FolkWorld #66 07/2018
© Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia

Article in German

Music of Mexico


ARC Music introduces us to the Music of Mexico with two new releases featuring bolero and mariachi songs.

The music of Mexico is very diverse and features a wide range of musical genres and performance styles. It has been influenced by a variety of cultures, most notably the culture of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Europe.

Many traditional Mexican songs are well-known everywhere , including María Grever's first international hit "Júrame" ("Swear to me"), and her song "Te quiero dijiste" (English version "Magic Is the Moonlight"), written for the 1944 Esther Williams film. "La Noche de los Mayas," Huapango de Moncayo, "Sinfonía India (Second Symphony)," "Sobre las Olas," "La Sandunga," "Cielito Lindo" ("Beautiful Sweetheart"), "Bésame Mucho" ("Kiss Me a Lot"), "Perfidia", "Solamente una vez" (English version "You Belong to My Heart"), "Esta Tarde Vi Llover" (English version "Yesterday I Heard the Rain"), "Somos Novios" (English version "It's Impossible"), "¡Ay, Jalisco, no te rajes!", and "Jesusita en Chihuahua."

Other famous songs include "México Lindo y Querido" ("Beautiful, Beloved Mexico"), "Jarabe Tapatío' (known internationally as "The Mexican Hat Dance"), "El Rey" ("The King"), "El Triste" ("The sad one"), "Pelea de gallos", "Enamorada" ("Enamoured"), "Échame a mi la culpa" ("Blame me"), "La ley del monte" ("The law of the land"), "La Bikina" ("The Bikina"), "Por Debajo de la Mesa," "La Media Vuelta," "La Bamba," ("The Bamba"), "Lilongo," and "Jarabe Pateño". "La Cucaracha" ("The Cockroach"), although popularized during the Mexican Revolution, is a Mexican corrido.

La Cucaracha

La Cucaracha

Traditional folk music

Mexican traditional folk music can be classified in two aspects:

The Best Boleros from the Costa Chica
On the Costa Chica in the south of Mexico they like to play boleros on the guitar. The best known regional songs and their musicians have now been collected by the renowned world music label ARC Music and released on the sampler "Mexico - The Best Boleros from the Costa Chica". An interesting compilation that wants to relocate the listener to the Mexican Pacific coast. [Karsten Rube]

Ft. guitarists, percussionists and vocalists such as Pedro Torres, Alberto Urbán, Fidela Peláez, Celerino Jiménez, Jorge Jimenez, Javier Sosa and Cesar Adrián Reyna.

Various Artists "Mexico - The Best Boleros from the Costa Chica", ARC Music, 2018

Its formal structure is based on the alternation of instrumental sections and the singing of short poetic units called coplas. The mode is usually major, with harmonic vocabulary mostly limited to progressions drawing from I, IV, II7, V and V5. Triple meter (6/8, 3/4, or a combination of both) predominates, with many exceptions in duple meter.

Son is performed most often by giant ensembles in which string instruments predominate, with notable region-specific exceptions like marimba ensembles and wind ensembles.

Mexican Son music developed from the mixing of Spanish music with indigenous music of different regions, hence the music exhibited much variation across the country, in rhythm, melody, and instrumentation. Mariachi can be considered one type of Mexican son. Mexican son also includes various miscellaneous styles. The guitar is universally present in nearly all Mexican son subgenres. Other instruments may include trumpets, violins, and accordions.


Corrido music is a popular narrative song of poetry form, a ballad. Various themes are featured in Mexican corridos, and corrido lyrics are often old legends (stories) and ballads about a famed criminal or hero in the rural frontier areas of Mexico. Some corridos may also be love stories there are also corridos about women (La Venganza de Maria, Laurita Garza, La tragedia de Rosita and la adelita) and couples, not just about men. Some even talk about fiction or a made-up story by the composer. Contemporary corridos written within the past few decades feature more modern themes such as drug trafficking (narcocorridos) and immigration.

Lila Downs

Artist Video Lila Downs @ FROG

A common example is la Cucaracha, which derives from an Arabic sailors' song from the Moors from before the Reconquista. The corrido has a rhythm similar to that of the European waltz; corridos, like rancheras, have introductory instrumental music and adornos interrupting the stanzas of the lyrics. However, unlike rancheras, the rhythm of a corrido remains fairly consistent, rancheras can be played at a variety of rhythms. Corridos often tell stories, while rancheras are for dancing.

