By Allison Jarrell
With one word, 24-year-old guitarrón player Jorge Marin perfectly captured what many people surely felt during the May 14 performance of San Juan’s own Mariachi Nuevo Capistrano.
From the first note to the last, it was electric.
The sea of 3,400 spectators cheered unabashedly for the local mariachi band—many grinning from ear to ear. It was the first time Mariachi Nuevo Capistrano competed at the Mission’s annual Battle of the Mariachis, which celebrated its 12th anniversary this year.
And despite having been together for only eight months, the group’s chemistry, skill and passion wowed the judges and visitors alike. And they won not one, but two awards, including first place and a $1,500 check.
“We were all tense; we didn’t know what to expect,” recalled 26-year-old member Oscar Hernandez of Los Angeles. “We were questioning whether we would even place. When they announced the winners … it was unbelievable.”
The young musicians gleefully hugged each other when they were announced as this year’s winning mariachi band. Sixteen-year-old trumpet player Jorge Ramirez could be seen in the front embracing his fellow musicians and (possibly) shedding a tear or two.
“It was just really shocking,” Ramirez said. “Thinking about all of those days of work … practicing every day for hours, and then listening to all those other groups play and knowing that we won first place, it really felt nice to know that hard work payed off.”
Mariachi Nuevo Capistrano began as a five-member band before growing to its 11 members today. The group initially formed in September with just two guitarists, one vihuela player, a trumpet player and a violinist.
Alejandro Aranda, 18, of San Juan Capistrano, was part of the initial group, which was formed after the local Capistrano Community Mariachi Program was cancelled last year.
“We wanted to continue the music,” Aranda said. “We had already learned so much, and we didn’t want to throw it away. We wanted to keep learning from each other.”
The group decided they wanted to compete in the Mission’s Battle of the Mariachis and added some new members to fill out their sound. They also enlisted director Alberto Gonzalez, of Tustin, to help them identify their strengths and weaknesses. A final touch came when, along with the help of their dedicated parents, they were able to pay for custom-made suits after two successful community fundraisers.
Weekly practices quickly turned into two or three times per weekend, with some members commuting from as far away as Santa Ana and L.A. Ramirez noted that the trumpet section was meeting every day at one point for two to three hours a day due to the complicated nature of some of the songs.
“We could feel the electricity when we were all playing,” Marin said. “You just feel it. That’s something I’ve never felt before with another group.
“Other groups, they get together to perform, but they don’t really have that close bond, that feeling of being a family,” Marin added.
And indeed, that hard work and dedication paid off. Mariachi Nuevo Capistrano took home two of the top prizes—the Spirit of San Juan Capistrano Community Award and first place in the open category.
“We grew up looking up to other groups,” Aranda said. “We actually kind of achieved our dream. It was amazing.”
“We’re now the group that won first place” added 21-year-old violinist Nancy Gonzalez.
One thing is clear—the band doesn’t intend to rest on their laurels. The musicians said they want to continue to grow musically, attend competitions and maybe even record an album later on.
Currently, they’ve been playing at Ricardo’s Place in San Juan, as well as events such as the annual Swallows Day Parade, but they’re on the lookout for new venues and opportunities.
Each member reiterated how important community and family support was in getting to where they are today.
“I feel like the community wanted us to win,” Hernandez said, adding that the support boosted the group’s moral. “Getting that win at the end, it made the city proud.”
“It feels good to know that this is just the first of many to come,” Aranda added.
For more information on Mariachi Nuevo Capistrano, you can follow the group on Facebook or on Instagram @mariachinuevocapistrano, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 949.899.4035.