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Mariachi Music Gains Popularity Across Ethnic Lines

Among Mexican-Americans in the United States, mariachi music has maintained its popularity for more than a century, especially in states that border Mexico, like Texas. But there are now mariachi groups in all parts of the United States and in some European and Asian nations as well.

Mariachi music has long been popular with San Antonio's large Mexican-American population.

But among the young people performing at this event was 12-year-old Anani Rhames, an African-American girl who fell in love with the songs she heard in Mexican restaurants and on local radio stations.

"I like 'Las Margaritas,' which is about daisies and I like 'El Pastor,' which is about a shepherd," she said.

Anani can relate to rural themes because she lives on a ranch and sometimes sings to her horses.

"You can actually connect with them. You can build a bond with them," she said. "When they hear you their ears kind of perk up and they are like [it is as if they were saying] 'hmmm, interesting."

Anani's mother, Chiquella Tippens-Rhames, said some black friends and relatives were at first puzzled by her daughter's singing.

“The first response was that this tremendous gift that she has should be celebrated with our own culture and music and I reassured them that she is doing that as well, but this is her passion,” she explained.

Concert producer Cynthia Munoz said Anani Rhames demonstrates the diverse appeal of mariachi music.

"She feels this very strong connection and love for the music and it sends a very powerful message to our entire community that this music is truly international," she said.

Another example of mariachi diversity is singer William Carlton Wayne Galvez, who describes himself as one-third Mexican, one-third Anglo and one-third African American. He says the music reflects it all.

"It is a combination of everything. I believe it is the melting pot of the world, music-wise," he said.

Singers are front and center at mariachi concerts, telling tales of love and adventure in Spanish, backed by guitars, violins and horns that provide a complex melodic texture.

Classically-trained violinist Martin Cantu plays with the group Mariachi Aztlan.

"I study music, which is classical, and then I do mariachi and then I do outside gigs [performances] playing pop music," he said.

The state of Texas has helped aspiring mariachi musicians through programs in public schools and state colleges that provide training and a chance to perform in concerts.

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