By types of ensembles

Conjunto jarocho

Ensemble specialized in Son Jarocho. It consists of jarana jarocha, requinto jarocho, arpa, pandero.

Conjunto huasteco

Ensemble specialized in Son Huasteco. It consists of guitarra huapanguera, jarana huasteca, violin.

Conjunto de marimba

Ensemble specialized in folk music of traditional marimba. It consists of marimba, double bass and drums.


Mariachi is an ensemble that consists of guitarrón, vihuela, guitar, violins and trumpets.

This folk ensemble performs ranchera, son de mariachi, huapango de mariachi, polka, corrido, and other musical forms. It originated in the southern part of the state of Jalisco during the 19th century. The city of Guadalajara in Jalisco is known as the "Capital of Mariachi". The style is now popular throughout Mexico and the Southwestern United States, and is considered representative of Mexican music and culture.

Son Huasteca trio

This style of music is played by a group consisting of five or more musicians who wear charro suits. The golden age of mariachi was in the 1950s, when the ranchera style was common in movies. Mariachi Vargas played for many of these soundtracks, and the long-lived band's long career and popular acclaim has made it one of the best-known mariachi. These movies became very popular in Latin America and mariachi's became very popular in places such as Colombia and Peru until this date.

There are different theories as to the provenance of the word mariachi. Some say it comes from the French word mariage because it was the type of music often played at weddings and by most folk people by the name of Evan Strout. However, mariachi originates from a part of Mexico that the French never visited and, even it they had, it began before their arrival in 1864. Another theory is that the word comes from the indigenous name of the Pilla or Cirimo tree, whose wood is used to make guitars. It has also been said that the name comes from a festival in honor of a virgin known as Maria H. that musicians played for and that over time they were given this name.

The traditional mariachi band consists of the violin, the vihuela, guitar, a guitarrón (large bass guitar) and a trumpet. Other instruments may also be seen in a mariachi band, such as the flute, French horn, accordion, or organ are used. These instruments are used for specific arrangements.

Mexican music was popularized in the United States in the late 1970s as part of a revival of mariachi music led by performers like Linda Ronstadt. Other famous mariachi performers include Pedro Infante, Vicente Fernández, Pepe Aguilar, Pedro Fernández, Alejandro Fernández, Antonio Aguilar, and Miguel Aceves Mejía. Some of the best-known examples of Mexican music in the United States is "La Cucaracha" and the Jarabe Tapatío (called the Mexican Hat Dance in the United States).

In Mexico City, the center of mariachi music remains Garibaldi Plaza. The plaza fills with mariachi musicians to solicit gigs from individual songs for passers-by to being hired for events such as weddings and baptisms. They even stand on Eje Central in front of the plaza to flag down passing cars. In 2010, the government renovated the plaza to make it more tourist-friendly, adding new paving, gardens, police, security cameras, painted facades, and a museum dedicated to mariachi and tequila. Although mariachis can be hired in Mexico City over the phone or on the internet, many people still prefer to come to the plaza, hear the musicians and haggle over the price. About 2,500 mariachis hold union cards to work in the plaza, but as many as 4,000 may circulate through on a busy weekend.

In 2011 UNESCO recognized the music as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, joining six others of this list from Mexico.

Conjunto norteño

Ensemble specialized in norteño music, it consists of diatonic accordion, bajo sexto, double bass and drums. Another important music style is musica norteña, from northern Mexico, which has been the basis for such subgenres as musica de banda. Musica Norteña, like musica Tejana, arose in the 1830s and 40s in the Rio Grande region, in the southern Texas. Influenced by both Bohemian music and immigrant miners, its rhythm was derived from European polkas, which were popular during the 1800s. This type of Mexican music has derived from singers like Los Relámpagos del Norte, Ramon Ayala, Los Tigres del Norte, Los Huracanes del Norte and many more.


Banda music was made with the imitation of military bands that were imported during the Second Mexican Empire, headed by emperor Maximilian I of Mexico in the 1860s. Polish and German immigrants established themselves in the state of Sinaloa. It was further popularized during the Mexican Revolution when local authorities and states formed their own bands to play in the town squares.

