Bradley & Lopez And Teachers

Fine Arts Teachers with Secretary Bennett and the Senators.

We are so proud of our Mariachi representing our school at the local, state and national level!

Mariachi Aztlan Wins 2011 Tammie Award

We are very proud to announce that our very own Mariachi Aztlán de Pueblo High School won the 2011 TAMMIES Award (Tucson Area Music) for the best Mariachi Group in the city.

This award is voted on by the Tucson community and was presented to the group at the 18th Annual Tucson Area Music Awards ceremony held on August 31 at the Rialto Theater.

2011-2012 Mariachi Aztlan Group

Congratulations to all Mariachi Aztlán members for their hard work and dedication that resulted in them earning this award!