At a quinceañera, as the birthday girl sits centerstage surrounded by her friends, the cheering crowd shouts for their favorite songs to be played. Head mariachi Alex Ramirez and his band is always ready to please.
In 2013, Ramirez established Mariachi Amor, a musical group that performs around Austin for birthday parties, weddings, or other special events. Official members of the group include Steve Urrutia, Alexis Andaverde, Noel Angel Ayala, Elsa Guerra and Veronica Sanchez. After being let go from his job as an underwriter, Ramirez wanted to fully commit to his passion for music, which had been put aside for too long.
“I saw music as a necessity,” Ramirez said. “Yes, it’s a passion, but at the same time it’s a talent that not so many people have, and I knew I was fortunate to have that.”
Eventually, Ramirez and his mariachis began receiving recommendations through word-of-mouth as Mariachi Amor gained more success. In 2014, Ramirez was approached by his former eight grade music teacher Ezekiel Castro, who is now the ensemble director for UT Mariachi, to tutor his students. Ramirez said he agreed to do this apart from Mariachi Amor because he wanted to help young people embrace the mariachi tradition and become part of its evolution.
“(Mariachi) evolved musically, and the level of skill you find in these players is incredible,” Ramirez said. “They all have their own way of playing, their own style, and hopefully they continue because to me, Mariachi is a lifelong journey.”
In 2016, Ramirez’s leadership skills and experience compelled Guerra to join Mariachi Amor. She said her relationship with Ramirez is more than a mentorship; It’s a friendship.
“I feel like I have a whole other family with Alex and the mariachis,” Guerra said. “We’re so close and he helped me a lot.”
Ramirez’s mariachis feel a strong bond to their Mexican roots, shown through their love for classic tunes by Vicente Fernandez, and other Tejano-style music. Apart from the music, Guerra said her personal connection to her heritage is also drawn from the aesthetic that comes with being a mariachi.
“I love the bright colors that the girls would wear, their monos and stuff,” Guerra said. “I really wanted to be one.”
When they play with a full crowd, Guerra said she can tell how much this musical tradition means to people from the emotional reactions to the songs they play.
“On weddings, it’s amazing to see the bride cry, and they ask for their regular song—like Hermoso Cariño,” Guerra said. “It’s really beautiful to see us have an impact for that hour, or even two hours, by having mariachi there.”
Guerra carpools to venues with her friend Sanchez, a UT alumna who joined Mariachi Amor shortly after Guerra did. Sanchez said she has grown much as a musician with Ramirez at the helm of the music group.
“At first I was really nervous because my repertoire wasn’t that extensive,” Sanchez said. “I had to learn keys, I had to differentiate keys, I had to learn how to transpose on the spot—Alex taught me that.”
Sanchez said she loves how engaging the band is with the crowd, as opposed to just being the background music. She said she also appreciates the comradery of the mariachis, proving there is so much people can share with the culture.
“There’s such a huge age difference, but I feel like we bring out the young in them,” Sanchez said. “They make us wiser.”