Mariachi veteran Jose Hernandez has performed with some of the biggest names in music. Last year, for example, he and Lady Gaga belted out a heartfelt mariachi version of "Born This Way" in a little downtown L.A. nightclub where the pop singer celebrated her birthday.
For Hernandez, the experience proved once again that mariachi is one of the most versatile genres of Latin music. He hopes to take that message across the globe with his new album "La Musica," featuring his renowned band Mariachi Sol de Mexico.
"I'm hoping this record will open doors for us internationally," Hernandez says. "I don't see why it would be impossible for a mariachi to play a concert with the Moscow Symphony or the London Philharmonic."
Hernandez may soon get his wish, especially since his arrangements, compositions and long-established recordings have made him one of the most highly sought-after producers of mariachi music. On the album he also performs with La Sinfonica Nacional de las Americas, an 80-piece orchestra, to produce a sound he's been searching for during the 30 years he's been involved in Latin music.
"I grew up listening to mariachi music my whole life," says regional Mexican singer Jenni Rivera, who worked with Hernandez on the album "La Gran Señora." "Jose brings an elegance to the music no one else does, and that's why he's lasted in the business for so many years. He genuinely has love for this music."
"It's really about a musical and cultural movement," says Alejandro Carballo, a trombonist for Luis Miguel who participated on the new album. "Jose is really good at coming up with concepts. When you add a symphony to the equation, it takes it to a whole other level."
On "La Musica," Hernandez produced 11 tracks-a mix of such classics as Armando Manzanero's "Te Extraño" (I Miss You) and his own music including "Mi Triste Violin" (My Sad Violin). Balancing the mariachi sound with a symphony orchestra was a tall order that Hernandez hopes people will appreciate for many years to come. One way of guaranteeing that is by introducing mariachi to young music students in Los Angeles and New York, among other major cities.
"I'm a mariachi, my father was a mariachi, and my nephew is a sixth-generation mariachi," Hernandez says. "I founded the Mariachi Heritage Society in 1991, and through the years we've worked with thousands of students."
At a recent album release party, Hernandez played his new album for friends, family and industry insiders. The marriage of mariachi with a full symphony orchestra was a long time coming, he concedes. But it's just one of many challenges he's tackled. He also operates a restaurant (Cielito Lindo) in El Monte, Calif.; manages several bands; makes numerous TV appearances; and maintains a hectic touring schedule.
"I really dream big," says Hernandez, who will continue playing alongside symphony orchestras whenever possible. "Mariachi music should be on the most important stages in the world."