MARIACHI USA FOUNDER RODRI RODRIGUEZ TALKS
SHOW, LEGACY, FUTURE
She was born and raised in Cuba, but at an early age she escaped the Castro-regime and made her way to Florida. She then spent time in a foster home in Albuquerque, NM. Little did she know that she would eventually come out west to Los Angeles with her parents seven years later.
Once in Los Angeles, Rodriguez’s life continued to change, and it wasn’t long before she entered the entertainment industry and stamped her concepts, sacrifices and soul with what she loved doing most: providing entertainment for the people of the city.
Twenty-five years ago, Rodri established one of the most prominent and highly reputable events ever in Los Angeles: Mariachi USA. The city’s most legendary venue, the Hollywood Bowl, hosts the mariachi music-filled concert year after year, and it keeps selling out. The 25th Annual Mariachi USA Festival takes place this Saturday, June 28, and boasts a lineup that includes Angeles Ochoa, Mariachi Cobre, Folklorico Mi Tierra, Mariachi Nuevo Tecaltlan, Junko Seki, Mariachi Los Reyes, Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles and Mariachi Mi Tierra Querida.
In an exclusive interview with Living Out Loud, Rodri speaks about her passion for music, reuniting with her family after seven years apart, where Mariachi USA is headed, her upcoming fall event (dubbed Dia De Los Muertos USA) and much more.
Living Out Loud: Where does your passion for music come from?
Rodri Rodriguez: It’s definitely imprinted in my DNA. I really believe I was born with a God-given gift of the love for music. Ever since I was little, I remember singing and dancing in Cuba. I came to the U.S. when I was very young and was placed in a refugee camp in Florida. Then, I was placed in a foster home in Albuquerque for seven years until my parents came out, and later I went to live with them in Los Angeles. Naturally my musical environment changed from tropical music to more L.A. music. People say I’m Cuban but have a Mexican soul.
LOL: How was it when you finally reunited with your family after 7seven years?
RR: It was very difficult. It was very challenging. I went from being mom and dad’s little girl, to a family that already had kids. Living in a foster home is not a story that defines me, but it is something that has contributed to the woman I am today. I came from an island where you swim and are very close to the beach, and then I was dropped off in a desert. However, I lived with parents that claimed me and embraced me. In all, it was quite a shock, but if we fast-forward to 2014, I love how things are now.
LOL: Throughout your entire professional career, has one project been more rewarding than the others or have they all been rewarding in their own way?
RR: The greater the talent, the simpler the soul. I really liked working with Lucha Villa and Lola Beltrán. I’ve worked with all the greats, and one of the best was Sarah Vaughan. I love jazz as well, and mariachi and jazz go hand in hand in my life. The simplicity of their souls is what I enjoyed the most.
LOL: At the time you founded Mariachi USA, what was the vision behind it?
RR: I really wanted to create something in Los Angeles that would ground me here. I was tired of traveling. I’ve always loved mariachi, and I strongly believed it warranted finding the best stage in the world to present it. That to me is the Hollywood Bowl. It has hosted great legends, from the Beatles to Sinatra, etc. I see mariachi as world-class music, and there was no other stage for it. Fast-forward 25 years later and here we are. There were many naysayers, and people who doubted it would attract a sizeable audience and questioned its profitability, but it was my risk to take.
LOL: What can we look forward to in this year’s show?
RR: A great celebration. Mariachi USA stopped being about me that very first year. It might have been my creation, but immediately, it became about the people. It’s a show for the person who saves for six months to buy a box seat or the families who plan their vacation around it and come from all over the U.S. What’s on stage is a mirror image of what’s in the audience. That thrills me because it tells me our audience continues to grow. The stars are the mariachis. Tickets sell out very quickly. The challenge then becomes how to top ourselves from the previous year. We spend a lot of time making preparations, and this year we’ve invited Angeles Ochoa. I know we’re going to have a lot of fun celebrating these 25 years.
LOL: Where do you think the legacy of Mariachi USA stands after 25 years?
RR: I humbly state that I’m the guardian of this legacy. The legacy belongs to the students of our foundation; many of them have graduated and started their own groups and are professionals. It’s a very important legacy for our entire community because unlike other music that comes and goes as a fad, mariachi is not. People are born to mariachi, baptized to mariachi and even get married to mariachi. It’s just such an integral part of our lives.
LOL: Tell us about what goes on in that week leading up to Mariachi USA.
RR: I have an amazing team, and everyone is so in sync and love what they do. I’m very proud of what they do. They are top professional people. It’s just a great vibe. My director comes in three weeks before to rehearse with the mariachi.
LOL: The festival has a large following that has been very loyal to you, but how do you go about attracting new followers?
RR: Because we’ve been around for so long, it’s now the children and grandchildren of our original followers who are attending the shows. I’ll often answer my own phone when my staff is busy, and I always ask how they heard about us. Often they say their friends have gone, and now they want to go and invite their friends as well. Also there are a lot of single ladies who make it an outing. We even have families who have little ones, and they’ll bring them with earmuffs just so they can feel what it’s like to be there from a young age. I truly believe that my mission here is to assist people in experiencing this feeling.
LOL: So what’s next for you?
RR: I am in the process of creating the first Dia De Los Muertos USA event, which will take place near Coachella this year. I chose the desert because it’s very spiritual. It’s not a music festival, but more of a spiritually grounded event. We’ll be honoring those who have passed, while celebrating the living. Its aim is to raise awareness about being gentler, kinder and more respectful of our traditions. We’ll be doing that through music and a lot of art components. We’ll be doing giant altars – one for victims of AIDS, one for children that have passed and one for entertainment legends. We’re mixing it all up, and we’ll have a giant screen immortalizing those who have left legacies for us. We’re hoping that in those two days, we’ll reach about 40,000 people.
LOL: Anything else to add?
RR: I just want to put emphasis on the success of [Mariachi USA], and that’s it’s all about the people and the faith they put in us to produce a kick-ass show. Oftentimes, people buy tickets for shows and pay top dollar, but they don’t know who will be performing. Then once they find out, they may not even know the group. But with us, they always know that it will be five hours of pure mariachi. I truly want to thank them for all their trust they’ve put in me as a producer, and all our musicians who keep showing up and delivering the very best of the music. We are the longest-running Latino event in the United States that’s not an award show. We’re also the second longest-running show at the Hollywood Bowl, behind only the Playboy Jazz Festival. People are sometimes intimidated by the show and will call us asking if it’s OK for them to go, or asking about their attire. It’s about celebration. There will be a lot of activities before the show at the plaza, so people should get there early. There’s a pre-party at the museum patio, and there will be Dia de los Muertos thing going on as well.
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About MARIACHI USA
MARIACHI USA was created in 1990 and has become the premier mariachi music festival in the United States. Founded and created by Rodri J. Rodriguez, of Rodri Entertainment, the festival was created to give mariachi music a forum for artistic expression and a way to celebrate the rich musical traditions that so many have come to enjoy. Held at the Hollywood Bowl since its inception, the Festival continues thrilling audiences of all generations. In addition to the Festival, Ms. Rodriguez founded the MARIACHI USA Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides mariachi music education to school age kids throughout Los Angeles. www.mariachiusa.org.
For sponsor opportunities contact: 323-656-7977