In Mariachi Music, A Distinctive Yell Speaks To The Soul : Code Switch The grito is a spontaneous burst of emotion — a shout — that is part of the mariachi tradition. Some younger Mexican-Americans are reclaiming the grito for a new generation.
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In Mariachi Music, A Distinctive Yell Speaks To The Soul

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In Mariachi Music, A Distinctive Yell Speaks To The Soul

In Mariachi Music, A Distinctive Yell Speaks To The Soul

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  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You know that feeling when you are just totally into a song and you want the world to know exactly how it's making you feel? Well, Mexican culture has an answer to that - a cathartic, joyous yell called a grito. From the classroom to the app store, Brenda Salinas saw - well, heard - how this tradition is being carried to a new generation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRENDA SALINAS, BYLINE: When you hear Mexican music like this song, and it really moves your heart, you might feel compelled to do this.

ANGELA MACHADO: (Vocalizing).

SALINAS: Angela Machado's a director of mariachi music at Perez Elementary School in Austin.

MACHADO: It is not part of the curriculum necessarily, but I know a lot of them do already know how.

SALINAS: Whether they're listening to mariachi music, at a family barbecue or even cheering on friends and family at graduation, Mexican-American kids, like the third-graders in Machado's class, grow up hearing adults do gritos all the time. But like lion cubs growing into their roar, these kids are still developing their own gritos.

LEO: (Vocalizing).

JOSE: (Vocalizing).

MARIO: (Vocalizing).

ANGELITA: (Vocalizing).

SALINAS: Actually, that last one was pretty good. That was Leo Garcia, Jose Jaimes, Mario Flores and Angelita Alivter Cardenas. If they want to keep working on their gritos, these kids may have a chance in college. Zeke Castro's at the University of Texas at Austin. He also leads that school's mariachi band and teaches about mariachi culture. The grito is an important part of that.

ZEKE CASTRO: The Mexicans are very emotional people. And when they hear of mariachi music, whether it's because of sorrow or because of joy, they do these gritos, these yells. And it's usually, you know, a head yell. And some people are just exquisite with it. Others, you know, we just do the best we can with it (laughter).

SALINAS: 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, like Enrique Pena Nieto did in 2015.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRES ENRIQUE PENA NIETO: Viva Mexico.

SALINAS: Laura Gutierrez teaches Mexican performance studies at the University of Texas. She says gritos are complex expressions.

LAURA GUTIERREZ: They're, like, small, narrative capsules without the narrative that are full of layers of emotion.

SALINAS: And belting out a great grito feels really good.

GUTIERREZ: When you finally release the last gasp of air, there's relief.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish, vocalizing).

KATHRYN GONZALEZ: (Laughter). It's just so fun.

SALINAS: For video producer Kathryn Gonzales, her grito rediscovery started at a 2014 Day of the Dead party in west Texas.

GONZALEZ: I was the only brown person at the whole party. And 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.

SALINAS: But there were two problems.

GONZALEZ: I thought, well, A, I don't know if anyone out here would know what that was and why I was doing it. 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.

SALINAS: So Kathryn created the Grito app.

GONZALEZ: So you scroll through the different sounds. Each sound has its own screen. You can learn a little bit 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.

SALINAS: Since mariachi music is less popular among newer generations, not that many young people know how to do a good grito. Zeke Castro says that's no reason not to try.

CASTRO: Everybody has their own individual way of doing gritos, and it's a great expression.

SALINAS: And a great tradition that young people are making their own. For NPR News, I'm Brenda Salinas in Austin.

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