Detroit Free Press
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) After taking a trip to New York when she was 16, Camilla Cantu was driven to change the perception of mariachi bands. She said, “I met an all-female mariachi group and I came back and I was like, ‘we need this in Detroit. We need a female mariachi group in Michigan. Like why isn’t this a thing?’ ” So, she created one.
For the first three years of playing mariachi, Camilla Cantu found herself in an older, more male-dominated field at 13 years old. “When they didn’t have people to come for a job, I was showing up performing side-by-side with them,” said Cantu about other mariachi groups.
But after taking a trip to New York when she was 16, her drive to change the perception of mariachi around her changed. “I met an all-female mariachi group and I came back and I was like, ‘we need this in Detroit. We need a female mariachi group in Michigan. Like why isn’t this a thing?’ ” she said.
“That summer, I had this open house and I was so disappointed because nobody came to the open house and I was just like, ‘God nobody is passionate. Nobody wants this as much as me,’ ” she said. “This one woman came in with her daughter and was like, ‘is this the thing for the mariachi?’ She sang a song and that was the start. It literally started off with me, her and my brother and my other friend, who was a guy who had come from the previous group that I had come from. The men were helping with the sound to support her vision of what the group could become due to the lack of finding a female bassist in the city of Detroit.”
As time went on, other members began trickling in to form Michigan’s first five-member all-female group known as Mariachi Femenil Detroit. “When we first started, I would be playing and they would be singing. It was a mess. It was growth. I didn’t come with musicians ready,” said Cantu. “It was a learning experience for all of us. I was learning how to teach. They were learning how to play mariachi on their guitars.”
As the nation went into quarantine last year, the group stopped booking performances for the safety of its members and families.
“I didn’t know if people were still going to be interested or if people were going to be willing to still have us for events because we had gone kind of MIA. It honestly wasn’t a problem at all. We’re super excited that people are still super interested in calling us and having us perform. They’re seeking us out now,” she said.
“We’re not just a band. We’re all really good friends and we all go out to eat and we all love each other’s kids. There’s definitely one thing different with female mariachis is that there’s a sense of community even within the group. We’re not here just to work and play music. We’re here to definitely support each other.”
“It’s really cool that out of everything in our lives that’s so different, music really brings us together. I feel like I would not have probably met or been exposed to everybody that I am now if it wasn’t for music. We’re all so different it’s crazy. We’ve created like a really cool family relationship,” said member Rita Ramirez.
In the five years they have been together, four murals have popped up that have included female mariachis in southwest Detroit. “I feel like we are changing even the idea of mariachi here in the city,” said Cantu.
“We’re not in competition with anyone because we’ve created our own lane. This is a lane that nobody else went out and tried to pursue. I don’t think we can be in competition with other groups when we’re like literally blazing a trail in our own path,” she said.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.