Today we’ll learn about the history and significance of Mexican mariachi music, plus I’ll share some famous performances. If you’ve ever eaten in a Mexican restaurant, or ever visited Mexico, you might have heard mariachi music- now you’ll be able to impress your kids with some background knowledge! As you’re learning about Mexico, or in a Spanish class, play some of the classic mariachi music I’ve chosen, and expose your children to this lively genre of world music.
In Mexico, mariachi music is now seen in cultural shows at local theatres, festivals, parties (like my husband’s graduation party!), for birthdays, or even during serenatas– paid performances for moms, girlfriends, and wives often played on the street outside their bedroom window. In tourist areas, there are often mariachi groups in restaurants who meander through while playing songs. For a fee they can play at your table. Mariachis know literally hundreds of songs in order to fulfill the requests- most traditional mariachi songs are about machismo, love and romance (or lost loves), betrayal, death, politics, or revolutionary heroes. Stemming from its rural origins, some songs feature animals and life in the country (el campo).
Mariachi music originally comes from the state of Jalisco, Mexico. It began as indigenous musicians began to incorporate Spanish instruments, and work on haciendas as entertainment. As the haciendas began to shrink and musicians were let go, they wandered and would play for a fee. Mariachis began to use the charro (Mexican cowboy) costume in the early 1900s. The music slowly evolved from peasant folk songs to an iconic status symbol of Mexico.
Instruments Used in Mariachi Music
- Violin (this is the sole reason my daughter wanted to play the violin since she was old enough to speak:).
- Vihuela. Made by the Coca Indians of southwestern Jalisco, Mexico, its five strings are played with a thumb pick to create the high-pitched harmony and rhythmic foundation of the mariachi band. It looks like a guitar with a convex back.
- Guitar. The guitar and the vihuela play the same rhythmic patterns.
- Guitarrón. You’ll recognize the ubiquitous guitarrón because it looks like the translation of its name: a huge guitar. The bass of the group, it has a distinct sound and is the most important element in the mariachi band.
- Some mariachi groups also use accordions, French horns, and other instruments to fit the songs they are singing!
- It’s important that their voices are clear and loud because they most often do not have microphones, and need to project their voices above all of the instruments!
Classic Examples of Mariachi Music
The mariachi group that has been playing the longest (since the 1890s), and is the most famous, is called el “Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.” Here’s a wonderful performance to sample many classic mariachi songs: music starts at minute 4:50!
The next 2 songs often have folkloric dancers in the performances. You have probably heard this famous song, “El Jarabe Tapatío” (sometimes called the Mexican Hat Dance in English).
This is the 2nd song to have dancers, a famous mariachi song in Mexico called “El Son de la Negra.”