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How mariachi music fits into Austin’s music culture

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Mariachi master Zeke Castro helped launch the first mariachi music program in Austin. Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Mariachi master Zeke Castro helped launch the first mariachi music program in Austin.  Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Mariachi master Zeke Castro helped launch the first mariachi music program in Austin.
Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Austin considers itself the Live Music Capital of the World. So, how does mariachi music fit into the city’s vibrant musical culture?

In my latest story, ‘El Rey’ of mariachi music, I talk to a music educator who helped propel the genre forward in the Texas capital. Ezekiel “Zeke” Castro launched Austin Independent School District’s first mariachi program in 1980, and since then has inspired generations of students.

Castro, 75, now directs the University of Texas’ Mariachi Paredes de Tejastitlán and also runs the summer UT Longhorn Mariachi Camp for high school students.

Aside from sparking a love for music, mariachi programs in schools have also helped many students think about pursuing higher education. For Beto Mesta, one of Castro’s former mariachi students from Del Valle High School in El Paso, running into Castro years later at UT was one of his proudest moments. Mesta shared his experience in an email after reading the story.

“I was a law student at the University of Texas School of Law. I ventured onto the main campus and saw a familiar figure walking towards me. I hadn’t seen him since a UIL competition (that) the mariachi competed in at UT a few weeks after my high school graduation. That trip was important since it exposed me to UT.  I resolved to become a student there.  It didn’t occur as an undergraduate, but did as a law student.  Mr. Castro exposed me to a greater world and I will be forever appreciative.”

Mesta is now a managing attorney for the El Paso Office of Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.

Check out a snippet of my conversation with Castro below, where he shares a funny story about how he was drafted to play his first mariachi gig after only learning two songs. Read the full story here.


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