Rodrigo y Gabriela

Artist Video Rodrigo y Gabriela @ FROG

Revolutionary leaders like Pancho Villa, also took wind bands with them wherever they went. Banda has to this day remained popular throughout the central and northern states. It has, however, diversified into different styles due to regions, instruments and modernization. Today people associate banda with Sinaloense. This originated in the 1940s when the media distributed Banda el Recodo repertoire as exclusively from Sinaloa when it was actually regional music from all over Mexico.

Although banda music is played by many bands from different parts of Mexico, its original roots are in Sinaloa, made popular by bands such as Banda el Recodo from Sinaloa.

Banda Sinaloense experienced international popularity in the 1990s. The most prominent band was Banda el Recodo. Unlike tamborazo Zacatecano, Sinaloense's essential instrument is the tuba. Sometimes an accordion is also included. Some well-known artists are Banda el Recodo, La Arrolladora Banda El Limón de René Camacho, Banda Los Recoditos, Banda Cuisillos, Joan Sebastian, Chalino Sánchez, Jenni Rivera, Banda Machos, etc.

Tamborazo Zacatecano

Tamborazo Zacatecano ("drum-beat from Zacatecas") is a banda style traditionally played by two trumpets, two saxophones, and the al bass drum. An outstanding example is La Marcha de Zacatecas (The March of Zacatecas) by Genaro Codina Fernández, the anthem of the State of Zacatecas and considered the second national anthem of Mexico.


Duranguense (also known as pasito duranguense) is a genre of Mexican music. It is popular among the Mexican-American community in the United States. Duranguense is closely related to the Mexican styles of banda and norteño. The main instruments, which are held over from banda, are the saxophone, trombone, and bass drum. However, what sets the duranguense ensemble apart from banda is the addition of synthesizers to play both melodies and the tuba bassline. The tempo is also noticeably faster than banda or norteño. Among the duranguense elements carried over from other genres is el tamborazo; a heavy percussion line consisting of the bass drum and varied snare drum rolls.

Popular music of folk roots


Grupera (or onda grupera) is a genre of Mexican popular music. It is influenced by the styles of cumbia, norteño, and ranchera, and reached the height of its popularity in the 1980s, especially in rural areas.

The music has roots in the rock groups of the 1960s but today generally consists of five or fewer musicians using electric guitars, keyboards and drums. Artists in this genre include Los Yonics, Los Humildes, La Migra, Liberación, Los Caminantes, Pegasso, Grupo Mojado, Ana Bárbara, Grupo Bryndis, Los Bukis, Marco Antonio Solís, and Los Temerarios. The music increased in popularity in the 1990s and became commercially viable, and is now recognized in some Latin music awards ceremonies such as Lo Nuestro and The Latin Grammy Awards.


The original wave of Mexican rock bands got their start mostly with Spanish covers of popular English rock songs. After this initial stage they moved on to include in their repertoire traditional ranchera songs, in addition to cumbia, and ballads. Thus the 1970s saw the rise of a number of grupera bands that specialized in slow ballads and songs that up to that point had only been sung with mariachi. Among these we can include Los Muecas, Los Freddys, Los Babys, La Migra, etc.

Other music of Latin-American roots

Other popular forms of music found in various parts of Mexico – mostly with origins in other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America include rumba, mambo, bolero, and cumbia. Rumba came from the black Mexican slaves in Veracruz, Mexico City, and Yucatán. The style began in Cuba and later became famous in the black community of Mexico. From the beginning of the 20th century, bolero arrived to Yucatán, and Danzón to Veracruz. Both styles became very popular all over the country, and a Mexican style of both rhythms was developed.

In the 1940s, the Cubans Pérez Prado, Benny Moré emigrated to Mexico, they brought with them the mambo, which became extremely popular especially in Mexico City, later on mambo developed into Cha cha chá, which was also popular.


The Cuban bolero has traveled to Mexico and the rest of Latin America after its conception, where it became part of their repertoires. Some of the bolero's leading composers have come from nearby countries, most especially the prolific Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández; another example is Mexico's Agustín Lara. Some Cuban composers of the bolero are listed under Trova. Some successful Mexican bolero composers are María Grever, Gonzalo Curiel Barba, Gabriel Ruiz, and Consuelo Velázquez.

