When mariachi maven Veronica Robles stands in front of a crowd in her rich red traje de charro (the traditional mariachi costume), with gold trim and matching sombrero, she looks like she’s been wearing that uniform her whole life. And she basically has. “I’ve been a mariachi singer since I was 14 years old,” Robles tells Exhale. “I always tell people it makes me feel very sexy because it’s covered bottom to top with a hat. All there is to see is my smile.”
Robles has built up quite a résumé in all those years on the job. She sang the first mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York that was dedicated to Mexico’s patron saint la Virgen de Guadalupe. She was the first mariachi singer to perform at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. Here in Boston, she serves on the cultural leadership board for the Boston Creates cultural initiative and is co-chair on the East Boston Cultural Team, among many other community-building projects.
The mariachis are usually portrayed as male and not very well behaved. And mariachi is more than that.
The singer’s goal is to foster community through music and diversity and to build a more positive perception of Mexico and mariachi music. “Our traditional cultures are fine art too,” says Robles. Mariachi dates back to 18th-century Mexico and has evolved over time to take on influences from other genres like polkas and waltzes. In 2011, UNESCO recognized mariachi music as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Helping the community and improving the perception of Mexico have always been her passions. But Robles had another dream: to create an all-female mariachi band. “The mariachis are usually portrayed as male and not very well behaved,” says Robles. “And mariachi is more than that.” Over the years Robles has had many questions about the women in her band and has even been turned down for gigs because of her gender. As a peer mentor to many young girls in Boston, Robles wanted to change that attitude.
Through a 2018 grant from The Boston Foundation, Robles has made her dream a reality. She brought singers to Boston from Mexico and held local auditions for an all-female instrumental ensemble. “I wanted to bring my fellow mariachi singers from Mexico,” she says. “Girls like me who perform but maybe don’t think of it as a career.” The group has been performing throughout New England all summer and will continue spreading their message of equality into the fall.
Robles has big plans for the all-female group. “Next year we want to create community conversations through concerts,” she says. The group will perform 10 songs from cultures all around the world, based on statistics from City Hall about the cultural populations in Boston. “We are here to deliver a message of unity and peace and diversity,” she says.
Celebrity Series Day of the Dead Celebration
Saturday, Oct. 27
Union United Methodist Church – 485 Columbus Ave., Boston
Back Bay T stop, limited street parking
Day of the Dead Celebration
Thursday, Nov. 1
Peabody Museum – 11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge
Harvard T stop, free parking at 52 Oxford St. Garage
Nashua Community Concert Series
Friday, Mar. 22, 2019
Nashua North High School – 8 Titan Way, Nashua, NH
1-hour drive, free parking on site