Toluqueña Nancy Sánchez has followed in her family’s legacy of music-making. Her music, however, in addition to including traditional sounds from her home country like mariachi, boleros and rancheras, also includes sounds she was influenced by when her family immigrated to California when she was three.
In a phone call from East L.A., Nancy recalls her experiences growing up in a musical family.
“My grandmother introduced me to Mexican music,” she says. “She dressed me up in folkloric outfits and taught me songs like ‘La Guadalupana’ (a song named for the patron saint of Mexico). One of the most vivid memories I have when I was a little girl, when I was 3 or 4 years old, I remember my aunts and my grandmother teaching me that song, so now when I listen to ‘La Guadalupana,’ it brings up so many feelings and takes me back to my childhood.”
Although a little reluctant at first, Nancy learned to play guitar from her father, a musician who plays guitarrón in his own mariachi group in Orange County. Slowly, she began to find her own way through music, choosing other instruments and studying the subject as much as she could. She took flute and clarinet lessons, then began to play guitar in a mariachi program after school.
“I was composing songs, I was writing lyrics, and all these original melodies were coming out,” she says.
She felt the need to play more and began to train.
“Even though I studied other genres, I always made time for mariachi in my life as a teenager and as an adult, and it has always been a part of me and my life. When I play songs, inevitably mariachi and Mexican music always come out of me,” she says. “I think traditional Mexican music influenced me because what I’m doing as a singer-songwriter, working with traditional Mexican music, I feel like Mexican music chose me. It’s a part of me, so it’s something very natural to lean into.”
It’s important for Nancy to continue reflecting her roots in her music, especially being in a country that tends toward racism.
“Playing Mexican music in this country is a vehicle to keep my roots and my culture alive, not only in my home, but in my community and with my family,” she says. “I believe it is important for me personally and politically to keep this Mexican music very alive and to follow these traditions. I want to show off our Mexican music as something beautiful and rich and we need to share it with the world and elevate it.”
“I relate to artists like Lila Downs and Natalia Lafourcade and other artists that are pushing the regional Mexican genre or traditional Mexican music,” she adds. “I want to take Mexican music to the whole world.”
Eventually, Nancy released several singles and covers before releasing a full album, American Novio, in 2018. Her album La Gran Civilización features collaborations with Latin Grammy-winning all-female mariachi band Flor De Toloache, as well as Mariachi Las Colibrí, Olmeca, and Mexico City-based alt-rock singer-songwriter Madame Récamier.
Nancy also wrote a powerful single, “The Kids Are Still In Cages,” as a protest against the inhumane treatment of children who have been held captive, separated from families, and even lost from government records. She partnered with immigration action groups like the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic, Rise to Reunite and Al Otro Lado to help reunite children with their families.
Once the pandemic hit, things changed creatively and she began to work on multiple projects, some within the regional Mexican genre, others in pop, Latin alternative and jazz. She joined megastar Carlos Vives in the premiere of the music for the animation film Encanto—which has now been nominated for several Oscars—played with Mon Laferte, and was featured as a guest artist on the television series Vida.
Most recently, Nancy joined fellow artist Renee Goust on the track “La Muchacha Alegre,” which serves as a playful and powerful response to the norteño classic “El Muchacho Alegre,” a popular party song from northern Mexico where Goust hails from.
This year, Nancy is set to release several singles and has been selected as an official artist for South by Southwest in Austin. She will later head to Mexico to spend time working on her craft.
My full interview, en español, can be heard here.
Featured image courtesy of Nancy Sánchez