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Student portion of mariachi conference brims with talent

Talent overflows as kids get to show what they learned in workshops

Isabella Bryant (left), 8, and Karina Romero, 7, of Mariachi Aguilitas de Davis perform during the showcase concert on Thursday at the Tucson Convention Center.

Isabella Bryant (left), 8, and Karina Romero, 7, of Mariachi Aguilitas de Davis perform during the showcase concert on Thursday at the Tucson Convention Center.

The Mariachi Espectacular concert always gets top billing, but to this writer, the real show happened Thursday night.

Though the Tucson Convention Center Arena was only around half full, the spacious joint was brimming with talent as the students who attend the Tucson International Mariachi Conference workshops got to strut their stuff.

It was a big night for the Valenzuela family in particular. Alfredo Valenzuela, who heads the mariachi program at Davis Elementary School, was inducted into the Mariachi Hall of fame. His group, Mariachi Aguilitas de Davis, was up first and full strength, with some 70 talented youngsters chiming out “Mexico Lindo,” “Tata Dios” and “Cancion Mexicana” in style. A group of his graduates called Mariachi Nueva Melodia made an impressive debut on the show, as did son Jaime Valenzuela’s Mariachi Tesoro.

Mariachi Aztlan de Pueblo High School set the high water mark in a strong lineup. The group barreled through taxing arrangements with aplomb, wowing the crowd with a set that showed its grasp of the music’s roots, as well as its sophisticated branches. A practically classical trio tossed into the set set the audience on its ear.

Mariachi Mixteco from El Centro, Calif., won the hearts of Tucson with its soulful version of Lalo Guerrero’s “Barrio Viejo” and an equally joyous rendition of his “Cancion Mexicana.”

Mariachi Brillante Juvenil showed it’s grown into its name in every respect. Polished, suave and precise, it had chops to match its stage presence. The dedication to Jose Rincon, who was killed in a car wreck last year, tugged the hearts of all who recall his special talents.

David Gill’s Los Potrillos de Cholla High School was second only to Mariachi Aztlan in poise, showmanship and crisp virtuosity from every sector. Likewise Mariachi Apache from Nogales High School, under the direction of Gilbert Velez, brought commanding style and powerful vocal talent to its too-short set. And former Tucsonan Adam Romo’s Mariachi Los Vaqueros from Las Vegas, Nev., made a powerful impression, both instrumentally and vocally.

With each passing year, this showcase makes more and more evident the strides young people are making in this music.

My sole complaint is the absence of folklorico dancers at the show. They too are vital participants who deserve a showcase. Let’s fix this.

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