San Benito High School freshman Manuel Enriquez is among the finalists for the national vocal competition Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza. Enriquez is the lone Californian competing in the high school category against 16 other finalists from Texas, Nevada and Arizona.
“Me gusta cantar. Lo hago con el corazón,” 14-year-old Enriquez said. (I like singing. I do it with the heart.) He added he likes competing because it’s fun and exciting.
The winners will be announced live on Dec. 5 through the Mariachi Extravaganza Facebook page.
The competition is broken into four categories; elementary school, middle school, high school and college/university. Two other competitors from California are also among the 35 finalists.
Because of COVID-19, the 26th annual competition is being held virtually with participants submitting a video of their vocal talent.
The first place of each category and the overall champion vocalist are normally invited to perform in a concert with Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan at the grand finale concert. However, this year winners’ videos will be featured.
The judges are industry professionals who choose winners based on pitch, enunciation, clarity, volume, interpretation and preparation, according to the competition website.
Enriquez is not new to competing. He is a member of Mariachi Juvenil Corazon Jalisciense, which was founded in 2014, and has participated in the youth mariachi competition at the California State Fair. Two other members of the group also submitted an audition video for the competition, encouraged by the group’s general manager and Enriquez’s padrino (godfather) Israel Ramirez.
What makes music that much more enjoyable for Enriquez is that he gets to share it with family. Three of his cousins are also in the mariachi group; he has two other cousins who are learning to play instruments, as is his nine-year old sister Valeria.
Enriquez’s interest in music began when he accompanied a cousin to his mariachi practice at the age of eight. He began by playing the trumpet and a year later started singing.
“Creo que mi maestro nos preguntó ‘¿quién quiere cantar?’ y yo levanté la mano,” Enriquez said. “Y yo no sabía en realidad que era cantar y así empecé.” (I think my teacher asked, ‘Who wants to sing?’ and I raised my hand. I really didn’t know what singing was and that’s how I began.)
But success doesn’t come without dedication.
Enriquez works on his vocals and trumpet about five hours a week, not counting the time he just sings because he hears a song he likes.
“La música significa mucho para mi,” Enriquez said. “Representa como mi familia, mis raíces Mexicanas.” (Music means a lot to me. It represents my family, my Mexican roots.)
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