Mario Ortiz has made a name for himself thousands of miles from his hometown.
The former area resident is now living in Milan, Italy, and pursuing a singing career. And he already has developed a strong fan base.
Ortiz grew up listening to rancheras at the family home in San Miguel near Villanueva, but it wasn’t until he moved away that he began thinking about a career in music.
The former male review dancer-turned-singer recently returned home for a three-week visit. He spent the holidays with his family and enjoying green chile and even cutting wood. It was during this visit that he brought home a just-released CD of the band he is lead singer for, “Netherfall.”
“Singing was something I never did while growing up, but I was always around it since my family used to sing the traditional songs. I was the one that observed,” Ortiz said during a recent interview at his brother Benny’s home in Las Vegas. “They played ranchera music. I liked it but I never really got into it, but I appreciated it. ”
At 19, he moved to Hawaii where he worked as a dancer and got the opportunity to travel to other countries to perform.
It was during one of his travels to Japan that he met someone who helped him return to the U.S. mainland. After six years in Hawaii he moved to California.
“I stayed in California for four years and started taking vocal lessons while there,” Ortiz said. “Listening to the ranchera music is what gave me the passion for music.”
From there, his musical career was launched slowly but surely.
He continued to dance while in California. The dancing group he was in performed in Germany, Paris and Italy.
“The big show was a male review show that I had a singing role in,” he said. “That was the first professional experience I had as a singer.”
From there, Ortiz and a former girlfriend created a record label and launched his first CD titled “Indio.” It was distributed via Sony Music Italy.
From there, he decided to have a band and to switch genres from commercial pop to rock. He was soon the leader of the band “Freefall.”
“Rock was something that was in me because I grew up listening to and going to all the rock concerts back in the ‘80s like Van Halen,” Ortiz said.
He soon launched another album with his rock band.
“My second album I knew I had to go back to what I love, which is rock,” Ortiz said.
His latest work is with the group “Netherfall” – the band contacted Ortiz and offered the San Miguel native the opportunity to audition for lead singer.
“I auditioned for them, they liked what they heard and ever since, about six years ago, I have been with them,” Ortiz said. “I have been with that band for the second part of my 12 years in Italy.”
The full-time musician helps write the original songs in the three bands he is currently involved in. The bands are “Vodkabai,” “Netherfall” and “Mustang” – just like Ortiz’s favorite muscle car.
The Mustang group does tributes to bands such as Nirvana, Alice and Chains, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and Foo Fighters.
“Each band has a page on Facebook, if anyone wants to check them out,” Ortiz said. “Currently our CD is being sold online on our website digitally at www.Netherfall.com.”
The new Netherfall album is completely self-produced. The group also has a couple of music videos such as their hit, “Memories.”
“I took advantage of just having our album out and brought more than 100 CDs back home with me and sold them all,” Ortiz said.
A couple of family members organized a CD release party for the four-piece band “Netherfall“ at Dick’s last month that was highly attended.
“Rock is not the biggest genre in Italy because it is not in their culture. But now little by little the new generation is getting into rock so it is growing,” Ortiz said. “We developed our product there, and our intentions are to take it to Germany and to other places where rock is very popular.”
The group has opened for several big bands and is currently trying to open for the Italian band Laguna Coil.
But for the past few weeks, thousands of miles from his new home in Milan, Italy, Ortiz found himself with his family, eating tamales, cutting wood with is father, playing basketball with his brother and his family, hanging out with his sister and making tortillas with his mother. And when he wasn’t doing that he was enjoying a winter wonderland, taking in the natural hot springs in Montezuma, skiing in Taos and just simply hanging out with friends.
“It is always nice to come back,” a humble and soft-spoken Ortiz said. “When I was living here I never thought that I would have traveled as much as I have.”
Ortiz said he had to adapt to the cultural differences and in roughly a year found himself speaking Italian.
“I have been living in Italy for about 12 years now,” Ortiz said. “That is pretty much where I have done my musical career. Life in Italy is great for me. I’m definitely happy.
“New Mexico has always kept me grounded and that is what has really helped me in my career, travels and life.”