SXSW: 'Mateo' Tells the Tale of the World's Unlikeliest Mariachi

Matthew Stoneman learned to love Mexican folk music while doing prison time for a record store robbery.

With bright orange hair and skin so fair it runs the risk of spontaneously combusting beneath the Caribbean sun, Matthew Stoneman doesn't exactly blend in around the decaying streets of Cuba, the island he currently calls home. But when he whips out his guitar and starts singing, mouths start to drop.

That's because Stoneman, who looks far younger than his 50 years, is a seasoned mariachi singer who goes by the name Mateo. Originally from New Hampshire, Stoneman immersed himself in the Mexican folk music scene of East Los Angeles, eventually winning over veterans with his sweet tenor and mastery of bolero songs. The odd juxtaposing made him something of a local media darling, his story made all the richer by the fact that Stoneman discovered his calling while serving hard time.

Let's back up a little. Stoneman moved to L.A. in 1983 with aspirations of being a singer-songwriter in the mold of Elton John. It didn't pan out. He got mixed up with a group of Mexican gangsters and robbed a record store. On the run from the cops, he leaped off a freeway, breaking both ankles, his arm and his back. It was during his four-and-a-half year sentence that he grew to love Latin music and would stage concerts for the inmates. 

In recent years, Stoneman relocated to Havana and has been hard at work putting together an album of Spanish songs. Director Aaron Naar, an alum of Film Independent and IFP Documentary Lab, has been trailing Stoneman with his camera and now is ready to unveil his debut feature -- Mateo -- for South by Southwest audiences.

Check out this exclusive clip in which Mateo shmoozes with other musicians on the streets of L.A. Mateo debuts on Monday, March 10 at 2:00 p.m. at Austin's Stateside Theatre, and the film's star will perform several concerts around SXSW.