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15 years of work comes to a head for San Antonio musician in massive mariachi competition

 Osvaldo Chacon
Osvaldo Chacon

A young San Antonio singer has been practicing most of his life for the challenge of a lifetime, now only weeks away. He’s been honing his skills, studying in school, performing in public and he’ll soon appear before a national audience.

“Good morning, my name is Osvaldo Chacon, and I am a third year student here at the University of Texas at San Antonio,” he said.

What’s his primary instrument? His voice.

“I started singing since I was like 5 years old. I started singing mariachi music,” Chacon said. “Now I'm a full time musician. I do all types of music, but I started with mariachi and Tejano music.”

Born and raised in Del Rio, the 20-year-old set his sights on singing early on. And in a very real sense, it was therapeutic for him.

“When I was younger I actually had some difficulty with…like speaking. It was very challenging for me. However, for some reason, singing always came naturally to me,” he said.

Singing seemed to flow easily out of Chacon, but learning the discipline and structure of music came a little later when he learned an instrument.

“In 6th grade was when I started having the opportunity to be enrolled with music, I started with the band. I was actually a tuba player, and all through middle school, all through high school I did the marching band,” Chacon said.

Playing the tuba taught him sight reading, breath control and the discipline that playing with others does. Then one day his band director came to him with a thought for him to consider.

“We need some singers for the varsity group. I would like for you to come to rehearsals and sing with us,” he said.

Like many schools in South Texas, his in Del Rio offered mariachi classes. Being a 7th grader invited to sing with his 8th grade peers was thrilling. But it was also scary!

“It was really scary, but I did it,” Chacon said.

And then, he and several others, on their own, started their own mariachi singing group.

“We created this ensemble and we got to perform all summer long at weddings and quinceañeras, and I got a lot of performing experience and it was really fun,” Chacon said. “And so that gave me a lot of experience, to not be afraid to sing to the public.”

This was Chacon’s first performing experience without it being sanctioned in a classroom or as a school function. Then in his junior year, he made another singing change.

“I joined choir. And that really just changed. Into my life, and just, brought me to a different world of music,” he said. “Being in a choir is a beautiful experience because you become a better musician because you listen a lot more.”

While his love of singing choir is apparent, also apparent is his love of mariachi, which affords more of his interpretation. His favorite song? Sabor a Mi.

“Tanto tiempo disfrutamos de este amor

Nuestras almas se acercaron, tanto así

Que yo guardo tu sabor, pero tú llevas también

Sabor a mí.”

If you’re not a Spanish speaker, here’s what he’s singing.

“The translation of that is, ‘So much time that we live together that our lives got so connected and we love each other so much, so much. That I still have your essence.’ That's what that song is all about,” he said.

And here’s an aspect to Chacon that may come as a surprise.

“Besides mariachi, I really enjoy singing jazz. I like the crooner jazz like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin,” Chacon said.

I'm honestly singing a little bit of everything at the moment,” he said.

Right now his sights are set on one thing in particular: Those to whom mariachi is the be-all and end-all look to San Antonio every fall for an amazing competition built around mariachi’s supergroup, Mariachi Vargas. The competition is called The Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza.

“It's almost like a Mexican version of American Idol for mariachi. That's how big it is,” Chacon said. “And they also have the national vocal competition, which is a very big deal. I was very fortunate to be chosen into the 11 finalists that will be competing Saturday, Dec. 4.”

In the world of mariachi, one figure looms largest: star of radio, TV and movies, Pedro Infante. His granddaughter Lupita has continued in the family tradition.

“And I just found out yesterday that Lupita Infante will not only be at the competition, but she's going to be judging the vocal competition. When I found this out yesterday, I just…I went crazy,” he said.

Chacon’s schedule in the next couple of weeks is incredibly full: he’s a full-time college student studying for exams but he also sings with UTSA’s Chamber singers and has a performance there, and then with the Symphony of the Hills in Kerrville. Then on Dec. 3 and 4 there’s the performance he’s been fantasizing about ever since he was a child. The Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza. Can he win it?

“I really hope I get the opportunity to at least be in the top three. But I would love to win the competition. At the end of the day, you know, just being a finalist is a big honor,” Chacon said.

The pressure of the competition is pretty staggering, and he knows that it’s all on his shoulders. That said, the weight of that responsibility is spread around a bit.

“If my mother's listening to this. I just wanted to say that I love her. I love her to death. She's my everything. So I love you, mom,” Chacon said. “But one thing that she told me was that no matter what happens in life, it's not me. It's God, it's God presented to me the opportunities. But again, I have to work hard for them.”
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