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Artist Q & A: Tavo Alcoser of Jarabe Mexicano

five men with instruments sitting on steps, smiling and looking at each other


Chandler Center for the Arts staff sent a Q & A to Gustavo "Tavo" Alcoser Jr. of Jarabe Mexicano to find out more about who he is, why he pursued music and how the band formed.

Jarabe Mexicano takes audiences on a joyride through a versatile songbook of Mexican folk, rock n’ roll, Tex-Mex, Latin rock, and reggae-cumbia. Performing on stringed folk instruments and accompanied by lively percussion, Jarabe’s dramatic, harmonized vocals in Spanish and English have gained them the admiration of audiences across the country.  This musical celebration of eclectic musical genres and diverse communities is accentuated and intensified by the beautiful, colorful Mexican folk dancing of Ballet Folklorico Quetzalli-AZ. This is an evening of music for the whole family! Don't miss the amazing Jarabe Mexicano on April 14th, 2023 at 7:30 p.m.!


Q. Can you tell us a little bit about how Jarabe Mexicano formed?

A. The summer before I started my master’s program, a friend from the Music Department named Mario Eguia invited a few friends to get together and perform for tips at San Diego’s historic Old Town. It was basically a mariachi quartet and I sang lead vocals and played the maracas. At the end of the summer, we all went back to school. A year later, in 2015, I was about to go on a month-long study abroad program to southern Mexico when Mario reached out again and asked if I wanted to sing for a band he was putting together. I asked if he would wait until I returned and he accepted. Once I got back, I learned that he had put the group together because he had been asked to substitute for a mariachi who had backed out from playing for the Mexican Consulate’s Independence Day Celebration at Copley Symphony Hall (no pressure!). In three weeks we had to learn enough repertoire to fill a three-hour time slot. Of course, we were terribly intimidated but also excited for the opportunity. As luck would have it, we were a hit and the person who hired us, Dr. Marian Liebowitz (who happened to be one of our professors at SDSU) asked us to join her agency and she became our booking agent. With her help, we applied and received scholarship grants to attend the Association of Performing Arts Professionals Conference in New York City as well as other regional booking conferences where we began to get hired as a touring band.

How do you think your sound has changed since starting out?

At the beginning, our band consisted of the requinto (a high-pitched, lead guitar used in Mexican Romantic music), and the vihuela (a mariachi rhythm guitar), as well as a jazz stand-up bass, percussion consisting of timbales and bongos, and myself on lead vocals along with two other vocalists. From the band’s inception, we chose the name Jarabe, which means mixture, to highlight the variety of musical genres that we play (which includes Mexican Folk, Rock and Roll, Romantic, Rock en Español, Tex-Mex, and popular Cumbia) as well as the different musical tastes and talents of our band members. That aspect has not changed in the last seven years. However, some of our members were not able to continue touring with us and so the second generation of our band, led by Danny Brito, exchanged the stand-up bass for the guitarron (a mariachi bass guitar) and the percussion shifted to the cigar box, the cajon, and the maracas. We also included a fourth vocalist. After the pandemic, we shifted members once again and the third generation changed the requinto for the classical guitar and the percussion to a Norteño-style drum set called tarola. We also shifted back to three vocalists. As we move forward and in preparation for our next album, we will begin to include the electric guitar for certain parts of our program.

What made you interested in pursuing music?

I was drawn to music when I was very young. My grandfather was a musician in Mexico during its Golden Age and music always formed a part of our family’s daily life. As a child, I would watch Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker on PBS and was fascinated by the dancers and the music. Eventually, I got involved in school choirs. My mother, who was a single parent, did not have the means for me to get musical training, but by the age of 9, I became obsessed with American and Latin Pop music and began to sing in my room, for hours on end, every single day. After high school, I worked in customer service but, while I had a knack for it, I felt unfulfilled. So, I enrolled in community college with the goal of studying music while I worked part-time. After a few years there, I took a chance and auditioned for the Music Department at San Diego State University and was accepted. I was also accepted into the Chamber Choir and participated in two student operas. However, by the end of my time there, I realized that while I had gained a huge appreciation for it, my heart was not in performing classical music. So, I applied to a master’s program in Latin American Studies with the idea of becoming a teacher.

What or who is inspiring your work right now? And, why?

As a nostalgic bordeño-soul band, our influences span across borders and decades. As a group, we have a long list of artists who inspire us which include icons of Mexican music such as José Alfredo Jiménez, Pedro Infante, Javier Solís, Rubén Fuentes, and Juan Gabriel; to Tejano and Chicano artists like Freddy Fender, Selena, and Ritchie Valens. There are also rock bands and pop artists like Bob Marley, Caifanes, Los Enanitos Verdes, and Los Bukis. These artists have become a staple enjoyed by border cultures from the Pacific to the Gulf coast. And, of course, each of our members also have their own unique personal tastes which enriches the ways in which we interpret the songs that we play.

If you weren’t a musician, what other profession would you want to have?

Personally, I probably would have become a professor in higher education. I’ve been blessed to have amazing teachers who made a huge impact throughout my life. And not just through the knowledge that they imparted, but also through their humanity and acts of kindness when I needed support. As a touring band, we do a lot of educational outreach in K-12 and higher education. It’s become a point of great personal satisfaction to know that we are making a positive contribution to the lives of the students we get to meet across the country.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live and why?

It’s funny because growing up as an American citizen living in Tijuana, Baja California (Mexico) and going to school in the States, I always dreamed of moving permanently to San Diego, CA where I was born. As an adult, I finally did and really enjoyed it. But right before the pandemic, I moved back to Tijuana and now live as a transborder resident with a lifestyle similar to the one I had in my childhood. For a long time, I hadn’t appreciated what a blessing it has been to experience a border region in this way. Touring with the band has provided new perspectives as we visit communities very different from ours. Now, I realize that San Diego will always have my heart, but Tijuana has my soul and, frankly, I’d rather not live without either of them.

Is there any arts experience that you cannot get enough of – a singer, dancer, theatre, museum doing something really cool?

Well, thank goodness we live in the internet age! YouTube allows me to follow all kinds of artistic endeavors. I was dancing before I was singing, so I love to watch dancers. I also enjoy listening to all kinds of singers and musicians who inspire me to write my own original music. Theater was something that I experienced later in life, but I’ve grown to enjoy immensely. I just saw Stephanie Blythe in San Diego Opera’s program “The Puccini Duo: Suor Angelica & Gianni Schicchi”.

Have you been listening to any new music lately? We love recommendations.

Last year, I began listening to jazz vocalist Samara Joy and was so excited to see her win Grammys for Best New Artist and Best Jazz Vocal Album. She brings so much to the table with her voice and her grace and I’m sure she’ll have a long and very successful career.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell our patrons?

On behalf of Jarabe Mexicano, I’d like to thank the Chandler Center for the Arts and its patrons for opening the doors to your beautiful venue and community when our band was first taking off a few years back. We’re honored to visit for a third time and to continue this friendship. We’re committed to do our best in representing and sharing our border culture wherever we go. We’re so excited to collaborate with Ballet Folklórico Quetzalli and can’t wait to see all of you!


Tickets Now On Sale


Jarabe Mexicano: Get Up, Stand Up (Semillas)