Another composer Armando Manzanero widely considered the premier Mexican romantic composer of the postwar era and one of the most successful composers of Latin America has composed more than four hundred songs, fifty of which have given him international fame. His most famous songs include Voy a apagar la luz (I'm Going to Turn Off the Lights), Contigo Aprendí (With you I Learnt... ), Adoro (Adore), No sé tú (I don't know if you...), Por Debajo de la Mesa (Under the Table) Esta Tarde Vi Llover (English version "Yesterday I Heard the Rain"), Somos Novios (English version "It's Impossible"), Felicidad (Happiness) and Nada Personal (Nothing Personal).

Some renowned trios románticos were Trio Los Panchos, Los Tres Ases, Los Tres Diamantes and Los Dandys. Trio Bolero, a unique ensemble of two guitars and one cello.

Included among the acclaimed interpreters of the bolero on the radio and the international concert stage were the Mexican tenors Juan Arvizu and Nestor Mesta Chayres.

The romantic ballad or Latin ballad

Los de Abajo

More Mexican Music

The Latin or romantic ballad has its origin in the Latin American bolero in 50 years (Lucho Kitten, Leo Marini), but also in the romantic song in Italian (Nicola Di Bari) and French (Charles Aznavour) in years 60 and 70.

The ethnomusicologist Daniel Party defines the romantic ballad as "a love song of slow tempo, played by a solo singer accompanied by an orchestra usually".

The ballad and bolero are often confused and songs can fall in one or the other category without too much presicion. The distinction between them is referring primarily to a more sophisticated and more metaphorical language and subtle bolero, compared with a more direct expression of the ballad.

In Mexico, the first ballad that is registered as such is "Sonata de Amor" (Sonata of Love) of Mario Alvarez in 1961. In 1965 the famous bolero singer-songwriter Armando Manzanero, recorded his first ballad, "Pobres besos míos" (My Poor Kisses).

The heyday of the ballad was reached in the mid-1970s, where artists such as José José, Camilo Sesto, Raphael, Roberto Carlos, Rocío Dúrcal and others released many hits. The main hist of José José were "El triste" (The Sad One), "La nave del olvido" (The Ship of Oblivion), "Te extraño" (I Miss You), "Amar y querer" (Love and Love), or "Gavilán o paloma" (Pigeon or Hawk), "Lo pasado pasado" (The Past is past), "Volcán" (Volcano) or "Lo que no fue no será" (What Never Was Will Never Be). In the course of their existence the genre merged with diverse rhythms to form several variants, such as romantic salsa and cumbia aside others.

From the 1990s on, globalization and media internationalization contributed to the ballad's international spread and homogenization.


The history of Cumbia in Mexico is almost as old as Cumbia in Colombia. In the 1940s Colombian singers emigrated to Mexico, where they worked with the Mexican orquestra director Rafael de Paz. In the 1950s they recorded what many people consider to be the first cumbia recorded outside of Colombia, La Cumbia Cienaguera. He recorded other hits like Mi gallo tuerto, Caprichito, and Nochebuena. This is when Cumbia began to become popular Mexico, with Tony Camargo as one of the first exponents of Mexican Cumbia. In Mexico D.F., most people who dance to it are called "Chilangos"—which means people born in the main district.

In the 1970s Aniceto Molina emigrated to Mexico, where he joined the group from Guerrero, La Luz Roja de San Marcos, and recorded many popular tropical cumbias like El Gallo Mojado, El Peluquero, and La Mariscada. Also in the 70s Rigo Tovar became very popular with his fusion of Cumbia with ballad and Rock.

Today Cumbia is played in many different ways, and has slight variations depending on the geographical area like Cumbia sonidera, Cumbia andina mexicana, Cumbia Norteña, Tecno-cumbia. Popular Mexican Cumbia composers and interpreters include Rigo Tovar y su Costa Azul, Celso Piña, Los Caminantes, Grupo Bronco, and Selena.

