Sitting in a nondescript booth in a Taylorsville taquería, beneath a flat-screen TV tuned to too-loud telenovelas, mariachi singer Yunuen Carrillo is the picture of splendor. Her radiant smile and twinkling eyes are as noticeable as her ornate, natty charro suit. More captivating is her voice, which soars over a bed of trumpets, accordion and guitarrón as she performs Mexican standards like "Cielo Rojo" and "Amor Eterno." When Carrillo sings—whether it's at a quinceañera or a festival like Living Traditions—it's with an ardor that transcends gender and language barriers, buoying the hearts of anyone within earshot. Check her out at Facebook.com/Yunuen.CarrilloUtah.
When did you know you wanted to play mariachi music?
I was so young. My dad was the one who introduced me to this music. I really started being exposed to more crowded stages [when I was] 9. I do remember always being by [my father's side] and wanting to go where he went when he performed.
What instrument did you start with?
I'm more concentrated on the vocals, which is the hardest part. In mariachi, you have the different rhythms and you have the falsetto—that's not an easy task for any singer. I do know music and I play the piano, but I'm more focused on performing. Not just singing, but knowing how to touch the hearts of people. You can sing and have a beautiful voice, but if you don't know how to touch people, they won't get that special feeling that mariachi music has.
Has it been difficult, being a female mariachi in a male-dominated genre?
Actually it is really nice. Most people think that the mariachis are just male, but we do have a lot of female mariachis—Lola Beltrán, Aida Cuevas. As a female, you give that touch; the voice and the tunes are different than the men's. But it's not something new. This has been going on since the beginning of this music.
Why is mariachi music able to transcend cultural and lingual barriers?
This type of music is not just for a specific group of people. It touches all of the people around the world. So in Japan, and other places, they sing in Spanish, but also in their own languages. So it's really nice, the great impact that the music has around the world. As a performer here in Utah, when I finish my shows, they say, 'I didn't really understand the whole thing, but you made me feel it.' Language is no barrier anymore, with this type of music. I like to get people involved in the music. I make them sing with me and teach them a little bit. I'm really interested in exposing my culture and letting people know how beautiful this music is.
What is your favorite song to perform?
One of my favorite songs is 'La Cigarra.' Linda Ronstadt used to sing this song. It talks about a little insect that makes some noise. It says, 'I want to continue singing until I am gone.' It hits close to me because I have grown with music and singing, and I see my life keeping going and singing and sharing. Until the end of my days, I ask for the blessing to sing.