Heart, not Hobby

Ah, the fourth grade. A time for science-fair projects, awkward sex-ed lessons and getting a jump start on your career.

Maybe that last one applies only to Olga Flores.

The native Tucsonan began learning mariachi music at the age of 11 when she joined Los Changuitos Feos de Tucson—one of the first mariachi youth groups in the United States—and was their youngest member.

Later, while in her early 20s, Flores played violin in Mariachi Cielo de Mexico, a Tucson-based group with 10 members which has performed with other top mariachi musicians.

But it wasn't until the launch of her solo career—almost a decade later—that she began to showcase her voice's diversity. For the past five years, she's been belting out songs from a variety of music types.

"I do recordings with different genres," Flores says. "I've done flamenco; I've done R&B (and) soul-type (music)."

Her upcoming album, to be released this fall, shows off a mix of her singing experience and experimentation.

"It's kind of a melting pot of the 24 years in my music career," she says about the album. "But my main music is mariachi—that's my passion."

Flores, who has attended the Tucson International Mariachi Conference, as a student, performer and instructor, was honored by an invitation to participate in the conference's "Flores del Desierto" series two years in a row.

The series was put together by the board of directors in 2004 and also included Marisa Ronstadt, a relative of Linda Ronstadt, she explains.

Last year, she sang and participated in the PBS documentary In the Family, which was nominated for an Emmy.

Another highlight for Flores last year was singing at the Gaslight Theatre's Mariachi Extravaganza concert as their "special guest." That gig earned her enough props to be invited back to this Monday's Extravaganza, says Becky Gilmour, director of public relations of Gaslight Theatre.

"The audience really liked her," Gilmour says.

Mariachi Extravaganza—which started in August 2005—has become a popular event for the Gaslight Theatre; the concerts are now held three or four times a year, Gilmour says.

"They tend to sell out almost every time; we've been very fortunate," she explains. "We added it, because we wanted to have more culture. ... We were trying to kind of build the Monday-night concert series to appeal to all people."

Though Flores has performed at larger venues like Phoenix's US Airways Center (back when it was called America West Arena) and the Fox Tucson Theatre, she says performing at the Gaslight was memorable for its cozier setting and crowd involvement.

"People that go there love the mariachi music. It's very intimate, but at the same time, it's like performing in an arena because of the ambiance," Flores says.

The Gaslight seats less than 250 people, says Gilmour. To be exact: "It seats 242 with every seat taken," she says.

In other words, buy your tickets in advance, and get there early if you plan on checking out Flores' performance. Mariachi Sonido de Mexico and Mariachi Cielo de Mexico (a 2009 Tucson Area Music Awards—TAMMIES—finalist) will also be performing, making up a bill that brings the solo singer full-circle, seeing as Flores performed in Mariachi Cielo de Mexico earlier in her career.

After 24 years of practicing, performing and instructing, Flores says mariachi music is more than just a form of entertainment to her.

"It's something that I feel in my heart. It's not a hobby; it's my livelihood," Flores explains. "Other than being a mother, it defines who I am."

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