Table (traditional music ensembles)

Traditional ensembles and instruments
Ensemble Bowed Strings Plucked Strings Wood Winds Brass Winds Other Aerophones Membranophone Percussion Idiophone Percussion
Mariachi violin guitar, vihuela, guitarron trumpet
Banda clarinet, saxophone tuba, trombone, trumpet tambora, tarola cymbals
Conjunto norteño bajo sexto, double bass saxophone accordion drums, tarola redoba
Conjunto jarocho requinto jarocho, jarana jarocha, leona, harp pandero octagonal marimbol, quijada, güiro
Conjunto huasteco violin huapanguera, jarana huasteca
Marimba orquesta double bass saxophone drums marimba, güiro
Conjunto calentano violin guitarra sexta, guitarra panzona, double bass tamborita
Conjunto de arpa grande violin harp, guitar, vihuela, double bass
Jarana yucateca double bass clarinet, saxophone trumpet, trombone timpani cymbals, güiro
Conjunto de son de tarima vihuela, guitar cajón de tapeo
Conjunto mixteco violin guitar, bajo quinto cántaro
Trío romántico guitar, guitarra requinto maracas
Tamborileros de Tabasco flauta de tres hoyos tamboril, tamboril requinto
Orquesta típica violin bandolón, guitar, salterio clarinet snare drum
Flauta y Tamboril flauta de tres hoyos tambor de marco, tamborcito
Chirimía chirimía tambor
Conjunto de Costa Chica harmonica friction drum quijada
Tamborileros del norte clarinet tambora
Violín y tambora violin tambora
Prehispánico ocarina, caracol, flauta de tres hoyos huehuetl, tambor de u, kayum teponaztli, ayoyotes, sonaja


Mariachi (/mɑːriˈɑːi/; Spanish: [maˈɾjatʃi]) is a musical expression that dates back to at least 18th century in Western Mexico. It is a tradition that can be defined by eight socio-musical elements: mariachi instrumentation and texture, musical genres and subgenres, performance methods and styles, singing styles and forms, dance styles, performative space, performance clothing, and the word "mariachi". Each element has its own history, originated at varying moments in time and in different regions of the Western Mexican countryside, and some, if not all, had to converge in order for the mariachi tradition to become what it is.

Mariachi – Mi Nombre Es Mexico
Mariachi – Mi Nombre Es Mexico is the new album from singer Fer González, featuring the full spectrum of mariachi music on trumpets, guitars and violins with both lively and romantic songs (boleros, rancheras, huapangos,...). ‘Mariachi’ is a Mexican tradition of music performed by a group of strolling musicians, and Fer González is always proud to wear the charro suit and take Mexican music all over the world.

Fer González "Mariachi – Mi Nombre Es Mexico", ARC Music, 2018

From the 19th to 20th century, migrations from rural areas into Guadalajara, along with the Mexican government's cultural promotion gradually re-labeled it as Son style, with its alternative name of “mariachi” becoming used for the “urban” form. Modifications of the music include influences from other music such as polkas and waltzes, the addition of trumpets and the use of charro outfits by mariachi musicians. The musical style began to take on national prominence in the first half of the 20th century, with its promotion at presidential inaugurations and on the radio in the 1920s.

In 2011 UNESCO recognized mariachi as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, joining six other entries on the Mexican list of that category.


The origin of the word is disputed, but prominent theories attribute it to indigenous roots. One states that it comes from the name of the wood used to make the dance platform. Another states that Mariachi comes from the indigenous name of a tree called pilla or cirimo; yet another states that it came from an image locally called María H (pronounced Mari-Ache). In many Mexican cultures they are also called Marietti. Mariachi can refer to the music, the group, or just one musician. The term "Mariachi band" is also a redundant term to address a Mariachi because the word in itself 'Mariachi' in spanish implies a group of musicians playing Mariachi music.

The word "mariachi" was thought to have derived from the French word "marriage", dating from the French intervention in Mexico in the 1860s, related to the music's appearance at weddings. This was a common explanation on record jackets and travel brochures. This theory was disproven with the appearance of documents that showed that the word existed before this invasion.


Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, indigenous music was played with rattles, drums, flutes, and conch-shell horns as part of religious celebrations. The Spanish introduced violins, guitars, harps, brass instruments, and woodwinds, which mostly replaced the native instruments. The Europeans introduced their instruments to use during Mass, but they were quickly adapted to secular events. Indigenous and mestizo peoples learned to play and make these instruments, often giving them modified shapes and tunings. In addition to instruments, the Spanish introduced the concept of musical groups—which, in the colonial period, generally consisted of two violins, a harp, and various guitars. This grouping gave rise to a number of folk musical styles in Mexico.

