Mateo Lopez tugged at the collar of his shirt and twisted his neck, as if to free his voice. Then, as violins clacked behind him and guitars rippled past him in a rehearsal room at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, he sang La Noche and You, ending with a fanfare that elicited cries of “Eso!” Eso! ” (Right !)
Like many mariachi musicians, Mateo cherishes his Mexican heritage and enjoys singing songs about romance, a mother’s love, pleas for forgiveness, and life and death in the countryside. But since Mateo is only seven years old, he also enjoys throwing baseballs or seeing how fast he can run up and down a hallway.
The bilingual sophomore has been performing since the age of four years and 236 days, a mark that has earned him recognition as the world’s youngest mariachi by Guinness World Records.
Mateo’s star took off after a video of him singing at a Mexican restaurant went viral in late 2018. -Air and has two singles on Apple Music.
“I want to be the best mariachi in the world,” he says of his ambitions. But also, he wants to own a pizzeria, “because I can have it every day for lunch”.
Some see him as a future star, citing not only his abilities but also the aura and confidence of a veteran performer. Mateo, who is charming and flippant with short, black hair parted to one side, can perform more than two dozen mariachi tunes without missing a beat, supports himself on guitar on four of them and tries his hand at to the harp – even though he can’t tie his shoe yet.
“It’s not just his God-given talents, but his charisma,” said Sylvia Hernandez, youth talent agent at Kreativ Artists in Los Angeles. “He has a great career ahead of him.
Gino Rivera, founder of Mariachi Azteca de America, the San Antonio-based ensemble with which Mateo often practices, calls him “a talent in a million” who absorbs instruction and criticism with maturity.
For Albert Lopez, his father, the picture is more complex. In Mateo, he sees not only his son but also his father, Leocadio Lopez, a Mexican immigrant who died before Mateo was born and whose love for mariachi music Albert Lopez did not – could not – enjoy before it is not too late.
Not being musicians themselves, Lopez, 44, and his wife Janelle, 42, cannot explain Mateo’s gift, nor the passion that sometimes makes their son sing in his sleep. He idolized his older sister as she learned the violin, they said, and spent hours with his grandmother as she listened to mariachi music while baking tortillas in the kitchen.
Yet sometimes it all feels like a seed planted by his grandfather, Leocadio Lopez.
“I don’t think he’s really aware of what he’s doing,” Albert Lopez said. “He just does it because he likes it.”
“He just started to sing”
Ask Mauro Calvo and he’ll tell you about the day it all started. As the manager of one of San Antonio’s biggest event venues, he had hosted galas and major special events – but one afternoon in December 2018, he welcomed into his office a man looking for a site for her daughter’s quinceañera.
This man – Lopez – introduced his four-year-old son, Mateo.
“He came up to me and shook my hand,” Calvo said. “He wasn’t somewhere playing with his Hot Wheels. He was only a very small boy, but he behaved well.
He and Lopez started chatting and Calvo noted that Mateo was humming a mariachi tune to himself – Linda Ronstadt’s version of Por Un Amor.
Lopez laughed and said yes, Mateo liked to entertain people. “Sing something for Mr. Calvo,” he told her.
Mateo didn’t stop or protest. “He just started singing,” said Calvo, who thought to himself: The kid knows the lyrics. And its rhythm and pitch are just right.
With a technician set up in the venue’s ballroom for an evening concert, Calvo asked Lopez if Mateo might want to try singing with a microphone. The three went and Calvo placed the youngster on a table and asked what song they should play. Mateo named a title and waited, as confident as a veteran performer.
It must be some kind of prank, Calvo remembers thinking – but then Mateo sang the song, and Calvo remembers him pacing back and forth across the table, nonchalantly walking towards its edge, singing right into their eyes.
“Afterwards, the guy playing the music was like, ‘Who is this kid?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’ Mateo blew me away, he was singing like there were 10,000 people there.
