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The Daily Wildcat

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All-female Tucson mariachi group finds the melody mid-pandemic

All+five+current+members+of+Las+Azaleas+dressed+for+a+private+performance.+%28Courtesy+of+Las+Azaleas.%29

All five current members of Las Azaleas dressed for a private performance. (Courtesy of Las Azaleas.)

Échale ganas! Give it all you’ve got! Tucson native and musician Diana Olivares is doing just that. Olivares planted her training in voice, theater and years of mariachi experience into a passion project that bloomed into her all-female Latin group, Las Azaleas. 

Before the pandemic, Olivares performed vast amounts of mariachi gigs, in addition to giving voice lessons at her home studio in Tucson. When COVID-19 hit, Olivares’s previously planned gigs were canceled and her vocal students could no longer visit rehearsals. 

With no gigs and students quarantined to their homes, Olivares had lots of time to self-reflect on her career thus far. 

“I had a lot of time to think and I always wanted to go back to playing mariachi or Latin music,” Olivares said.   

Olivares noticed herself daydreaming constantly about what she wanted to do once she could perform live again. 

“I found myself in a position where like, well, got nothing going on, so let’s just write down what I would do if I had my own band,” Olivares said.  

Not only did Olivares visualize her dream band, but she began to create and assemble it. Using her extensive connections from previous studies in voice and theater, her own students from her studio and even former teachers, a group began to form. 

As Las Azaleas slowly formed, it quickly became evident that the five-person group was all female. 

“I didn’t know that this would turn into a woman centered sort of project, but it just ended up being that way. I just knew I wanted to start a group,” Olivares said. 

RELATED: All Souls Procession weekend in Tucson celebrates its 32nd year 

The women of Las Azaleas consist of Diana Olivares, Andrea Gallegos, Suzy Villarreal, Azul Navarrete-Valera and Salma Díaz. Each Azalea sings in addition to playing their own instrument for the group. Olivares, Gallegos and Villarreal all play violin, while Navarrete-Valera and Díaz both play guitar.

Each Azalea brings something remarkable to Las Azaleas, as their musical knowledge and ample backgrounds have enabled them to work together in such a dynamic way. Rehearsing together constantly, traveling and playing at such eclectic venues has created a strong bond between the musicians.

Navarrete-Valera, a freshman studying law at the university, was one of Olivares’s voice students and used to envision Las Azaleas if it was to ever become a group. She shared the impact the group has had on her since its beginning.

“This group is a huge part of my heart. I love all the girls like family,” Navarete-Valera said. 

After years of knowing each other, Olivares formally asked Navarrete-Valera to audition to be a violinist for the group the two had always dreamt of. Later, she was asked to contribute her guitar skills as well.  

“Next thing I know, Las Azaleas is created and [Olivares] is asking me to audition for violin. I was honored and I auditioned,” Navarrete-Valera said. “[Olivares] mentioned she needed a guitarist and I told her I have prior experience from elementary school.” 

A common expression across each Azalea is the empowerment they feel ever since joining Las Azaleas. Villarreal, a violinist for the group with over 30 years of experience, expressed her gratitude for her colleagues.

“It has given me a sense of empowerment because we do not let anything stand in our way,” Villarreal said.  

Gallegos, another Las Azaleas violinist, agreed that the all-female aspect of their craft has been a positive change of pace.

“Being in a full all-female ensemble has been empowering. There has definitely been a very refreshing and different dynamic in working with all women,” Gallegos said. “I have always been a mariachi musician within a predominantly male ensemble, and so I know what it is like to have to prove yourself and be the minority in an industry and genre that is very male dominated.” 

RELATED: Mariachi Arizona seeks visibility through its music

Las Azaleas has dedicated themselves to performing covers composed by women or popularized by female artists. According to Olivares, thanks to newest member Díaz, they have been working on original compositions. 

“[Díaz] is just so creative,” Olivares said. “She’s such a great lyricist and so thanks to her we’re looking at now composing our own songs, which is pretty cool.” 

The Latin group acknowledged that their hard work had paid off immensely when Olivares was offered the role of music director at Tucson’s annual All-Souls Procession in November 2021. Las Azaleas was the musical entertainment for the event and it was their biggest performance yet.

Las Azaleas performing on stage at the All Souls Procession in November of 2020 courtesy of Las Azaleas. 
Las Azaleas performing on stage at the All Souls Procession in November of 2020 courtesy of Las Azaleas. 

“It was really special to be a part of such a city-wide, iconic event and we were women and we were Latinas and we only performed in Spanish,” Olivares said. 

Whether it be a wedding or just a backyard birthday party, the ensemble always arrives in beautiful dresses and flower crowns, ready to enchant their audiences. 

“We show up with a deeper sense of appreciation to be there,” Olivares said.  

The group’s charm has landed them their Fox Theater debut, opening for Flor de Toloache March 19. You can find out about upcoming Las Azaleas live performances, YouTube recordings and sign up for their newsletter to be entered in a raffle to win a private performance at their website, lasazaleasmusic.com.


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