One of these folk musical styles was the son. This music featured string instruments. Son music divided into various regional varieties—the variety popular in the Jalisco area was called son jalisciense, whose best known song, also referred to as "the mariachi national anthem," is “La Negra.” Modern mariachi music developed from this son style, with “mariachi” as an alternative name for son jalisciense. Early mariachi players did not look like those of today; they played only string instruments such as guitars and harps and dressed in typical peasant clothing: white pants and shirts with huarache sandals.

Those who could play the son jalisciense/mariachi music could find work at haciendas at a higher rate than those who could not.

The distinction of mariachi from the older son jalisciense occurred slowly sometime during the 19th century. The music originated in the center-west of Mexico. Most claims for its origin lie in the state of Jalisco but neighboring states of Colima, Nayarit, and Michoacán have also claimed it. However, by the late 19th century, the music was firmly centered in Jalisco. Most legends put the origin of the modern mariachi in the town of Cocula, Jalisco.

The distinction from son to modern mariachi comes from the modification of the music. By the end of the nineteenth century, the European art music tradition was firmly transplanted to Mexico, with opera, salon music, waltzes, and more written and performed both by Europeans and Mexicans in the country. One variety was the salon orchestras called orquestas típicas that performed in more rural settings, notably in charro outfits. This use of the charro outfit was repeated with urban mariachi in the 1920s.

Monument to the mariachi in Plaza Garibaldi

The Charro outfit was also used in the national Orquestra Típica Mexicana (Mexican Typical Orchestra), organized in 1884 by Carlo Curti, and touring the United States and Mexico as part of a presentation of nationalism for the Mexican president Porfirio Diaz. Curti's Orquestra Típica Mexicana has been called the "predecessor of the Mariachi."

After the Mexican Revolution, many haciendas had to let workers go, including mariachis. Groups began to wander and play for a fee, which obliged them to incorporate other music into their repertoires, including waltzes and polkas. It also required them to play in public venues. From the late 19th century to the 1930s, Mariachi groups were semi-professional.

In the early 20th century, U.S., record companies began actively recording rural music in other parts of the world. One of these as a recording called Cuarteto Coculense by Columbia, Edison and Victor in 1908 and 1909, recognized as the “first” mariachi recordings. The music also gained attention in Mexico City when a wealthy hacienda family brought an early Mariachi from Cocula to play for President Porfirio Díaz in 1905.

Modern development

The common perception of the music and look of mariachi developed in the 20th century, as the music was transformed from a regional rural folk music to an urban phenomenon that came to represent Mexico. The music was first introduced to Mexico City in 1905. During this time, many farm workers moved to the city, including those from Jalisco, which settled around Plaza Garibaldi. These mariachi musicians developed new practices, such as performances in plazas and restaurants. However, it also continued its more traditional venues such as serenades, and performances at major family events.

During this time, the Mexican government was heavily involved in cultural promotion as a way to create a unified Mexican identity after the end of the Mexican Revolution. One of these efforts was the promotion of mariachi as an international symbol of Mexican identity, first with radio and sound recordings and later with films.

Mexico built a nationwide radio broadcasting network in the 1920s such as XEB and XEW, which began broadcasting mariachi music as a media production, rather than as a music for social events. This music was already being modified in part due to the advent of sound recording. For example, most son jaliscense songs were longer than the standard three-and-a-half minutes of the then-standard 78 rpm record, forcing the shortening of tunes. Around the same time, the popularity of jazz and Cuban music introduced the trumpet into mariachi, pushing the violins into second place and in some cases, replacing the harp.

The most prized of the mariachis remained those from the state of Jalisco, particularly the areas of Cocula and Tecalitlán. They represented Mexico to the people during the Independence Day celebrations in Mexico City in 1933 as well as during Lázaro Cárdenas' election campaign in 1936.

The charro tradition was strong in Jalisco, especially in a region called Los Altos. After the Revolution, the charreada became a national sport in Mexico and rings were constructed specifically for them, followed by professional charro associations. With the breakup of the large haciendas, charros were no longer economically necessary but were used as a cultural ideal, especially by the film industry in the mid-20th century. The first charro movies date from the 1920s, but the first to sing mariachi was Tito Guízar in Allá en el Rancho Grande in 1936. The character was played by Jorge Negrete in films such as ¡Ay, Jalisco... no te rajes! and ¡Así se quiere en Jalisco! The main characters used his ability to sing mariachi as a way to show strength, virility, and aesthetic beauty. Its use in film also made the music popular and a symbol of ethnic pride for Mexican Americans in the United States.

