In the mariachi world, Steeven Sandoval — “la voz del mariachi” — is one of the finest singers today. As a member of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán and Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán, he gained millions of admirers around the world. In a previous article, Steven recounts the particulars of how he became an independent solo artist. In this article, we talk about his first compact disc, the release of which coincides with his debut as a soloist in January of this year (2017).
100 Litros de Tequila is a musical showcase that demonstrates the great musicality and versatility of this extraordinary artist. The CD contrasts new songs with classics and lesser-known ones, both Mexican and non-Mexican, in a wide variety of genres and musical arrangements. I recently had the pleasure of conversing with “the voice of the mariachi” about his latest release.
Ready to record!
JC: Please tell us about your latest CD, Steeven.
SS: Well, the whole album was recorded in the studio Vicente Fernández has at his ranch Los Tres Potrillos, with the exception of the rhythm section tracks, which were recorded by Miguel Ángel Barrón “El Gigio” in his studio. The producer was Adrián Vera, my manager in Mexico, and Alex Ramírez was the recording engineer. Miguel Ángel overdubbed all the armonía instruments by himself, and the four main violinists were members of Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán: Óscar Arellano, Fernando Martínez, Óscar Ortega y Daniel Rosales. The trumpet players are also members of that group: my cousin Agustín Sandoval on first, and Paco Aguilar on second. Next we added the chorus parts, sung by Óscar and Jorge Alberto Ortega, my sons Brian and Isaías, my sister Jéssica, and myself. We also dubbed in some additional instruments. (Complete credits can be found at the end of this article.)
JC: Why didn’t you play violin on this recording?
SS: I thought about it, but then I asked myself: Who’s going to direct and who’s going to make sure everything sounds right? My engineer Alejandro was helping me out in this respect, but as you know, a second opinion is always helpful. For that reason, I decided not to play, so I could oversee the entire production.
Listening critically to the playback
JC: Would you tell us a little bit about each song on your new CD?
SS: I’d be glad to. The record starts out with ‘La voz del mariachi.’ The words, music, and arrangement are by Daniel Rosales, an accomplished musician who plays with Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán. I commissioned him to write it, with these instructions: “I want you to compose me a theme song that thanks the public for all their support, tells them I love them, and that includes a little bit about my life and my background.” I was extremely pleased with what he came up with, and this is the theme song I open all my performances with.
I’ve always liked both the words and the music to ‘De que te quiero, te quiero.’ With this song, Gilberto Valenzuela won the famous OTI Festival back in 1976. Pedro Rey and Vicente Fernández also recorded it. The composition lends itself to an elaborate instrumentation, and in this arrangement, Óscar Ortega achieved exactly what I was looking for.
This arrangement of ‘Voy de Gallo’ was made by my godson Eduardo Cerna, who now plays trumpet with Mariachi Vargas. I chose this song for two reasons: one, because I like it; two, because it’s fallen into obscurity. I wanted to revive it as an homage to the great Miguel Aceves Mejía.
Armando Arellano, Steeven Sandoval, Óscar Ortega and Alejandro Ramírez
Julión Álvarez recorded ‘Te Hubieras Ido Antes’ with a hybrid norteño-banda ensemble. This new arrangement was made by my former bandmate Óscar Ortega. I’d never sung it before until one day Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán was picking songs for one of the group’s CDs and they said to me, “Steven, sing this song.” I rehearsed it to give it my own personal interpretation, they asked Oscar to write the arrangement, and I recorded it. When they heard it, my bandmembers said, “That really turned out good!” They put it on YouTube and it’s gotten lots of favorable comments. The reason I put it on my own CD is because people ask me for it wherever I go. It’s the same arrangement as the Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán recording, with slight modifications. Every recording on my new CD was made from scratch, with no tracks recycled from any previous recording.
I’d heard ‘Mis Dos Vicios’ with Ezequiel “Cheque” Peña and I really liked it, but as you know, I always try to give every song my own personal touch. That’s why I asked Óscar Ortega to come up with a different arrangement.
JC: That’s exactly what the great Heriberto Molina says, that he doesn’t like to listen to recordings of other singers too much, because he doesn’t want his interpretations to sound like theirs.
SS: It sounds like maestro Heriberto and I think alike!
JC: Why did you choose the song ‘Tan Bella Mujer’?
SS: My sister Jessica gave it to me. She’s a singer-songwriter, and her artistic name is Jessica Duvall. It’s her own original song, and had never been recorded before. Miguel Ángel “El Gigio” wrote the arrangement. Her and I have a video where we sing together a song by her titled ‘Nuestra historia’.