“I asked his father, ‘Did you see him do that?’ He said, ‘Not like that.’ I said to him: ‘You have something over there’.
The following weekend, at Calvo’s suggestion, Mateo’s parents dressed him in a traje de charro – the traditional garb worn by mariachis – that his grandmother had given him and took him to the San Antonio River Walk, where he sang for a curious crowd. At the time, it seemed cute – but nothing more.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later, in January 2019, that things changed. The family, marking Janelle Lopez’s birthday, were looking for a late dinner after a monster truck show at the Alamodome. They headed to Mi Tierra, a colorful restaurant that offers mariachis.
After they sat down, Mateo told his father he wanted to sing for his mother, and Lopez waved to the band and asked them to play Por Un Amor. As he captured the occasion with his phone, the four-year-old stood in a chair and sang his heart out, his zeal almost knocking him off the seat.
“Everyone was floored,” Lopez said. “It was the video that started it all.”
Growing awareness – and a growing cadre
A photo gallery above Mateo’s bed is an ode to how life has gone since that viral video, recalling his appearances on “Mexico Tiene Talento,” which he performed on in April 2019. and “Little Big Shots,” where then-five-year-old Mateo stunned audiences and host Melissa McCarthy in February 2020 with an assured parade around the stage.
As Mateo’s fame grows, his parents try to keep him humble, teaching him to shake hands with everyone he meets and send handwritten notes to those who have helped him in his craft.
His father also tries to instill in him a sense of community obligation, reminding him before his show in Italy that he represents not only himself and his family, but also his country and his culture.
Most recently, Mateo and his sister were part of a delegation of 50 San Antonio mariachis who traveled to Uvalde, Texas to offer comfort to a community bereaved by the 21 lives lost in the month’s mass shooting. last at Robb Elementary School.
Lopez aims to nurture Mateo’s talent for as long as he wants to pursue it.
Mateo isn’t the youngest musical artist to be recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records; this title belongs to an Indian boy who, in 2009, was playing the tabla, or hand drum, on an Indian radio station at the age of three years and five days. It’s not the only mariachi-related record either.
Yet those who have worked with Mateo rave about his potential, and Mateo himself says there is much more to learn: more songs, more guitar beats, more gritos – the howls that punctuate a mariachi performance.
“He’s probably my most gifted student,” said David Gonzalez, who leads Mateo’s guitar lessons at the San Antonio Institute of Music. “It’s a sponge.”
Hernandez, the talent agent, has seen cases where parents want the dream more than kids, for whom their child’s fame is a meal ticket. This is not the case with Mateo, she says.
“His parents are not typical Hollywood parents,” she said. “They are humble and hardworking. It is not the parents who pursue the dream; they just plead for his good.
Sensing something special about Mateo, Hernandez introduced him in February to Nick Cooper, a vocal coach in Burbank, Calif., who has helped train some of music’s biggest stars, including Kesha, Beyonce and Nicki Minaj.
Cooper said his job is to quickly assess if someone has that special presence that can make someone a star.
“It’s rare that you get to meet young kids as poised and prepared as Mateo,” he said. “I was just blown away.”
What sets Mateo apart, he says, is that “he doesn’t just chase after what’s popular. What separates the good from the exceptional is that when the lights come on, the gift will prove everything, and I think that happens with it. He just turns into a butterfly. Others return to the cocoon.
Whatever happens to Mateo’s career, his father said, will depend on Mateo.
“Anything he wants, any tools he needs, I’m going to make sure he has them until he decides he doesn’t want them anymore,” Lopez said.
While his own father tried to pass on his passion to him, Lopez was not ready; it is a memory that still makes him emotional. The fact that his children embraced this passion, he said, helps fill the void he felt when his father died. Three of Leocadio’s weathered sombreros now hang in Mateo’s bedroom.
“For me,” Lopez said, “it’s like redemption.” – USA Today/Tribune News Service