KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mariachi is a genre of regional Mexican music that tells cultural stories through song.
A local singer and musician’s songs tell the story of her grandmother’s passion for mariachi music.
‘Maria the Mexican’ is a band Maria Elena Cuevas and her sister, Teresa, formed years after playing in their grandmother’s mariachi band.
“I started performing in her mariachi band when I was 11 years old,” Cuevas said, “I kind of joke because I wasn’t really asked I was sort of just told by my mother and father.
“I was told by my mother and father that I would play the vihuela, which is the traditional mariachi, kind of smaller guitar that you’ll see.”
While Cuevas’ group will play traditional Mexican music, they also cover mainstream songs.
“When you come to see us, you’ll hear a mariachi standard, ‘Besa me Mucho,’ and then we might cover a Beatles song. It’s a mix.”
Cuevas says her grandmother is the inspiration for playing the music that she does. Her lineage was the founding member of one of the first all-female bands in the United States.
Instead of giving up after the Hyatt Regency walkway tragedy that took the lives of four of her family members, she continued inspiring others including her granddaughter to play on.
“She was a passionate woman to survive the tragedy,” Cuevas said of her grandmother. “She left the Hyatt Skywalk very badly injured. She lost four members of her band. She took time to recover, but she got right back up helping people, teaching music, inspiring people and I think that was because she was so passionate about the music and about what she was capable of. Nobody was going to stand in her way.”
Nobody is going to stand in Cuevas’ way either, or tell her what notes to play. The music is very personal to her.
“I just feel the emotion especially with mariachi music I mean there’s the songs about her taken love, and there’s a communal songs where everyone sings and like my heart just swells, you know, and I think that crosses lines people can feel that regardless of how familiar you are with mariachi music, they feel that authenticity in that passion and that’s what kind of mariachi music means to me
From Mariachi Estrella to Maria the Mexican, Cuevas says it’s been a worthwhile musical journey.
“(My grandmother) actually got to see Maria the Mexican perform at Knuckleheads before she passed and we played ‘Cascabel’ one mariachi standard that is a pretty difficult song, she was just beaming in the audience.”
Cuevas says she celebrates her heritage everyday.
“Being Mexican, to me, means being proud, being passionate, being loving, caring understanding having a really strong sense of family, whether that’s immediate family, blood family or family that our friends have been around forever sharing joy, emotional connection and honoring my heritage and celebrating my grandmother and making sure that I can further her contribution to the world.”