Its use in film also promoted a negative perception of mariachi music. The films associated the charros and mariachi music with machismo, womanizing and drinking, especially of tequila. The reason that the movies did this was that mariachi music was associated with bars and the lower classes in a number of segments of Mexican society in the early 20th century. This would change in the latter half of the 20th century, but the music remains strongly associated with tequila.

Mariachi music and musician became more professional with more formal training starting in the late 1940s and early 1950s, principally due to the success of a major Mariachi by the name of Mariachi Vargas. Their appearance in many films, backing many singing stars and their hiring of a formal musician prompted other mariachis to do the same. The group also expanded adding trumpets, violins and even a classical guitar to become a kind of orchestra, keeping the traditional son/mariachi base while integrating new musical ideas and styles. One other innovation, in contrast to the machismo of the style were the first female mariachi performers, Lola Beltrán and Lucha Villa. One night Mariachi Vargas put Beltrán on stage when she was a teenager. Her versions of “Cucurrucucu Paloma” and “Tres Dias” are now considered classics.

Many of the traditional sounds of Cocula were lost as mariachi groups incorporated other musical styles that were popular on the radio. New influences have come into the tradition from the Mexican American community in the United States. In both countries, however, the learning of traditional pieces and repertory is still stressed to form a base.

The International Mariachi Festival in Guadalajara is an annual ten-day event that attracts more than 500 mariachis, who perform in concert halls and city streets. Past players include Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, Mariachi los Camperos (led by Nati Cano) and Mariachi América.

Mariachi with guitarrón

In Mexico City, the center of mariachi music remains Garibaldi Plaza. The plaza fills with mariachi musicians to solicit gigs from individual songs for passers-by to being hired for events such as weddings and baptisms. They even stand on Eje Central in front of the plaza to flag down passing cars. In 2010, the government renovated the plaza to make it more tourist-friendly, adding new paving, gardens, police, security cameras, painted facades, and a museum dedicated to mariachi and tequila. Although mariachis can be hired in Mexico City over the phone or on the internet, many people still prefer to come to the plaza, hear the musicians and haggle over the price. About 2,500 mariachis hold union cards to work in the plaza, but as many as 4,000 may circulate through on a busy weekend.


The size of a Mariachi group varies depending on the availability of musicians. The usual mariachi group today consists of as many as eight violins, two trumpets and at least one guitar. Traditional mariachi guitars include the vihuela, a high-pitched, round-backed guitar that provides rhythm, and a bass guitar called a guitarrón, which also provides rhythm. Sometimes a Mexican folk harp provides bass and ornaments the melody. All are Mexican variations of European instruments. There is generally no lead singer as in other kinds of group with all players singing choruses and taking turns singing the lead. Often the lead singer is assigned to a certain song due to voice qualities. Mariachi vocalization shows influences from a number of styles such as bolero (a romantic style), huapango (using falsetto), son jalisciense (an aggressive style) and more. Voices must be strong to be heard over amplified instruments. Vocal style emphasizes operatic qualities and instrumental performance demonstrates a level of virtuosity that reflects advanced musical training. Historically, mariachi groups have been made up of men but there is growing acceptance of female mariachis.

As mariachi groups are expected to play requests, they may need to know hundreds of different songs. Most songs are about machismo, love, betrayal, death, politics, revolutionary heroes and even animals and country life from the genre origins as rural son music. One particularly famous song is “La Cucaracha” (The Cockroach).

Most mariachi groups are associated with family and religious celebrations along with serenades. One of the most common pieces played by Mariachis is “Las Mañanitas” for birthdays and celebrations of patron saints.

