Dedicated to Women Guitarists and Bassists

Dueto Dos Rosas Keep Their Roots Alive with Campirana and Tradition


February 21, 2020
Written by
Cynthia Schemmer
Written by
Stephanie Mendez
Photos by
Margaret Leyva

Sisters Emily and Sheyla Rosas of Dueto Dos Rosas pay tribute to their rich heritage through requinto guitar, traditional Mexican folk songs, and YouTube.

Emily and Sheyla Rosas were born in the United States, but are passionate about keeping Mexican traditions alive in their musical project, Dueto Dos Rosas. From San Marcos, CA, the sisters are proud of their indigenous Oaxacan roots and Mexican-American identity. They pay tribute to their rich heritage by performing as a duet, playing and singing campirana and old Mexican folk songs on the requinto guitar.

In 2014, Emily and Sheyla tapped into their musical connection and started making videos on YouTube, but they had no idea how far their music would take them. Their timeless campirana renditions, portraying the experiences and journeys of immigrants, quickly spread and gained the Gen Z sisters countless fans. I spoke to 17-year-old Sheyla and 22-year-old Emily to find out about their unconventional passion for covering music created decades before they were born.

How did each of you first learn to play the guitar? 

Sheyla: I first learned to play the guitar about three years ago. I always had an interest for the guitar, and so my dad started teaching me a little bit. At first, I didn’t take it so seriously. Then a year later, I started watching tutorials on YouTube specializing in requinto.

Requinto?

Sheyla: It’s a classical type of guitar from Mexico, and it’s used a lot in boleros. It only has four chords, six strings, but four tones higher than the guitar.

Emily: A little bit after Sheyla started learning,  I caught the interest, too. Sheyla and my dad both taught me and that’s how I learned.

In Dueto Dos Rosas, you both sing and play the guitar. What is it about playing the guitar that makes it special enough to include? Why not just sing?

Emily: First of all, it’s very rare that I’ve seen it in Mexican music—especially rancheras—but not a lot of women also play instruments. They just sing, like Lola Beltran, Lucha Reyes, Lucha Villa. We just know one [other] duet that has played guitars, and they’re called Las Hermanas Nuñez. When we found out about them, we felt a little inspired because we had heard Las Jilguerillas and Las Palomas, but they didn’t play guitar. It was so captivating, and that’s why we felt so interested in learning.

Sheyla: Like my sister said, there’s not a lot of women who sing and play guitar.

Emily: We also tried to hire musicians to play along with us before we knew guitar, but we felt like their style didn’t really fit into our voices and it didn’t sound exactly like we wanted it to. [When] we started playing was when we felt like it sounded good.

A lot of individuals your age are typically doing YouTube covers for artists like Miley Cyrus, Dua Lipa, or other mainstream acts. What is it about rancheras and old Mexican folk songs that draws your attention? 

Emily: One day when I went over to my grandparents’ house. My grandpa was hearing Las Jilguerillas and I instantly felt like, “Wow, those are two voices doing primera y segunda.*” I asked my grandpa, “Quiénes son, yo no las había escuchado,*” and he told us, “Se llaman Las Jilguerillas, hay otros duetos también que cantaban así, como Las Palomas.*” Well, that instantly caught my attention, and when I got home I started researching, and that’s when we found out about all the duets. For me it was a new kind of genre because I hadn’t heard it before. I had heard rancheras, but only solo artists like Lola Beltran, José Alfredo Jiménez, Pedro Infante. So it was new to me hearing two voices, and I just fell in love with it. When I tried singing along, my sister came and she did the second voice, and I was like, “Wow, we can actually do primera y segunda.” It was just instantly a connection for us with that music.

Sheyla: The music in general—it’s something you wouldn’t hear a lot. I had never heard that type of music, so it was really exciting for me.

Has your abuelito heard you guys play? Or has he seen you perform?

Sheyla: He has—the first concert in NY. He saw the video when we came back and was just so emotional and happy that he got to see us singing these songs.

Emily: [Songs] that he used to hear when he was young. It was something really special for him.

What feedback do you get from viewers and fans?

Emily: The most comments that we get are from people the age of our parents, that we remind them of their childhood, when their parents or grandparents used to listen to this music. It’s really nice to hear that we bring back good memories and so much emotion to them, and it’s something really beautiful to hear. They also get surprised, and say, “Oh, you guys are so young and you guys sing this music?”

Sheyla: Yeah, and they also send a lot of poems and a lot of compositions that they’ve made. It’s so wonderful.

When did you decide to use YouTube for your music, and what kept your interest in this platform? Why not use something like TikTok?

Sheyla: We started our YouTube channel back in 2014. We’d seen a lot of YouTubers in that time, and it caught our interest.

