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Becoming an Honorary Mariachi

By g'beda Tonya Lyles

Listen to g'beda's Podcast


I’m g’beda. I’ve wanted to be a Mariachi since I was in high school. I grew up in a small rural Midwestern town with very little access to Mexican culture. I can remember in third grade one of my friends was a migrant from Mexico. Her family lived and worked on a local farm. I didn’t realize that she didn’t speak English. She just didn’t speak and other kids picked on her. I defended her with my little fists and often ended up in the principal's office. Sometimes it was from fighting my own battles against racism on the playground. Even though she didn’t stay long, she left an  impact on my little life. In high school, I thought it was important to be able to speak Spanish. A part of me thought perhaps I would see her someday. Our paths never crossed again. 

One day, I was sitting in my high school Spanish class and the teacher played a record. It was the first time I heard music sung in a different language. I sat mesmerized by the sultry voice, the unknown language, and the complex orchestration. I wanted to know what they were singing and playing. I wanted to sing that way. I decided that I wanted to be a Mariachi one day. I didn’t know what that entailed but it was lovely. I kept that dream to myself until now. 


I moved to the borderland of El Paso during the Covid-19 Pandemic. I wasn’t sure what drew me here. I thought it was the mountains.  I was looking for a way to ground and center myself. So much had happened. I lost my acupuncture clinic and had gotten four months behind in rent in Austin, TX. I didn’t know if I would pick up another needle but I did know I needed to live somewhere else. One day, I was driving in El Paso and heard Mariachi music and it revived the dream.


Lost in East El Paso, I found the Strings n’ Things Music store. That stop was one of the most important experiences I’ve had since I arrived. I met Juan David Martinez who reconnected me to the desire to live out my Mariachi dream. I found a used guitarron and learned to play. Mr. Martinez introduced me to Valerie Torres and Genesis Staple. I wanted to document what was happening in my life.
I decided to apply for the Texas Folklife Fellowship because I have wanted to learn the technical side of creating podcasts. As a creative performing artist and writer, I have many skills but technology isn’t one of them. I got tired of relying on others to produce my work. Unfortunately, I lacked the skill set, the connectivity, my Macbook Pro is a decade old, and I didn’t have the capability to work with Hindenburg.  It was a frustrating process because I could hear the story I wanted to produce but didn’t have the know-how to do it. To quilt the story together took long hours. To complete it was a joy. I now have so much more respect for the craft of podcasting. 


I plan on creating my own podcast series. Since the interviews, I have met other folk artisans and folk musicians. I plan to continue to archive their stories and their lives on the borderland. These are the keepers of folk traditions here.  I want others to know that they exist and are creating artistic legacies.

Beyond this, I have NPR (National Public Radio) dreams. I’m a lifelong listener. My new love is for field recording, script writing, storytelling, audio production and editing. There are so many more stories to tell!

For more info contact:;; instagram: @gbeda.sound

About the Author


g’beda Tonya Lyles is a healing artist of ancestral practices and a multi-instrumentalist of traditional folk, African instruments and blues guitar. g’beda is the curator and creator of Soul Note Concerts Series, Freedom in Sound, and Holistic Soul Healing Arts, offering performances, workshops and sessions in the art of mindfulness, performance, writing, meditative sound and movement.

g’beda is a transformational health practitioner who holds a doctorate in Chinese Medicine and acupuncture and uses principles of Eastern medicine, sound therapy, indigenous herbalism, food therapy, qigong, trauma-informed yoga and meditative movement as a synergistic system.

With over 20 years of performance art, workshop facilitation and public presentation, g’beda guides her audiences through community-based collectively transformative events. 


About Texas Folklife's Community Folklife Fellowship

The Texas Folklife Community Folklife Fellowship program is a statewide, NEA-supported pilot program that provides training in oral history, interviewing, audio storytelling, archives, and podcast production for adults. Participants learn to document community traditions in their own cities and towns throughout the state, through workshops and community partnerships. The program supports applicants from diverse regions and communities of the state of Texas.

Learn More About Community Folklife Fellowship