In duet with his sister
The words, music, and arrangement of ‘Cien Litros de Tequila’ are by Daniel Rosales. It was an unpublished song he had tucked away. One day he sang it for me and I said, “I’d like to record that,” to which he replied, “Steeven, it’s yours.” A few days later I told him I wanted it to be the title track of my new CD. I like the title as well as the lyrics.
The arrangement, words and music to ‘El Chisme’ are also by Daniel Rosales. Conceptually, it has a certain similarity to ‘Violin Huapango.’ He wrote it with Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán in mind, but never had an opportunity to record it with them. So I said to him, “Let me have the arrangement just the way it is, and I’ll put it on my CD to showcase the mariachi that backs me up me.”
JC: It’s unusual for a solo singer to record a number of this nature, isn’t it? It’s hard for me to imagine any popular singer including such a mariachi showpiece on one of their records.
SS: Of course it’s unusual, but remember, Johnny, what my roots are: I come from the mariachi! I want to give my mariachi the spotlight because it’s our cultural heritage, and because the group deserves it!
‘A Los Cuatro Vientos,’ by the great songwriter Tomás Méndez, is another Óscar Ortega arrangement. Miguel Aceves Mejía recorded it, as did Lola Beltrán, and I recorded it with Mariachi Vargas on the CD Rancheras… y Algo Más. It’s a song that’s never gone out of style. I always try to really transmit the emotion of the lyrics, and whenever I sing it, people are moved. ‘A Los Cuatro Vientos’ is a canción ranchera par excellence, on the level of ‘Paloma Negra’ or ‘Sufriendo a Solas.’
JC: ‘La Tierra del Olvido’ sounded to me like… Well, it reminded me of Juan Luis Guerra.
SS: It’s a Colombian song by Carlos Vives. Omar Nungaray did the arrangement. He’s from Arandas, Jalisco. He’s very talented and a master of many genres. On this recording, “Chepe” Montes plays a Colombian-type accordion.
JC: What do you say when someone asks you to explain why you include foreign songs on your CD, being that you’re “the voice of the mariachi”?
SS: On this production, I wanted to include multiple genres, so that the CD would have more variety. I think it’s good to mix things up like that, because it gives me an opportunity to promote myself to different audiences, in different countries. I have a lot of friends and admirers in Colombia, so I said to myself: I’m going to dedicate this song as an homage to them, without forgetting for a moment that my main entrée is música ranchera.
JC: ‘Por Amor’, a Dominican song, is a theme that many people identify with you.
SS: Ironically, Jonny, that song was never mounted for me in particular. Manuel Alcaraz recorded it with Mariachi Vargas before I entered the group. When Manuel left, practically all the songs he had sung were handed over to me. That’s how the public began to accept me, and that’s how they started identifying me with ‘Por Amor,’ in my own personal rendition.
JC: That song always makes me think of the documentary film Mariachi: The Spirit of Mexico (2003), which I happened to be an advisor for. There, you sing it magnificently.
SS: Thank you for the compliment. Well, thanks to that video, the public started to yell out ‘Por Amor,’ ‘Por Amor’! That film is for important for me, and that song was a turning point in my career. I don’t know if I ever told you, but one day I was in Santo Domingo when the composer of that the song, Rafael Solano, came to the dressing room looking for me and yelling, “Where is that skinny, fair-skinned kid who sings my song so beautifully?” At that moment, I walked out of the dressing room and he said to me, “Young man, you are the greatest interpreter of my song. But don’t let Marco Antonio Muñiz hear me say that!” and he laughed. [‘Por Amor’ was a huge hit for Marco Antonio in 1969-70.] Can you imagine that, coming from the great songwriter himself? I just smiled and said, “Thank you, maestro!” and we embraced. I was at a loss for words.
This particular arrangement of ‘Por Amor’ is by Pepe Martínez. Fernando Martínez made the adaptation. He didn’t want to change the original in any significant way and only made some minor modifications. “I want to respect my uncle’s arrangement,” he told me. The introduction is slightly different, but retains the original melody. As you know, there are some compositions that should simply be left intact.
Óscar Ortega, Paco Aguilar, Steeven Sandoval, and Agustín Sandoval
For many years I’ve enjoyed the song ‘Hablemos.’ The first time I heard it was with a group from Monterrey called Los Mier, who are sons don Nicandro Mier, founder of Los Montañeses del Álamo. Later I heard a different interpretation of it with the late Ariel Camacho. I wanted to record this song especially for the younger generation, and let me tell you, Johnny, it’s become one of the most popular songs on this CD!
