In Mariachi Music, A Distinctive Yell Speaks To The Soul

 

A screen displays the concert of Mexican folk singer Vicente Fernández in Guadalajara, Mexico, in April, when Fernández announced his retirement.

 

 

Do you know that feeling when a song moves you so much, you just feel like you have to add your own voice? Mexican culture has an answer to that: a cathartic, joyous yell called a grito.

Growing Up Hearing Gritos

Like lots of Mexican-American kids, Contreras and I grew up hearing the adults in our lives performing gritos when they listened to mariachi music at family barbecues, or cheering on friends and family at graduation.

“In my family, my mother and my grandfather, her step-dad, when we would be at family parties like Christmas or something like that, we’d be in the other room playing, we’d hear a really loud grito, we knew the party was on, it just took it to a different level,” Contreras says. “It was the ultimate expression that we were really having a good time.”

I am pretty sure I could identify my tíos and tías by their gritos, and many Mexican-American children begin finding their own grito voice early.

 

Like many schools in Texas, students at Perez Elementary school in Austin have the opportunity to learn and perform mariachi music. Their teacher, Angela Machado, is too busy teaching them chords and song lyrics to teach them gritos. “It is not part of the curriculum necessarily but I know a lot of them do already know how,” she says.

Third graders Leo Garcia, Jose Jaimes, Mario Flores and Angelita Alivter Cardenas show me their gritos. They sound like lion cubs learning how to roar.

If they want to keep working on their gritos, these kids may have a chance in college. Ezekiel Castro is a lecturer at the University of Texas Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music. He is also director of the school’s mariachi ensemble and teaches about mariachi culture. The grito is an important part of that.

“The Mexicans are very emotional people,” says Castro. “When they hear mariachi music, whether it’s because of sorrow or because of joy, they do these gritos, these yells.” Castro says his students do a much better grito than he does. “Some people are just exquisite with it. Others, you know, we just do the best we can.”

Gritos aren’t just emotional; they’re political. One of Mexico’s founding fathers uttered the first documented grito in history when he declared the war for Mexican independence. The president of Mexico does a more formal grito every year on that anniversary, as Enrique Peña Nieto did in 2015.

Grito 101

Laura Gutierrez teaches Mexican performance studies at the University of Texas. She says gritos are complex expressions. “They’re like small narrative capsules, without the narrative that are full of layers of emotion,” Gutierrez says. And belting out a greatgrito feels really good. “When you finally release the last gasp of air, there’s relief,” Gutierrez says.

Video producer Kathryn Gonzalez rediscovered the grito at a 2014 Day of the Dead party in west Texas. “I was the only brown person at the whole party,” Gonzalez says. “There was a little conjunto band and I was so moved, I don’t even really honestly remember the song, but I was compelled to do a grito.”

But there were two things stopping her. “I thought well, A, I don’t know if anyone here would know what that was and why I was doing it,” Gonzalez says. “And B, I thought I don’t really know if I know how to do a good grito, like I’m not sure that I could pull it off.”

So Gonzalez teamed up with a developer friend and created the Grito App.

“You scroll through the different sounds, each sound has its own screen. You can learn a little more about the grito, you can share the grito, you can save it to your videos and just kind of text it or email it around,” Gonzalez says.

Since mariachi music is less popular among newer generations, not that many young people know how to do a good grito. Castro says that’s no reason not to try. “Everybody has their own individual way of doing gritos,” he says. “It’s a great expression.”

Growing Into Gritos

Felix Contreras tried to do a grito when he was a college student at Cal State University Fresno in the late ’70s. His friends would have grito contests after a long night. “It was pathetic. I thought, ‘Ugh, I definitely won’t be doing that again.'”

And even though his alt.latino co-host Jasmine Garsd has been trying to get him to do a grito on-air, Contreras says he won’t do it. “You have to not be afraid to be the subject of attention in a small world,” Contreras says. “You have to use the front of the diaphragm, full of gusto, and release anguish and joy from your soul to do a successfulgrito.”

Contreras has found himself listening to more mariachi music over the years. “It’s an acquired taste as you get older, you experience life’s heartbreaks and joys, the lyrics and the recitations and the performance resonates in a different way,” Contreras says. “It has all the secrets to life in the lyrics. You don’t know that when you’re in your twenties.”

“By the time you hit your forties, Chente knew what he was talking about,” Contreras says. And you might feel inspired to try out your own grito.

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Latinitas Gets Girls into Tech

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Get the full story on NPR’s Latino USA.

Out of all the people earning bachelor’s degrees in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), just eight percent are Latinos. That number shrinks even more when you look at the number of Latinas (female students).

Alma Benitez was one of those Latinas trying to break into the STEM field, but she faced more obstacles than the prejudice she faced being a Latina: her family hid her college acceptance letters because they didn’t want her to leave home for college. With pressure from inside and outside the home, Alma found support in Latinitas, an after school club for Latinas in Texas that encourages young Latinas to get excited for science, with the hopes that they’ll grow up and pursue a career in STEM.

Reporter Brenda Salinas gives us a glimpse at the particular struggle Latinas face in the world of STEM. She speaks with Alma about her struggle to pursue her dreams, and with Laura Donnelly, the founder of Latinitas, who’s also a Latina computer scientist.

 

For Entrepreneurs, Pitching To Pint-Sized Sharks Is No Child’s Play

Check out the full story on NPR.img_0427edit_custom-c7ecf8aeb9159a2338e4bf4ad625483219f1971d-s800-c85


A few weekends ago, Texas entrepreneur Regina Vatterott stood in front of 50 people on the top floor of a startup hub in Austin. She was there to pitch her smart pill box company, EllieGrid, to a panel of six judges.

