As the Latino student population at CSUN continues to grow, courses about Latin music and its roots continue to play an important role in connecting students to their cultural heritage.
According to Denise Sandoval, professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies, CSUN’s Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies has a significant history of offering students courses designed to help them understand the sociopolitical landscape of Latin American music.
“That [Chicana and Chicano] Department of Studies has made strides to create space for the arts, as well [validate] it through its surroundings,” Sandoval said.
Fermin Herrera, a professor in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies who teaches regional music in Mexico, believes that learning about regional music, such as mariachi, is a right that every student with Latino roots should have access to. It can be a way for students to connect with themselves and their culture, but Herrera also believes that “it exists and it’s a beautiful form of learning music.”
Los sones de mariachi, meaning “mariachi sounds,” is important to teach because Herrera says students can better understand the origins of mariachi music.
Mariachi is originally from the western region of Mexico, which includes the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Sinaloa, Colima, and Michoacán.
Los sones de mariachi is meant to be danced to the rhythm of his various instruments such as guitarrón, vihuela, trumpets, guitarra de golpe, violin and harp. The guitarron, vihuela, and guitarra de golpe have no direct English translation, but are identified by the instrument’s appearance and sound.
Some of the most popular Sones de Mariachi are La Negra, El Jarabe Tapatio, and El Sinaloense, among many others. Los Sones de Mariachi are usually accompanied by Bailes Folklóricos, Mexican folk dance groups.
According to Herrera, once the mariachi instrumentals are added to the genre’s distinctive vocal style, the music becomes canciones, songs that give the genre its vocal component. Some of the better known canciones are “Serenata Huasteca” and “El Rey”. The main goal of Los Sones and Canciones is to be felt, understood and danced to, Herrera explained.
In the music department of CSUN, students can learn how to play mariachi music in introductory mariachi courses for undergraduate and graduate students. The classes are led by Carlos Samaniego, who is also the director of Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, the world’s first LGBTQ mariachi company.
The music department initially launched the class during the pandemic and, according to Samaniego, faced some challenges.
“It was a challenge because to be able to have that [mariachi] We have to be present in class in person so the students can learn how to play the songs,” Samaniego said. “Even though it was a small group, we still managed to pull through and put on a great spring performance [in spring 2021].”
Today, the greatest challenge they face as a class is ensuring that students understand the historical and cultural value of mariachi while also preparing for their annual spring concert on April 13 at CSUN’s Recital Hall.
Despite some challenges the pandemic has brought to the mariachi ensemble and other classes at CSUN, professors like Samaniego and Herrera are helping to keep the Latin music presence alive on campus.
“We cannot turn away and pretend [Latin music] doesn’t exist because it contributes to solid grounding,” Herrera said. “It defines us and it’s part of our heritage.”