Central Valley Mariachi Releases Debut Album as She Sets Off for Harvard

6 min
Vocalist and mariachi musician Anaí Adina recently released her debut album with Little Village Foundation, "Espérame En El Cielo." (Courtesy of Little Village Foundation)

Eighteen-year-old vocalist and musician Anaí Morales — who uses the stage name Anaí Adina — isn't your typical mariachi. 

Her debut album “Esperame en el Cielo” (Wait for Me in Heaven) introduces classic motifs of love and heartbreak typically performed by much older, usually male musicians.  She also includes songs about working in the fields, inspired by her upbringing in the Central Valley town of Delano, where Cesar Chavez began organizing workers in the fields more than a half-century ago.

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Morales comes from a musical family. She and her sisters got their start at Mariachi Mestizo, an award-winning youth ensemble founded by her parents in Delano. The group has performed at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. (Her father, Juan Morales, has played in some of the most famous Mariachi groups in the United States, including Mariachi Sol de Mexico and Mariachi Los Camperos).

Morales herself has won a number of competitions for voice, violin, and trumpet — including the “Shining Star” award at the highly competitive “Battle of the Mariachis” in San Juan Capistrano.

Morales is starting at Harvard University this fall, where she took a break from orientation to talk to The California Report Magazine host Sasha Khokha. Here is an excerpt from that conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.

Anaí Morales with her family of musicians. Her parents, Leticia and Juan, teach music to kids at a studio in Delano. Morales' sisters are also musicians. (Courtesy of Anaí Adina)

On Mariachi’s influence on kids from the Central Valley:

Mariachi music in general is a very important part of Mexican culture; it's present in everything that I do. I think mariachi in a community like Delano — which has a lot of Mexican immigrants and Filipino culture — gives kids a creative outlet and keeps them out of the gang violence that's present in the community.

It’s also nurturing to their cultural backgrounds, I think. A lot of kids enroll in the [mariachi] studio because their grandparents or their parents want them to play that music, or their grandparents and parents were mariachis, so it has a familial vibe to it.

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Growing up in such a musical family helped shape my worldview and every aspect of my personality. I’m very grateful that it kept me close to my culture, especially being so far from home now. I know that I can easily connect to my family and my Mexican culture just by singing a mariachi song or listening to mariachi. It was also fun getting to spend a lot of time making music with my sisters. (Anaí 's sister, Xochitl Morales, is a spoken word artist who has also been featured on The California Report.)

Morales has won a number of competitions for voice, violin, and trumpet — including the “Shining Star” award at the highly competitive “Battle of the Mariachis” in San Juan Capistrano. (Courtesy of Anaí Adina)

On singing about love and heartbreak as a young woman in a male-dominated genre:

I don't think there should ever be stereotypes about who can sing what. There's been a huge switch in mariachi, at least in the L.A. area, with a lot of all-female groups. That's something that wasn't around a few years ago, and so they've started to break the stereotype that mariachis are male. I'm lucky to have grown up in a household where my dad was the only male. My family is full of super strong women, with a grand total of 10 tías (aunts). I also think that was important in helping me feel confident to sing whatever I wanted — songs that tell stories about falling in love, getting your heart broken, dying and joining your lover in heaven. They're very dramatic, and I think I'm a dramatic person. My parents used to say I'm a drama queen. I think the songs fit well with my personality, but they're also narratives that people can relate to. We've all been in love. We've all had our heart broken. We've all felt super emotional about something, and music is a way for me to express those feelings.

On singing about the people of Delano:

Most of the community is made up of Mexican immigrants; working in the fields is usually their daytime job, while some people work another job at night. Delano is not a wealthy community, but it is rich in culture, which has played a huge part in my music. I come from a community of people who work tirelessly to provide for their families and to ensure that their kids will have it better. That has inspired me not only to work hard for what I want in my music, but also to pursue higher education so that I can return to my community and give them what they deserve: the chance to seek better opportunities for themselves.

On singing in Mixteco, one of the indigenous languages of Oaxaca:

I am not fluent in Mixteco, so at times you can hear my accent or some mispronunciations. I did an internship last summer at a hospital in Oxnard, which is where many Oaxacan immigrants work in the strawberry fields. I helped translate what patients were saying to the doctors. Most of them speak only Mixteco; there is a Mixteco-to-Spanish translator, and I was the Spanish-to-English translator working with those patients. I definitely felt super connected to them and that I was able to help them.

On studying at Harvard:

Harvard is definitely a place where you can explore niche concentrations, so I have a feeling that whatever I go in studying is most likely going to change. I'm very open-minded about what I want to do with my life. Right now the goal is to become a doctor and go back to the [Central] Valley and offer [the people there] holistic and affordable medical services that they've been deprived of.

On what’s next musically:

When I tell people that I have an album out they always ask me if I want to study music. And I guess the answer is that I love music. It's been a huge part of my life forever and I can't really see my life in a world without music. I want to continue pursuing music, but more as a hobby. I'm still going to be playing mariachi [at Harvard with the university’s band, Mariachi Veritas de Harvard]. But I'm also very passionate about medicine and science and math, so that might be a more practical route to take in terms of a career.

My parents have never discouraged me from loving music to the extent that I do. They've been nothing but supportive of my music aspirations. But I've also seen how difficult it can be when your sole source of income is how many gigs you can get on one weekend. I know that that's not something that I want for myself. I want to help my family with any financial burdens they have once I graduate and get a job.

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