‘Tan Natural’ is by the Columbian songwriter Sergio Luis Rodríguez. It’s a pop song that was a hit in the voice of Colombian-Venezuelan singer Felipe “Pipe” Peláez. The arrangement is by Omar Nungaray. The majority of my fans like this song.
‘Y Si La Ven’ is a canción ranchera by my son, Brian Sandoval. I wanted the CD to go out with a strong ending, and this is the last track on the disc. It’s a brand new song. If you notice, there are several premiere works on this disc: ‘La Voz del Mariachi‘, ‘Tan Bella Mujer‘, ‘Cien Litros de Tequila‘, ‘El Chisme’… All are previously unrecorded.
JC: Where can one purchase the album 100 Litros de Tequila?
SS: You can download it from iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify. For the time being, the physical CD is only for sale at my concerts.
JC: What’s going to be the theme of your next CD?
SS: It’s a surprise! By autumn, I plan to start making the songs available one by one on digital media, as a promotional strategy.
JC: Well, we wish you all the success you deserve, Steeven.
SS: Many thanks, Jonny, to you and to mariachimusic.com for interviewing me!
Steeven Sandoval will make his debut as a solo artist in San Antonio on May 12 as part of the Serenata para las Madres concert at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre. Steeven will be accompanied by recording artists and two-time winner of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo “Go Tejano Day” Mariachi Competition, Mariachi Azteca de América. Río Grande City native Kassandra Juárez, Grand Champion Vocalist from the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza, will also perform. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.com.
Steeven will also perform the following day, Saturday, May 13, at the EPISD Fine Arts Complex in Eagle Pass, Texas. Tickets may be purchased at ticketweb, and at the door.
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100 Litros de Tequila – Steeven Sandoval
- La Voz del Mariachi (Daniel Rosales) son
Arr. Daniel Rosales
- De Que te Quiero, te Quiero (Rubén Fuentes-Mario Molina Montes-Eduardo Magallanes) huapango-bolero
Arr. Óscar Ortega
- Voy de Gallo (Ramiro Hernández) canción ranchera
Arr. Eduardo Cerna
- Te Hubieras Ido Antes (José Alberto Inzunza “Joss Favela”-Luciano Luna) balada
Arr. Óscar Ortega
- Mis Dos Vicios (Ramón Meléndez) canción ranchera
Arr. Óscar Ortega
- Tan Bella Mujer (Jéssica Sandoval) canción ranchera
Arr. Miguel Ángel Barrón “el Gigio”
- Cien Litros de Tequila (Daniel Rosales) canción ranchera
Arr. Daniel Rosales
- El Chisme (Daniel Rosales) son
Arr. Daniel Rosales
- A los Cuatro Vientos (Tomás Méndez) canción ranchera
- La Tierra del Olvido (Carlos Vives) bachata
Arr. Omar Humberto Nungaray
- Por Amor (Rafael Solano) balada
Arr. José “Pepe” Martínez. (Adapt. Fernando Martínez)
- Hablemos (Felipe de Jesús Martínez Cerda) bolero
Arr. Óscar Ortega
- Tan Natural (Sergio Luis Rodríguez) balada
Arr. Omar Humberto Nungaray
- Y si la Ven (Brian Sandoval) canción ranchera
Arr. Óscar Ortega
Production: Adrián Vera
Musical dirección: Steeven Sandoval
Violins: Daniel Rosales, Óscar Arellano, Willi Arellano, Armando Arellano, Fernando Martínez & Óscar Ortega
Trumpets: Agustín Sandoval & José Francisco “Paco” Aguilar
Armonía: (vihuela, guitarra & guitarrón): Miguel Ángel Barrón “el Gigio”
Harp: Alfredo Libreros
Requinto: Aldo Adrián Hidalgo
Solo guitar: Alejandro Martínez
Violoncello: Mario Avilés
Flute: Ruth Elizabeth Flores
Accordeon: Horacio “Chepe” Montes
Percussion (only on “La Tierra del Olvido”): Oswaldo Clemente & Andrés Lorenzo Acosta
Chorus: Óscar Ortega, Brían Emmanuel Sandoval, Jorge Alberto Ortega, Isaías Sandoval, Steeven Sandoval & Jéssica Sandoval
Recorded at: Estudio Rancho Viejo & Gigio Records (Guadalajara) September-October, 2016
Recording engineer: Alejandro Ramírez
Mastering: Diego Casillas
Mix: Musickitchen (Fontana, California)
Photography: Berenu Hernández
Photographic location: Ranch of Mr. Guillén & sons
Makeup: Bárbara Carolina Barba
Art & design: Sergio Ruiz of Interprint