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Marathon concert to boost 'Mariachi Miracle' documentary

A concert Saturday will trumpet the need to raise money to complete "The Mariachi Miracle" documentary, which will tell the story of Tucson's historic role in the youth mariachi movement.

"The film is a unique opportunity to preserve an important part of Tucson's cultural history, to interview mariachi's musical pioneers — many of whom are elderly — and to show the broader impact that the youth mariachi movement is having in America," filmmaker Daniel Buckley said.

Saturday's afternoon and evening concert at the El Casino Ballroom, which itself resonates with local music history, will help make a dent in what Buckley estimates is another $250,000 he must raise to finish filming and editing the years-long project. To encourage support the Tucson International Mariachi Conference is offering a $2,500 challenge grant. The show will feature Mariachi Luz de Luna,Vox Urbana, and more.

Although the roots of mariachi are in the folk music of Mexico, it's development in the United States can be traced back to Tucson, where it was first introduced into public school curriculum. "The Mariachi Miracle" chronicles the journey from the first mariachi youth program, Los Changuitos Feos, in 1964 to present-day programs in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago led by graduates of Tucson's programs.

It also traces the transformation of Tucson from a segregated desert town whose leaders were bent on using urban renewal projects to raze large parts of its Mexican heritage into a city that embraces its multicultural heritage, Buckley said. But at its heart, and perhaps most importantly, the film illustrates the life-changing role arts education can play for students.

"Through these programs —mariachi and folklorico — these kids developed self-discipline, learned about teamwork, and most importantly the ability to stand up in front of a group of strangers and express yourself," Buckley said, "things they would need to be successful as adults."

As these programs grew, so did school attendance rates. Dropout rates fell, graduation rates rose and college matriculation among Latinos grew, he said.

"The mariachi program became their ticket to higher education,” said Buckley. “They had to keep their grades up or they got kicked out of the group. It was the reason they came to school."

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Buckley, who was inducted into the Mariachi Hall of Fame in 2013, was inspired to begin interviewing many of the aging musicians and dancers who had kicked of the rebirth of the movement after years of covering mariachi and folklorico while he was a journalist for the Tucson Citizen.

The film project has already received support from the Tucson Pima Arts Council, the Southwestern Foundation, the Chann Foundation, Pima County Board of Supervisors, and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.  In 2013, Buckley raised about $15,000 with a Kickstarter campaign and he has used a lot of his own money, as well.

Buckley plans to debut the film at the Fox Theatre in April, 2016, during the Tucson International Mariachi Conference in conjunction with a two day national summit on mariachi education in collaboration with The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

To help move the project forward, from 2 p.m to midnight on Saturday a series of mariachis, folklórico, norteño, Latin pop and Tejano greats will raise the roof at El Casino. Also performing will be Tejano all-star band Latin Society, Conjunto Bravo, and long-time mariachi instructor David Membrila’s Mariachi Amigos. The event will also feature a lineup of youth mariachi and folklórico groups including Ballet Folklórico Tapatio, Los Changuitos Feos, Ballet Folklórico Xóchitl, and Mariachi Aztlán de Pueblo High School. Tickets will be $10 at the door.

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Click image to enlarge

Courtesy Daniel Buckley

Mariachi Aztlán performing at Cesar Chavez Elementary in San Francisco in March, 2015.

Youtube Video

If you go

  • What: A fundraiser showcasing Latino musicians and dancers to support the making of the film The Mariachi Miracle.
  • Where: El Casino Ballroom, 427 E. 26th Street, South Tucson
  • When: Saturday, 2 p.m.-midnight
  • Tickets: $10 at the door (A $5 spaghetti dinner, sponsored by the Mariachi Aztlán parents, will be available).
  • For more information contact Daniel Buckley at 260-4176 or at dbtucson@gmail.com


  • 2 p.m. — Mariachi Corazon
  • 2:45 p.m. — Ballet Folklórico Xóchitl
  • 3:30 p.m — Los Changuitos Feos
  • 4:15 p.m — Mariachi Aztlan
  • 5 p.m. — Ballet Folklórico Tapatio
  • 6 p.m. — Mariachi Amigos
  • 6:45 p.m — Vox Urbana
  • 7:45 p.m — Mariachi Luz de Luna
  • 8:45 p.m — Latin Society 
  • 10:45 p.m  — Conjunto Bravo