Who is Mariachi Cobre? The musicians who started Disney World's mariachi band share the group's history.

Mariachi Cobre has been playing Mexican music at Disney World's EPCOT since the park opened in 1982. (Photos: Mariachi Cobre; Getty)
Mariachi Cobre has been playing Mexican music at Disney World's EPCOT since the park opened in 1982. (Photos: Mariachi Cobre; Getty)

Walt Disney World's EPCOT is a unique theme park that offers guests a truly global experience through its eleven World Showcase pavilions. Each area represents a different country from around the world, but park goers may wonder how truly authentic the experiences found there are.

Steve Carrillo is a founding member, and current director, of Mariachi Cobre, a band that can frequently be found performing the Mexican music genre mariachi within EPCOT’s Mexico pavilion. Carrillo says his band, and the slice of Mexican culture they represent, is the real deal.

"I think mariachi music is the representative folk art of Mexico," he explains. "When you say Mexico and mention music, it's mariachi."

Mariachi Cobre has been part of EPCOT since its opening in 1982, but it holds the distinction of being the only Walt Disney World (WDW) performing group not started by the Walt Disney Company (WDC). Established in 1971, the performance group has roots dating back to the ’60s, with humble beginnings in Tucson, Ariz.

"Los Changuitos Feos (a youth mariachi band) was formed in ’64," says Carrillo. "I joined that group in ’68, and my brother Randy Carrillo had joined it in ’66." It was with this vibrant youth program that the brothers would play for Mickey Mouse for the very first time.

"My very first performance for the Disney company was in 1968," he recalls. "[Los Changuitos Feos] used to play for [Disneyland's] Cinco De Mayo festival — a yearly thing. We'd go for a whole week to play there."

As if performing at Disneyland wasn't exciting enough for the then seventh-grade musician, Carrillo recalls the company made sure the kids arrived in California in style. "They would send the plane to pick us up," Carrillo recalls. "I was in seventh grade, flying in Walt [Disney's] plane. It was a neat feeling — quite an adventure for all of us."

Once Randy aged out of Los Changuitos Feos, he founded Mariachi Cobre, bringing his younger brother, along with him. In 1973, Disney came calling once again.

"The WDC contacted [Los Changuitos Feos] to play in Orlando, Fla. at Walt Disney World," Carrillo recalls. "They wanted the group for four months at a time, but they were grade school kids and high school kids [and couldn't miss that much time from school] so they asked, 'Randy, do you know of any other groups?' and he said, 'Well, I have my group and we're all college students.'"

The rest was musical history. "They offered the gig to us," says Carrillo. "We came for three months — June, July, and August of 1973 and again in 1974. We played at Disney's Contemporary Resort and at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe in Magic Kingdom Park."

When plans to build EPCOT were announced, it changed the course the band members' lives forever. The gentlemen of Mariachi Cobre were offered a one-year contract to play at EPCOT, starting on the park's opening day, Oct. 1, 1982.

Carrillo says he'll never forget being part of opening day at EPCOT, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary. "It was thousands and thousands of people coming in, and of course [the Mexico pavilion] is one of the first countries, so we'd get a ton of people," he says. "We would play our shows on the steps [of the pyramid-shaped pavilion] in the hot sun."

After a year of playing in the park, the gentlemen were offered full-time roles with the WDC, where Randy Carrillo stayed until he retired in 2017 and where Steve Carrillo can still be found today. Today, the band has nearly a dozen members who perform inside EPCOT'S Mexico pavilion.

Since 1982, the group has grown and changed, winning awards, playing at national and international conferences, starring in Walt Disney World commercials and playing with Latinx icons like Linda Ronstadt, Lucha Villa, Lola Veltran, Ana Gabriel, Julio Iglesias and Vikki Carr.

In the world of mariachi, Mariachi Cobre has become well-known and well-respected: This year, Carrillo was even featured on a U. S. Postage Stamp celebrating mariachi music and its origins.

Louie Ranjel, who plays the vihuela (a Spanish stringed instrument), grew up in Tucson and dreamed of having the chance to play mariachi music with Mariachi Cobre at EPCOT. "Growing up a part of Los Changuitos Feos — the same group the original members of Mariachi Cobre were in — I could only dream that one day I'd have the opportunity to be part of this world-renowned group," Ranjel shares. "When the day came that I had the chance to audition, the only thought that went through my mind was This is actually happening."

Ranjel says his job within the band is a life-long dream come true. So does Omar Olivas, who has played the guitar for Mariachi Cobre since 2006 and acts as the social media manager of the group on Instagram and TikTok.

"To me, playing with Mariachi Cobre is truly a dream come true," Olivas, who is from El Paso, Tex., shares with Yahoo Life, "I've looked up to this group and its members ever since I started performing 30 years ago and now I get to be a part of continuing the legacy that this group has carved."

The group recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, and Carrillo says he's filled with pride looking back at all they've accomplished. "To know we're one of the only two groups left from opening day — and I'm proud to say there's two original members in Mariachi Cobre from opening day — I feel privileged and I feel blessed that we've held the test of time, that we're still here," he says.

Carrillo shares while the music is important to each member of the group, it's also important to the Mexican and Latinx communities who see them perform at WDW.

"When people come to the Mexican pavilion and see mariachi music, what I like to see are the people that come visit from Mexico and Latin America — the people that come who are so proud to be Latins," says Carrillo. "Because, if I could toot my own whistle, we do a good job of representing that culture, and it makes them proud."

"To see them with a big smile on their face or to see them tear up when they think about when they grew up in Mexico or when their grandparents would sing these songs to them," he adds, "it's a good feeling to see people reminisce."

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