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World’s first female Mariachi band performs this weekend at Montana Folk Festival

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One of the most exciting parts of the Montana Folk Festival this weekend is that it welcomes a collection of artists that people in Montana, and the Pacific Northwest for that matter, may never have heard before live in person. And, not just any music but a mixture of traditional folk music that embodies a variety of cultures across the globe.

Some of the artists include the Peruvian dance troupe The Chankas, the Kurdish Tanbur group Ali Akbar Moradi, the Dominican Meringue artist Joaquin Diaz, and the all-female Mariachi band Reyna De Los Angeles.

One of the Mariachi group’s violinists, Vanessa Sanchez, said she’s excited to play traditional music at a festival that celebrates it.

“We’re excited because it’s a folk festival and the fact it’s not the pop music you hear on the radio,” she said. “It’s more about traditions that have been preserved over the decades and that’s what Mariachi is all about.”

The fact that they are a female group in a genre dominated by men makes their visit even more unique, as well.

Reynas De Los Angeles performs at the Montana Folk Festival this weekend. Courtesy photo
Reyna De Los Angeles performs at the Montana Folk Festival this weekend. Courtesy photo

Sanchez said she’s humbled by the fact that she’s been able to join a group that’s been going strong for the past 20 years, not only performing traditional Mariachi songs, but also breaking stereotypes simultaneously.

“It’s crazy we go out to shows and still female Mariachi is very new to most people,” she said. “People will say ‘wow I never knew women could be playing Mariachi or, ‘This is crazy and great, why aren’t there more of you?’ When this group started in 1994, that’s when when in Mariachi and audiences alike both realized that female Mariachis were in fact a force to be reckoned with and coming in strong.”

Sanchez, who joined two years ago, added that the group got its start with the help Maestro Jóse Hernàndez, who saw the potential in this all-female ensemble, and fostered their development.

Over the years they have played across the country in venues of all sizes. Some celebrities they’ve played for include President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Cruise.

The music they play is, essentially, Mexican folk music. While the sound has evolved over the years, Sanchez said she’s proud of the fact that they stick to the traditional style of performing.

“There are groups out there just pushing traditions … but for me, my tastes would be what Mariachi Reyna are doing,” she said.

A big part of that is due to the fact that she’s carried the torch given to her by her grandfather, who was a trumpet player from a storied line of Jalisciense musicians.

“I grew up around him and when I would be practicing Mariachi music outside, he would come out and teach me,” she said.

“And he taught me the traditional side of it because that’s what his father and grandfather and great grandfather did. He was very proud of me and I’ve kept that tradition going. I’m the only one in the family to pick it up and because that stayed with them, I take it with me.”

Vanessa Sanchez with Reynas De Los Angeles
Vanessa Sanchez with Reynas De Los Angeles

She added that they do play a few non-traditional songs as a treat to the audience – songs such as the Willie Nelson/Patsy Cline song “Crazy” and the bluegrass/folk tune “Orange Blossom Special.”

“We do a medley of those two songs and crowd loves it,” she said. “I can’t wait to play those in Montana. When we play songs like those … it’s a little gift to them – something special for them.”

Finally, because there are so few female Mariachi bands out there, Sanchez said she finds that all of the women in the group feel a certain responsibility to be positive role models for girls everywhere.

“We will be there to make sure we can keep it going and make sure girls looking to participate in this genre have … a traditional and musically gifted group to look up to.”

Reyna De Los Angeles plays tonight (Friday) at 7 p.m on the Original Stage, Saturday at noon on the Granite Street Stage, again at 4 p.m., on the Original, and finally Sunday at 1 p.m., on the Copper Street Stage.

For a complete schedule, visit www.montanafolkfestival.com.

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