Mariachi Mamas

It is bad enough when your male peers disrespect your music because you're female.

But when your audience begins requesting Tupac Shakur and Busta Rhymes, that is not only dissing the music.

That's disrespecting the Mexican culture.

Fortunately, the members of Mariachi Pasión -- believed to be Arizona's first all-female mariachi band -- not only silence their critics through sheer musical talent, they also educate those unfamiliar with the music considered to be the heart and soul of Mexico.

"If you don't know anything about mariachi music, just tell us if you want a slow song or a fast song," says Betty Duarte-Matwick, between sets at Garduños Margarita Factory in Scottsdale, where Mariachi Pasión performs five nights a week. "We'll take it from there."

Considering they perform to a mostly Anglo north Scottsdale crowd, they sometimes find themselves performing non-traditional songs anyway, like recently when someone requested "Margaritaville," which, despite its name, is about as Mexican as Frank Sinatra's "South of the Border."

"That was an exception; it was her birthday," Duarte-Matwick says.

The driving force behind the seven-member band is the fact that mariachi music has always been mired in machismo.

"A lot of people undermine us because we're females, but that just motivates us," says violinist Nycole Miller. "And plus, we dance, we smile. We look good."

Melissa Leal, who plays trumpet, says the challenge is even greater for her because she plays what is traditionally regarded as a masculine instrument.

"But I think that's changing now," she says.

Mariachi Pasión was created in 2002 when Duarte-Matwick, who was then an education major at Arizona State University, enrolled in a music class, where she met several other students -- none of them music majors.

Even though they've all experienced their share of chauvinism, they say they've gotten this far only with the help of men who believed in them.

Before that, Duarte-Matwick remembers how difficult it was to earn a tryout for an all-male mariachi band. And that would be solely for a singing role. Any instrumental role was strictly a man's job.

"Some of the men can be pretty disrespectful," she says. "They talk about you as if you're not there."

Like their namesake, mariachi pasión inspires plenty of passion.

"I cannot tell you how many times we've played "Las mañanitas" or "Solamente una vez" and people start crying," Duarte-Matwick says.

And that is what it's all about.

"It's heartbreak music. It comes from the heart," Duarte-Matwick says. "In American terms, it may seem melodramatic, but it's to the core of the emotion."

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Carlos Miller