The History of the Mariachi Music

Let yourself be swayed through the history and culture of this celebratory and traditional ensemble…

What do accordions, trumpets, guitars and violins have in common? The mariachi of course! Modern day mariachi music uses most or all of these instruments. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, this indigenous music was played with rattles, drums, flutes and conch-shell horns as part of religious celebrations. The Spanish replaced the native instruments with the previously mentioned instruments, changing the delivery but not the sound.

You can walk down Quinta Avenida at almost any time of the day or night and find a group of mariachi playing all the often-heard favorites from “Guadalajara” and “La Cucaracha” to “Cielito Lindo” and “La Bamba”.

The more authentic kind of mariachi music includes classics like Lola Beltrán’s “Cucurrucucu Paloma” and “Tres Días” to Linda Ronstadt’s “Canciones de Mi Padre” and “Más Canciones” with Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, recognized as the oldest and most famous mariachi ensemble, founded by Gaspar Vargas in the late 1890’s in Jalisco.

The exact derivation of the word mariachi is unknown although there are many theories. One theory is that it stemmed from the French word mariage (“marriage”) dating back to France’s intervention in Mexico in the 1860s and related to the music’s appearance at weddings. However, documents show this word existed before French involvement in Mexico. Other theories suggest the word comes from the indigenous name of a tree called tila or cirimo (its blossoms provide us with soothing linden tea). Another says that it came from an image locally called Maria H, pronounced “María A-che”.

No matter what the origin, this music, when played well, with soul and heart, perfectly reflects Herbie Hancock’s saying “Music happens to be an art form that transcends language.” It can also transport you to another time and place. So as you walk down the street and hear a mariachi band, even if you aren’t familiar with the words, you will know its rhythm and history.

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