“If you or your dad or mom has to take medications at breakfast, at breakfast time, the three compartments light up, and you would take, let’s say, two from this compartment, three from this compartment and one from this compartment, and it also sends you notifications on your smartphone so you can track it all online, too,” Vatterott told the judges.

It was like Shark Tank — the reality television show where entrepreneurs take turns pitching their companies to a panel of investors — but with a twist.

This panel of “sharks” is made up of kids.

Welcome to Pitch-a-Kid, where kids and entrepreneurs can learn from each other.

Regina Votterott won over the Pitch-a-Kid judges with her idea for a smart pill box.

 

Unlike the entrepreneurs on Shark Tank, Vatterott’s goal isn’t to get investors — there’s no cash prize at Pitch-a-Kid.

Still, it’s hard fought: Each entrepreneur at the first Pitch-a-Kid event has 5 minutes to present and up to 8 minutes of questions from the judges. And the kids are asking some tough questions: How do you make money? How are people going to pay for it? Do you provide a warranty if it breaks?

The judges hear six more pitches, including a social media network for books and a subscription “sock of the month” company idea.

Anicia Moncivais, the judge coordinator, is a 12th-grader; the five other kids are third- through sixth-graders. They turn in their score sheets and then deliberate.

“The judges have spoken,” intones Piers Powell, one of the judges.

Mike Millard, a co-founder of Pitch-a-Kid, announces the winner: Regina Vatterott’s company EllieGrid, the smart pill box maker.

Vatterott says she was a little nervous before her pitch.

I didn’t know if they understood the grand scheme of how important medication adherence was, but they really seemed to get it, they didn’t even ask questions about that,” she says.

Audrey Millard, daughter of Mike Millard, Pitch-a-Kid judge and co-founder, says she definitely held back.

“My dad was telling me in the car, like, how nervous these people were, and how they’re, like, I don’t know how to explain this in a kid-friendly language, oh no what will I do if they don’t understand me, and stuff like that, so I decided not to go too hard on them,” the 9-year-old says.

“About a year ago, I was doing a website with my daughter, and she asked me really tough questions,” Millard recalls. “She said, who’s the website for, how are they going to know about it, and what I realized was that they were nonfiltered, honest questions on how to be successful.”

In other words: If you can’t explain it to a kid, you probably aren’t ready to talk to investors. And just because the judges are small doesn’t mean they don’t take their job seriously — including what they were going to wear.

Before the event, Audrey says, she researched how to look “businesslike.”

The kids in the panel and in the audience got an introduction to the startup culture, and the entrepreneurs practiced addressing some of the issues they need to think through for their business model to succeed.

The next Pitch-a-Kid event in Austin is scheduled for July 30.

Why This Small Coffee Business Doesn’t Need to Compete on Price

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Every coffee company has an angle.

Folgers made it fast. Nabob made it romantic. Starbucks made it hip. And today, artisanal coffee is making it expensive. But how do you convince someone to pay a lot more for their coffee? The answer is actually pretty simple: all you need to do is tell a story.

We sat down with Helen Schafer, owner of Tiny House Coffee Roasters, to find out more.

In this interview, you’ll…

  • Find out how a great story can help you charge more for your products
  • Discover an easy way to tell your story (without an advertising budget)
  • Learn about product positioning and why it’s your key to boosting sales

Check out the full interview below:

Want to hear more? Listen to the rest of episode six now.

How to Get a Full Turkish Immersion In Texas

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Get the full story on the Texas Standard.

At six o’clock every evening, the Raindrop Turkish House in North Austin begins to light up. Dozens of students from all backgrounds come together to learn Turkish language, art, cooking and even calligraphy.

René Flores is a graphic designer who wanted a break from his software package for a change.

“I’ve always been interested in calligraphy and I didn’t get a lot of opportunity to do it when I was in school studying graphic design,” Flores says. “So when I heard about this, you know, it sounded really interesting to me.”

He heard about it in the Austin Community College catalogue. This is the first year that Raindop Turkish House classes are accredited by ACC. Director Ibrahim Server says that came after a six year campaign.

“After that we saw some ACC classes offered, like Foreign Language, and we went to ACC and we talked to them, Server says. “We actually complete the requirements and they also accept our Turkish classes and we start working together after that time.” 

ACC doesn’t pay the nonprofit. All of its teachers are volunteers. So what does the Turkish house get out of the deal?

“ACC [helps] us find a lot of students also with a catalog with continuing courses they publish some flyers they publish this class on their websites and they help us a lot finding students,” Server says.

 Raindrop House’s first function is to welcome Turkish immigrants to Texas. It’s second is to introduce Texas students to Turkish language and culture – students like Courtney Debower, who takes Turkish conversation classes.

“I went to Turkey when I was in college and I always thought it would be a fun language to learn someday,” Debower says. “So when I moved to Austin I looked at the ACC Adult Ed. Catalog and they happen to have a Turkish Class so I felt like that was a sign that I should sign up.”

Debower will get an official certificate from Austin Community College when she finishes her course.

“It’s been a lot of fun they really incorporate the cooking and the tea and the art classes and all of the culture side that goes with the language,” Debower says.

There are 17 Raindrop Turkish houses across Texas – Houston has the largest one. But Austin is the only city where the art and language classes are accredited by a local community college.

It’s a model that the group wants to export to the rest of the state.