Breaking Stereotypes: The Life of a Mariachi Woman

Lulú Uscanga is a woman who is breaking stereotypes in the community of musicians, specifically as a Mariachi, as she has been singing and playing guitar for more than fifteen years.
Mis Ciudades Team
April 5, 2022
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Lulú is a member of the local music group Mariachi Sol de Madison. We have the honor of sharing Lulu’s story with you.

When did you first become interested in music? 

I started playing guitar when I was seventeen years old and was living in Mexico. I remember when I was in middle school and had a teacher named Jose del Carmen, everyone called him “Panther”, he was a very funny guy. He was supposed to be giving us History classes but instead of teaching us he would bring his guitar and play. When we had tests, he wouldn’t actually test us on History. He would arrive and would ask us things like, “What song did I play that day?”  or he would ask, “Write the lyrics to the song, Cielito Lindo” and that was our test.

When was the first time you had a guitar? 

My mom always gave me gifts for the day of Three Kings (Dia de los Reyes), even as an adult. During my second year in middle school, my mom asked me, “What do you want as a gift for Kings day?” and I told her, “A guitar”. My mom just stared at me as if she was saying, “Guitars are not cheap” but actually said, “Okay!”. I don’t know how she did it, but my mom got the money and bought me a guitar. On the day of Kings, I opened my eyes and saw a guitar right next to me and my mom told me, “Congratulations! Now play it!” “I don’t know how,” I said.  “Ay! I thought you knew how to play.” I remember my mom said, “Now, you’ll learn to play!” She said it jokingly but I did learn to play the guitar. I didn’t learn because of what she said but because I truly wanted to learn to play. 

What challenges did you come across while learning to play guitar?

There was a guy in my town who knew how to play guitar and I told him I wanted to learn. He said, “You won’t even learn” for the fact that I was a woman. During that time, I didn’t know any women who played the guitar. He showed me how to play the first circle chords on the guitar, but I wanted to learn more and more. Somewhere around there, I got these magazines called, “Easy Guitar”, they still exist to this day. After that, I learned to transpose music and I can still do this very easily. There are many scholar musicians who do not know how to transpose music tones. I learned how to play lyrically because I followed the magazine. I didn’t know anything about theory, I just learned things without knowing.

How did you begin singing? 

At the beginning, I would sing very quietly because I was shy. They would tell me, “Sing louder!” and I’d say, “I can’t!”. One day, I don’t know what happened but I opened my mouth and let my voice go. Everybody turned around and stared at me, saying, “Wow!”

I even said, “Where did that voice come from?” That was the day I lost the fear of hiding my voice. I say this without being presumptuous, I have a powerful voice. 

I remember going to a bar with my friends and there was Mariachi. My friends told me, “sing with the Mariachi” and I didn’t want to sing. I was shaking but I sang one of my favorite songs called, Traveling Cloud, and the Mariachi group applauded me.  “Sing another song, you are really good!” and I said, “No, no, no!”. I never believed I had a great voice but in all the events we have, people always congratulate me and sometimes give me money, there was always at least one person who congratulated me for my voice.

How did you begin your career as a Mariachi in Madison?

As time passed, I came to the U.S. I came here and had to deal with the adversities of not having a home or a guitar, I had nothing. I first lived on the East side of Madison where there was a man who played the guitar and he would tell me, “ I’ll sponsor your music album, c’mon, make an album!”. I never wanted to do it, because I’d say, “It’s not needed”. 

From there, he took me to Sauk City to live on a farm and a friend brought me a guitar. People on the farms began to recognize me and would give me money for singing and playing guitar. 

One day my friend arrived and said, “ They are looking for someone in Madison to play with a Mariachi and I put you on the list. I said, “No, why would you do that?” and he said, “You have to go audition”. He had to drag me to the audition and I played the song, The Difference. I was all scared and shy. As soon as I began to sing, “You passed the audition, you are staying! Stay as guitarist and the voice of the Mariachi!” In reality, my expectation was to fail because I had never done something like this. 

After eight to nine months of being a Mariachi, our group got a contract to perform at an event. I didn’t have a Mariachi costume, so I made and designed my very first one. A friend of mine later founded what is today our music group, Mariachi Sol de Madison, which means, Mariachi Sun of Madison.  So you see, I began as a person who auditioned and later I became the leader of our music group. I took on additional responsibilities such as making contracts, getting our costumes, and even had people make instruments for us.  

We began to make business cards and distribute them, along with creating a Facebook page which I managed for ten years. In our group, we always had musicians come and go, but ‘til this day, I remain the only member of the group that has always been there.

Through determination, persistence, and passion for learning, Lulu was able to overcome all obstacles and became the successful musician she is today.

This is the first part of our interview with Lulú. Read the second part of the interview here.

Find Sol De Madison on Facebook: Sol De Madison

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