Shacknews Close-Up: Mariachi Entertainment System

Welcome to Shacknews Close-Up, where we speak to some of the up-and-coming faces of new media. This week, we speak to David Ortiz, leader and trumpet player for Mariachi Entertainment System, which performs video game music covers for some of the most recognizable music across the medium.


Welcome to Shacknews Close-Up, a new feature dedicated to spotlighting some of the up-and-coming faces of new media in video games. Join us as we get to know some of the people behind YouTube and Twitch content creators that dive into various channels of video games, be they informative, artistic, or otherwise.

For those that have grown up with video games, they've often become more than just a hobby or a pastime. They've influenced our very lives, helping shape our relationships with other people or even helping bring us closer with our friends and families. They've bled into other areas of our everyday hobbies and have managed to reshape some of our old traditions in the process.

Today's Shacknews Close-Up takes a look at David Ortiz and his family, a mariachi band collectively known as Mariachi Entertainment System. MES has taken some of the most recognized tracks from some of the best games of our childhoods and performed covers in the style of the old Mexican tradition that has carried on across generations. We spoke to Ortiz about how he got his start, the importance of maintaining tradition, and some of the covers that he hopes to work on in the future.

Shacknews: Take a moment to talk about your channel. What's it about and what made you want to start making videos?

David Ortiz, MES Arranger/Engineer/Trumper: Well. Mariachi Entertainment System is dedicated to making VGM covers in mariachi style. It's not something I imagined ever having as a thing to do on a regular basis. It started because, as a mariachi, you always imagine what different songs in different genres sound like with mariachi style. Any mariachi off the street will tell you they've got their own version of a popular tune or a tune that you wouldn't expect to hear a mariachi play. We seem to think that everything fits. In the case of Video Game Music, I thought that one or two songs might sound cool and arranged them just for the fun of it. Over the years I've amassed a collection of recording studio doodads and gizmos and thought it would be fun to record and put on YouTube for some of my nerdier friends to see. Otherwise, there wasn't much else to it.

Shacknews: How long have you been playing? How much time did it take to proficiently learn an instrument?

Ortiz: I've been playing trumpet for a little over 20 years. I was trained classically in middle school, high school and through college where I began to experiment with jazz, salsa and funk. Things like that. Proficiency? Well. There are still a number of areas I feel like I need major improvements on in my playing. I can take a chart and read it down most of the time but there's still a lot to learn. I was playing pretty well for my age by about 7th or 8th grade but music is just a life long endeavor. I think if you're dedicated to becoming a professional, it can take years before you feel like you're making real music.

Shacknews: How long have you loved video game music and have you always had the itch to play it yourself?

Ortiz: I've always had a fascination for VGM. Since the first Mario Bros. game on the NES. I've never had an "itch" to play it. I was involved with classical music and learning more "serious" styles and growing up VGM was considered not a real genre you know? It feels like only recently have people begun to take it a little more seriously. It took musicians with a certain level of artistry to demonstrate that the tunes could be played at a very high level and evoke a new kind of emotion other than just nostalgia. The OneUps were the first band that I ever heard of doing something like that. Hearing them was like an awakening. I didn't know VGM could sound like that.

Shacknews: How did the band first get together?

Ortiz: When I first started making videos, I was just asking friends to come in and play the music I had already written out. They had very little time to become familiar with it and I was just flying by the seat of my pants. Over time, I started to find that some of my friends and friends of friends had an interest in doing videos so I'd invite those cats in to play. That's how the core group started forming to something approximating what you may see in videos now. But I consider everyone that has been in a video a member of MES and try to invite everyone back at some point.

Shacknews: How important is it to not just cover music, but also to honor the traditions of mariachi music?

Ortiz: That's a very difficult balance. In a sense, I have thrown out a lot of traditions, we don't use the charro suit (with all the adornments on the pants, etc.) in every video, we don't always use the typical musical styles that a mariachi uses. It's more like I'm taking a mariachi instrumentation and playing a mariachi phrasing style and inventing ways of approximating the "feel" of other genres of music. It's not like we use a Cumbia or a ranchera rhythm for our songs, the way a mariachi might. I don't use the normal bass lines that a regular mariachi would use, I try to make things more melodic.

My main thing is that I've always thought of a mariachi as being very versatile and not just some cheesy sounding ensemble. That we can use the same instrumentation that's used for "the Mexican hat dance" to have a big impact with VGM I think says a lot and does something to tear down a stereotype. Mariachi is "the Mexican hat dance" but it's also so much more. That being said, there are some traditions we cannot touch. We cannot change the suit, that suit is holy. And it means something for a lot of people. It's not a costume like some people might think it is. It's a symbol of a lot of deeply rooted cultural ideas. It's important to always try to demonstrate excellent musicality because mariachis are great musicians. also tequila. We kept the tequila. (laughs)

Shacknews: What are some of your favorite covers that you've performed?

Ortiz: I like them all for various reasons. The more tunes we cover, the more I learn about the music production and engineering process. I choose the tunes we do out of how fun I think they'll be or what kind of musical impact I think we can make. So I guess I kinda just like them all.

Shacknews: Have you or the band ever received a request for a live performance?

Ortiz: Yes, it seems lately we have been getting requests quite frequently. There are a lot of logistical problems with playing live aside from the time aspect, but we are looking to remedy these problems and hopefully play live one day soon.

Shacknews: To you, personally, what makes mariachi and video game music such a great match?

Ortiz: Mariachi to me, is like a mini orchestra. You've got the two most versatile instruments with the trumpet and the violin. There is a lot of passion in those instruments. Both of them are also jealous of each other also and somehow this makes for a beautiful marriage in terms of how they sound together. So from the softest, most delicate melodic lines, to the most percussive, firey hits, the mariachi is just well suited to play very musically. The exotic sounds of the rhythm section (Vihuela and Guitarron) give it a really new and unique flavor underneath. You can do anything with a mariachi.

Shacknews: What are some songs you're looking to cover in the future?

Ortiz: Ohhhhhh, can't let the cat out of the bag! (laughs) Part of what helps me do this is that knowledge that I can always back out of a tune if it doesn't feel right to me because no one knows I'm doing it. But without saying too much, we will be trying out some things from newer games. I still have a lot of classic games that I want to do. I know we will be going the way of the final fantasy franchise because I have very specific ideas but only time will tell on those.

Shacknews: What advice would you give anyone looking to learn an instrument?

My advice would be this: I have known many people in my life. And when reflecting on their past, I have heard a lot of people say a lot of things: I shouldn't have gotten married. We shouldn't have had kids so soon. I wish I had applied at another job. I wish I had known "X" whenever I was.....

But I have never heard anyone say that they were glad that they quit playing an instrument. Not even the people who thought they hated it when they were playing.

So my advice is this: if you want to take up an instrument, put some energy into it, don't give up no matter what, and relax. It's supposed to be fun.

Find the Mariachi Entertainment System YouTube channel here. If you enjoy the band's videos and music, consider donating to the Patreon.

Enjoy this feature? Join the conversation and let us know in the comments! Also, any personalities across YouTube, Twitch, Hitbox, and other content creation channels you'd like to see covered? Let us know that, too, or reach out directly on Twitter at @Ozz_Mejia and leave some suggestions.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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