Emily: I think YouTube is the biggest platform that I know of, because TikTok—well, not a lot of grandparents and not a lot of adults know about it—so I feel like YouTube is the biggest platform where we could spread our music to more generations.

You guys have since gained a lot of popularity and visibility. People really love you! What has that been like, and are you surprised by it?

Sheyla: I actually never knew that this music would [reach] a lot of ears and that a lot of people would open their minds.

Emily: When we first started uploading videos to our Facebook and YouTube, it was just for family members to enjoy our songs more than anything, but when we started getting likes and comments from other people that we didn’t know, it was something that we never expected and are really thankful for.

You two are obviously very talented. Have either of you faced any challenges or obstacles being two very young Latinas making music in this male-dominated industry?

Emily: We have, especially because we’re girls—young girls—and I feel like some musicians don’t take us seriously. One time we went to a wedding and there was a group there, and I told a musician the tone we sing in, and he started playing in a totally different tone. We have dealt with some difficult people.

Did you tell him anything? How did it get resolved?

Emily: We’re really shy so we didn’t say anything, we just winged it. After we were done singing, my mom said, “You guys should have told him, you should have stood up for yourselves.” But in that moment—especially since we don’t know how to read music, we don’t know much about tones—I thought, “Maybe I didn’t explain it right, maybe he didn’t understand me.” I don’t know, but I started taking music classes, so that way I know what I’m doing, so that no musician can tell me, “Oh, you’re wrong.”

He obviously didn’t know what he was doing. When did you start the classes and what did you take?

Emily: Just this summer. I took fundamentals of theory and a keyboard class. It was awesome. It was something new to me, but it was exciting. I’m already in music even though I don’t know how to read it [so] it’s a whole new world for me and I’m so excited to keep on learning.

Sheyla, what about you?

Sheyla: I definitely do want to take classes for the requinto, and vocals also, because I feel like there’s a lot of work to do. We still need to keep on improving in everything we do.

Do you have any big events coming up?

Emily: We’re going to be singing in our hometown, our pueblo in Oaxaca, San Martin Sabinillo, and we’re going to be playing en la fiesta patronal.* It’s to celebrate our saint’s birthday. It’s our first big presentation in Oaxaca, so we’re really excited about that. We were born here in California, but our parents are from there, and we visit almost every year. I feel like it’s our home.

Sheyla: Our grandparents from my dad’s side, they’re still there. Also, my mom’s mom—my grandma—she’s also there taking care of my bisabuelita,* my eldest abuelita. We feel very rooted to where we come from because it’s basically our origin, and we love so much our Oaxaca.

Have your grandparents from Oaxaca heard your music?

Sheyla: A lot of people from our town have. They’re also selling discs—they downloaded our songs from YouTube and they’re selling them in Oaxaca. It’s amazing knowing that our people are listening to us, and it’s very emotional for me.

Emily: Yes, our grandpa from our dad’s side—his [grandpa’s] parents—they’re both alive still, and they live in the pueblo and they’re so surprised, especially since we’re women, that we sing and play guitar. Our great-grandpa’s so proud of us, and he’s a little old so he doesn’t know how to speak Spanish very well—he speaks Mixteco—but we know that he’s really proud of us. 

What is something you want people to know about you?

Emily: One of my biggest dreams is for the younger generation—especially my generation—to feel love for this music and feel passion and start listening to it, or maybe start playing it, because I feel like it’s a genre that by the years is becoming lost. Fewer and fewer people are singing it. It’s music that’s so beautiful, and it can’t be left to be forgotten.

Sheyla: And for me as well, because as my sister said, it is becoming lost and we want to revivir this música.*

What advice do you have for girls that want to do what you’re doing?

Sheyla: Just giving it your all and putting all your passion into it, because these songs are what represent you as Mexicanas.*

Emily: That they can do it. They can do anything they put their mind to. And that this music is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s nothing to be embarrassed of. It’s something to appreciate, to love, and to cherish, because it’s something that our grandparents left for us and I feel like that is something that we should appreciate.

Translations

Primera y segunda: The literal translation is “first and second.” They actually refer to first and second voice in a duet, or the differing vocal tonal harmonies sung by two people

Quiénes son, yo no las había escuchado: Who are they? I never heard of them.

Se llaman Las Jilguerillas, hay otros duetos también que cantaban así, como Las Palomas: They’re called Las Jilguerillas, there’s other duets that sang like that too, like Las Palomas

Abuelito: Grandpa

Piden otras canciones: They ask for other songs

En la fiesta patronal: At the patron saint’s festival

Bisabuelita: Great-grandma

Revivir this música: Revive this music

Mexicanas: Mexican women, feminine form of “Mexicans”


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