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Music

Sisters spin soaring harmonies into YouTube glory as Dueto Dos Rosas

Dueto Dos Rosas
Emily Rosas, 22, right, and her sister Sheyla Rosas, 17, who perform as Dueto Dos Rosas, in their home in San Marcos, Calif.
(Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Once you’re exposed to its beauty, there’s no mistaking what’s known as blood harmony. It’s coded into the Everly Brothers’ effervescent duets, the Beach Boys’ sublime vocal work and the Jackson 5’s soulful arrangements: the unified tones of siblings who, sharing DNA, converge to create musical perfection.

The millions who have found Dueto Dos Rosas’ distinctively sublime YouTube videos know that sound.

It’s in the dozens of clips set against mountainous backdrops and barren deserts that capture sisters Emily Rosas, 22, and Sheyla Rosas, 17, beneath blue skies, harmonizing to vintage Mexican rancheras and folk songs. Shot by their mother, Magdalena Rosas, the videos are meant to recall her childhood — “the little details, what your point of view was when you were little and looking at the mountains in the sun,” as she puts it — growing up in a Oaxacan pueblo.

Though most are filmed outside of San Diego, other Dueto Dos Rosas videos feature them soaring through similarly sourced oldies while sitting side-by-side in their home. Outside the frame, family patriarch Hipolito Rosas can often be heard accompanying them with acoustic guitar on canciones by such Mexican songwriting legends as Pepe Aguilar, José Alfredo Jiménez and Vicente Fernández.

The scenic backdrops, though, aren’t what drives their YouTube channel. It’s something else, says Emily, sitting in the family’s living room with her sister and parents. “Our voices were made to be together,” she says, “It’s weird, because even when we started, it was so easy to unite the two voices together.”

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As the rest of her family collaborated on the music, Magdalena picked up a video camera and started learning how to shoot quality footage and use editing software. Her impetus: “Since they are our kids, what else can we do?”

So far, so good: Their YouTube videos have nearly 75 million views. On Saturday, they’ll play the two-day Viva! Pomona festival, where they’ll harmonize along with a hip LatinX community of young artists looking to both celebrate and upend musical traditions.

Since uploading their first video four years ago, Emily and Sheyla have built an envious following across Latin America not only for resurrecting old Mexican rancheras but also connecting with a host of listeners eager to hear their dazzling takes on Mexico’s celebrated folk music. Their headquarters are the kitchen table and living room of the Rosas’ second-floor apartment, located in one of hundreds of housing complexes that dot the land between Temecula and San Diego.

The sisters’ musical curiosity was sparked when they were kids. Hipolito used to play around with the guitar, but he knew only a few chords. Then he noticed that Emily could sing whatever notes he played, and when Sheyla was old enough to try, the sisters figured out how to lock into harmony. Their first stab at crooning in unison came via a song by pop star Kesha.

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One day in the early ’10s, Emily says, their grandpa was listening to music by 1970s mariachi group Las Jilguerillas. She and her sister were struck by how sibling-singers Amparo Juárez and Imelda Higuera Juárez were melding their voices. They started searching YouTube for Las Jilguerillas music and struck gold, Emily says, calling it “like a whole new genre for us. We had heard rancheras growing up, but these voices were different.”

Along with similarly linked siblings from the past such as Las Hermanas Padilla, Dueto Las Palomas and Hermanas Huerta, Las Jilguerillas were connected by blood.

As they explored, Dueto Dos Rosas stepped into a musical stream awash in history, part of what John Koegel, a music professor at Cal State Fullerton, called in an email “a very long tradition of duet singing (male-male, female-female, male-female) in Mexican and Mexican American popular music traditions and repertories.”

The Rosas, continued Koegel, “fit well on a historical continuum of musical performance style. Popular duetos typically sing at melodic intervals of parallel thirds and sixths, in primera y segunda voces.” He added that while many vocal teams sang many canciones rancheras, “they also often sing other forms of Mexican and Latin American popular music. For example, Dueto Dos Rosas sings ‘La Llorona,’ a traditional song from the south of Mexico, which is not a ranchera, although it can be performed in that style.”

When Viva! Pomona founder and curator Rene Contreras first came across Dueto Dos Rosas, he made a point to play some of their music for his Mexican grandfather. “He knew every lyric they were singing,” Contreras said. “When the song was over, he gave me a strange look and asked me in Spanish, ‘Why are you listening to such old music? I would listen to these songs as a teenager.’”

As Emily and Sheyla’s collaboration improved, their dad consulted YouTube guitar tutorials just to keep up. Magdelena had noticed the many ranchera fans seeking the music on YouTube, and urged her daughters to start their own account. A lot of people still love this music, she told them, and it’s becoming forgotten.

That was in 2015, and the sisters are now uploading a few videos per week. At the beginning of each week, Magdelena confers with Emily and Sheyla about what songs they’re working on. Once they’ve settled on a repertoire, the mom starts internalizing the songs’ lyrics and spirit while scouting locations. She used to be an avid hiker, she says, and knows the area.

Within days of unveiling new music, many of their 220,000-plus followers have listened and commented, and that activity adds up. The views earn Dueto Dos Rosas enough money to keep the operation going. Payouts have bought them a faster computer, better music production software and elegant wardrobes to wear in the videos. One shift toward broader acceptance was prompted in part by Viva! Pomona’s mission to celebrate both Spanish- and English-language LatinX artists and signals the sisters’ desire to lure more listeners: “A Spanglish song will help us get a wider audience,” Emily says.

The older daughter manages to be a full-time college student between video shoots, and her sister is beginning her senior year at San Marco High School. Both say their goal is to become full-time musicians, but add that they’d be interested in behind-the-scenes careers if the YouTube well runs dry.

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For their parents, the notion of their daughters seeking to make a living through music is a wonderful turn of events. “You just live once, and I think you should do what you like to do, anywhere you are, however you want to. Just be yourself,” Magdelena says. She works as a caregiver, a career she left after years of less gratifying work cleaning houses.

With notes of wonder and pride, their mother adds that she hears them sing every day. “I don’t get it,” she says with a laugh. When they hit their stride, she says her husband exclaims in Spanish, “This is the one that’s going to hit everyone’s heart.”


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