Performance transcends everything. Thursday night, it transcended language.
Aida Cuevas, the “Queen of Mariachi,” came to the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts and delivered one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, disregarding my lack in knowledge of Spanish. She was accompanied by a mariachi band, complete with violins, trumpets, accordion, congas and guitar.
The hour and a half long show can be summed up in one word: A spectacle. From the instant Cuevas strutted on stage in a flowing red dress, the audience was beguiled by her presence. Without a lick of hesitation, she launched into a packed setlist of her biggest hits and more. A highlight came in the second half of the show, where Cuevas performed a digital duet with legendary Mexican singer Juan Gabriel, who passed away two years ago. The two traded crooning lines, much to the delight of the audience.
The back-and-forth relationship between Cuevas and her enraptured crowd was something to behold. I lost track of how many times she stopped singing and let the crowd belt out a chorus. Through the entire night, Cuevas didn’t even look like she was performing. She looked like she was at a party, and the patrons at Jorgensen were her esteemed guests.
Something that makes an artist truly special is how they treat their backing performers. Cuevas’s ability to shed the spotlight, both literally and figuratively, was beautiful. She stepped back to let her backing band perform solos, vocal and instrumental, adding an element of three-dimensionality to the night. During her costume changes, the backing band became the main attraction, as the violinists became vocalists, serenading the crowd with Mexican anthems. On that note, the entire night celebrated Mexican culture with bravado. Between the green, red and white stage lights to the traditional dress of the performers, the entire audience was transported from Mansfield to Mexico City, Cuevas’s hometown. The cherry on top of the cultural display has to go to a woman near the front of the crowd, who periodically flew her handheld tricolor Mexican flag to the music. Sensational.
“The entire night was beautiful,” Brandon Barzola, first-semester English major, said. “I don’t listen to mariachi often, but it was interesting to delve into Mexican culture and learn more about it through its music.”
When asked about the fantastic audience participation, Barzola was enthusiastic. “It’s a great display of pride for their country and their culture.”
“Tonight was awesome,” Adam Romo, Wallingford resident and executive director of the Mariachi Academy of New England, said. “A lot of the songs she sang were traditional songs that go way back for a lot of the audience, so a lot of the people who were singing grew up with the music. It’s a memory for them, so naturally they sing along. It’s really nice that UConn is able to bring this much cultural diversity to the state and bring performers like Aida Cuevas to the campus. It’s important.”
Cuevas ended the night to multiple standing ovations and an encore, finishing her setlist with the popular Mexican song “Cielito Lindo,” before shouting “Viva Mexico” to the crowd and departing to the roar of the Jorgensen crowd. Bravo.
Cuevas’s latest album, “Totalmente Juan Gabriel, Vol. II” is available on most music and streaming services. Don’t miss it!
Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.