Veronica Robles: mariachi and so much more
Veronica Robles has been an ambassador of mariachi music since she began performing as a teenager in her native Mexico. The musician and singer, who is originally from Mexico City, began her mariachi education under the tutelage of her grandmother, who would sing with Robles as they made and sold floral arrangements in Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi, known as the “cradle of mariachi music.”
“People often think that mariachi music is only noise and that the music is not professional or is not elevated or is not a music per se,” says Robles in a recent telephone conversation. “I like to educate people about mariachi music — it is also high-quality music, very diverse and very elaborate.”
Since emigrating to the United States from Mexico in the 1990s and eventually settling in Boston, Robles has been on a mission to introduce and showcase the beauty of mariachi music. She co-produced and hosted the television show “Orale con Veronica” which aired on Telemundo Boston from 2002 through 2014.
In 2013, she opened the Veronica Robles Cultural Center (VROCC) in East Boston with her husband Willy Lopez, a songwriter and music and video producer in his own right. Robles describes the nonprofit’s mission as an opportunity to help raise future leaders who are kind and open to learning and embracing other cultures, as well as being agents for change. The cultural ambassador sees what she does as an opportunity to “change hearts,” especially during these politically-charged times.
Robles, who has worked with youth since arriving in Massachusetts, wasn’t sure what to name the cultural center, so she asked the young African American, Dominican and Puerto Rican girls she was mentoring at the time. They voted that Robles should name it after herself. When she asked them ‘Why?’, they responded with ‘Why not?’ says Robles, laughing. “They were the ones who encouraged me to call it the Veronica Robles Cultural Center.” The young girls told her it was because “people know me and they know what I do, and if it’s called the Veronica Robles Cultural Center, they know what we’re doing there,” she recalls.
Establishing the cultural center was also a way of honoring her daughter, Kithizia, who passed away in 2008 when she was a teen. Robles’ way of coping with her death was to focus on children. “I needed to keep my mind busy on positive projects that were related to what I liked to do,” she says.
Robles has also embarked on another dream. In 2018, she created Boston’s first ever all-female mariachi band with help from a cultural grant from the City of Boston. It was something she had wanted to do since 2002. She was able to hold auditions and bring in mariachi musicians from Mexico to present her concept to local musicians, in forming her new band.
Forming the all-women mariachi band was not only about continuing to promote the beauty of her music, it was also an opportunity to get more women involved in the music business. “It’s a type of business for me, and I love it, and I have this idea of also delivering a message of peace and unity through the music that I do,” Robles says.
Recently the performer was selected as a Neighborhood Salon Luminary for the 2019-20 season with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and was part of Concert for One presented by Celebrity Series of Boston.
In time for the holiday season, Robles will perform in a free, livestreamed living room concert called “A Mexican Christmas: Songs and Stories” on Thursday, Dec. 17 at 8:00 p.m. as part of Celebrity Series of Boston’s fall digital programming. She will sing traditional and contemporary Mexican Christmas songs that she learned from her grandmother as a child. According to the Latina cultural icon, the sentiment behind the concert is “to share messages of hope, unity and love for a new world, a new year.”