Mexico’s Music – Mariachi

UNESCO has acclaimed mariachi music as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2011. So, you may be wondering, what is mariachi?

What is Mariachi?

A Mariachi band is a Mexican musical group consisting of four or more musicians that wear charro suits (elegant cowboy suites). Mariachi has become a staple of Mexican music culture not only because the music expresses the deep sentiments of the human condition but also because it represents tradition and national pride. As such, the music is popular all over Mexico and some of the Southwestern part of the United States, although Mariachi is said to have originally come from Cocula, a western Mexican city in the state of Jalisco.

Where does the Word “Mariachi” come from?

There are variety of claims about how the word mariachi came into existence. Some argue that the term originates from the French language, making the relationship between the word, marriage (which might explain why it is often used in marriage ceremonies), but others say the term existed long before the establishment of the French language. Some even say the term comes from the Coca language because they use the word to identify a type of wood used to make a musician’s stage.

What Musical Instruments do Mariachi play?

Before there was mariachi, the native music of the area was played on drums, rattles, conch-shell horns, and flutes. The onset of the Spanish culture brought with it the inclusion of woodwinds, brass instruments, violins, harps, and guitars. Nowadays, you can expect to hear at least two violins, a guitar, a vihuela (a round-back guitar), a guitarrón (a big bass guitar) and trumpets with the occasional harp when a mariachi band is performing. Often, more than one musician will also sing.

What do Mariachi wear?

As early as the 1930s mariachis have adorned the traje de charro (charro suit). This suit is a Mexican cowboy suit inspired by the state of Jalisco. The outfit includes a bow tie, wide-brimmed sombrero, waist-length jacket, short boots and snug-fitting pants. Elaborate designs and gold (or silver) buttons are common on a charro suit.

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