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Film

'Compañeras' Premieres on Global Voices This Week

"Mariachi is a man's world," says José Hernández. And so, he explains in Compañeras, Elizabeth Massie and Matthew Buzzell's 2006 documentary, he founded the first all-female mariachi band in the US. The 12 members of Reyna come from all sorts of backgrounds and musical interests, including Pearl Jam and Aaron Copeland. For them, Reyna is something of a calling. Premiering this week on Global Voices, the film features interviews with the women, describing their passion for the music and their devotion to their instruments, their appreciation of the form's supple, melodramatic storytelling. No surprise, the band has overcome numerous obstacles: at first, it was hard even to find members, in part because girls are less likely than boys to take up the trumpet or the guitarrón (both "very male instruments," notes Karla). Carmen, who plays the vihuela, recalls, "I experienced sexism at a very early stage in mariachi, when my teacher told me that I couldn't play guitarrón because it was too heavy and... It would bother my stomach and if I ever like, planned to have kids in the future..." The members of Reyna rehearse regularly, scheduling the rest of their lives to accommodate gigs. Even Hernández seems to miss what's at stake for them, as he insists that men are more committed to the life of the mariachi. Men, he says, see the music as "'My job, I've got to provide for my family.' And women, you know, they're emotional, 'I wanna get married, I've gotta have kids.' They put it on the backburner, the music and their careers." The film suggests otherwise.

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