The History of Mariachi

What is a Mariachi Band? Its Origin & History
The History of Mariachi

Mariachi, by definition, is a traditional musical genre. But for Mexico, it is more than a culture and constitutes an influential part of their story. The history of Mariachi dates back to the 18th century.

1. Mariachi Band

The word Mariachi can be used to represent a person or a group of people performing mariachi music. Mariachi is a musical genre, traditionally based in the Mexican region. It consists mostly of stringed instruments. The music has a distinctive Mexican sound that represents not only the traditional vibes but also the foreign elements. Nowadays, a regular mariachi band would usually feature at least four musicians in the group. Additionally, they can include as many as a dozen or more musicians, if needed. The history of Mariachi is a great piece of information to learn about as discussed in the next segment.

2. History of Mariachi

Now that we know what is a Mariachi band, we should learn the history of Mariachi. The early history and the beginning of Mariachi music are undocumented. People have only made speculative theories and conspiracies regarding the origins and first signs of Mariachi music. The first form of undeniable proof of a Mariachi existence emerges in a letter written by a priest named Cosme Santa Anna that dates back to 1852.

The first proof of documentation of Mariachi was during the second half of the 19th century in the central part of western Mexico, in which the Mariachi group was commonly associated with the rural fiesta or fandango, having a set-up of a wooden platform on which the couples would dance.

Moreover, the origin of the word Mariachi is also somewhat unclear and undocumented. Many people believe it came from the French word for marriage. They thought it to be true because of the knowledge that Mariachi bands would often play at weddings ceremonies. However, experts now state that the word was in use in Mexico before the arrival of the French word counterpart. (See Do people in Mexico celebrate Cinco de Mayo?)

3. The Clothing of Mariachi

It’s not difficult for an individual to spot out a Mariachi musician or a group of them since they wear their classic and well-known charro suit as a part of their uniform dress code to perform. These special outfits feature waist-length jackets with fitted pants & special bowties. Most band members will also be wearing boots and sombreros. Mariachi bands always dress to impress; hence, their suit will usually include intricate embroidery to empower traditions. (See Why Do People Throw Beads at Mardi Gras?)

 4. The Instruments of Mariachi

With the end of one century and the beginning of another, the combinations of the set of instruments of a typical mariachi varied with each group. However, regional stylization always existed. The most common mariachi regions were central Jalisco, southern Jalisco and Michoacan.

  • In Central Jalisco, the band preferred the use of two violins, vihuela (a small guitar-like instrument with a convex back and set of five strings), and guitarron (a large, six-string bass version of the vihuela).
  • While in Southern Jalisco and Michoacan, the preference was given to two violins, harp, and guitarra de golpe (the original mariachi guitar).

Mariachi groups grew in size after the Mexican Revolution. Instruments that were previously associated with specific regional traditions were now merged. Thus, the number of existing instruments doubled. (Also read 10 Most Difficult Guitar Songs)

During the early years of the 1900s, wind instruments were frequently added to the traditional string ensemble. By the 1920s, mariachis in different regions of Mexico were using the cornet. While in the 1930s, the cornet was replaced by a trumpet and had soon gained a permanent foothold in the mariachi folk. However, by the end of the 1940s, the trumpet changed into an institution of mariachi music. The most recent innovation to take place in the standard mariachi instrumentation was the two-trumpet combination popularized by Mariachi Mexico de Pepe Villa in the early 1950s.

5. Mariachi Music Around the World

Mariachi music has now become a deep-rooted part of our world, especially in the United States. During the mid to late 19th century, many Mexican people immigrated and moved to Los Angeles which has now become the centralized idea of Mexico for the Americans. At the end of the 19th century, after the first international Mariachi conference was held in San Antonio, Texas, a U.S mariachi moment was born. After that, the mariachi festivals have taken a skyrocket in popularity.

Japan has also got an influence from the Mexican folk of Mariachi Music, now called Chicano. One of the most popular Japanese mariachi bands is known by the name of Mariachi Samurai. They are currently making news headlines all around the world thanks to the Tokyo Olympics bringing them back into the spotlight. The group has been around for almost 25 years, ever since its lead musician spent time living in Mexico, getting familiar with the sound of Mariachi music and the rich culture it embellishes. He loved it so much that when he returned to Japan, he decided to keep that part of Mexico alive in his native county as well. (See also What Is a Quinceañera?)

6. The Mariachi of Modern Era

The history of Mariachi still has a great influence on our culture and is popular in modern times too. As said, modern times features a variety of Mariachi that may feel different from the likes of traditional taste of Mariachi music like El Son de la Negra and Volver Volver Volver. Some newer Mariachi songs include Happy by Pharrell Williams and Despacito by Luis Fonsi.

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