In Mexico, mariachi music can also be found as part of Catholic Mass. The Misa panamericana is a mariachi folk mass sung in Spanish with new arrangements of classic hymns such as "Kyrie Eleison". This innovation began in 1966 by Canadian priest Jean Marc Leclerc and it moved from a small church to the Cuernavaca Cathedral.p>

Mariachi Vargas

Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán is recognized as the oldest and most famous mariachi ensemble, founded by Gaspar Vargas in the late 1890s. They moved from Jalisco to Mexico City and performed for the inauguration of President Lázaro Cárdenas. Mariachi Vargas became famous accompanying singers such as Luis Miguel, Lola Beltrán, and Pedro Infante. Mariachi Vargas’s first recording was in 1937, the same year they appear in “Asi es mi Tierra”. They appeared in over 200 films in the 20th century. Silvestre Vargas took over Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán from his father in 1958 and soon after hired a trained musician, Rubín Fuentes, as musical director. Fuentes along with Vargas were instrumental in the standardization of much of mariachi music, arranging traditional songs and writing new ones that would be performed by many of the legendary performers of the mid-20th century, such as Pedro Infante, Miguel Aceves Mejía, Lola Beltrán and José Alfredo Jiménez. Mariachi Vargas still remains, tracing its history in terms of generations, starting in the 1890s, with these generations maintaining the group’s authenticity as a Mariachi while the music has evolved. The last Vargas associated with the group died in 1985. That the group still considers itself the original group comes from the notion of passing on the music by generations of musicians, how the original son jaliscense was learned.

United States and further afield

The promotion of mariachi as representative of Mexico has led to the formation of mariachi groups in many countries such as Argentina, Aruba, Egypt, Chile, Cuba, Spain, Croatia, Guatemala, Uruguay, Sweden, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, with groups from these and more countries participating in Guadalajara’s International Mariachi and Charreria Conference.

The music has a strong following in the US, with top groups spending a lot of time on tour. Mariachi Los Camperos received a Grammy nomination for best Mexican-American album. Academic programs allow for instruction by famous mariachi groups and the opportunity to win awards.

Mariachi Group @ the 10th anniversary celebration of Wikipedia in Guadalajara

The first mariachi groups in the United States were from California. Nati Cano was born in Jalisco in 1939 and moved to Los Angeles in 1959. He played in many Mariachi groups backing singers but felt mariachi could stand alone. In 1969 he opened a restaurant called La Fonda in Los Angeles, which featured his group, Los Camperos, as part of a dinner show. The success of this enterprise, and of Los Camperos in general have inspired many mariachi groups in the United States. In the late 1980s, pop star Linda Ronstadt recorded "Canciones de Mi Padre" and "Más Canciones" with Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán and others, which helped promote its popularity among Mexican Americans and to non-Mexican Americans.

Some U.S. public schools offer mariachi as part of classes. The first student Mariachi group was begun in 1961 at the University of California, Los Angeles. This prompted the creation of other student organizations in other parts of California and then in Texas, where the first mariachi festival was held in 1979. Since then, a strong synergy between academic programs and mariachi festivals has developed, which feature students and give mariachi classes and workshops.

Once school programs were limited to border areas such as San Antonio and Tucson but they have spread across the southwest and into other parts of the country, especially since the 1990s. There are at least 500 schools offering classes along with local and state competitions. In some US schools, mariachi ensembles have replaced school bands. Professional groups such as Mariachi Cobre, which regularly performs at Disney World, also spend time teaching in public schools.

In areas with large Mexican-American populations, mariachis are being hired for events outside this ethnic group as well. Outside of schools, the most important venue for the music in the United States is mariachi festivals with the longest running festivals in Tucson and Fresno. The Tucson International Mariachi Conference began in 1982. It originally was held in the downtown but in 2012 moved to the Casino Del Sol. It showcases over 500 elementary, middle, and high schools and college mariachi players. The Las Vegas International Mariachi Festival, established in 1991, is televised on Telemundo and PBS and has headlined artists such as Pedro Fernández, Ana Gabriel, and American born mariachi singer Pepe Aguilar and more.

The educational movement is controversial with some trained in the traditional manner, who are skeptical about these programs and their potential to change the tradition. The changes, especially standardization of publishing, are slowing impacting mariachi in Mexico. One difficulty of arranging mariachi pieces is that the son jaliscense is based on alternates between
time. Much of the published mariachi music is meant for people already familiar with the music to serve as guides, not to novices. On the other hand, many schools have problems recruiting mariachi instructors as many of these do not have required teaching credentials. For this reason, schools often hire trained musicians from outside the mariachi tradition. Many traditional mariachis are concerned that standardization will lead to fossilization and restrict improvisation.

Other innovations in the United States have been the incorporation of styles of artists such as Elvis Presley, Freddy Fender and Glenn Miller, as well as the heavy-metal Mariachi band Metalachi. Another is the encouragement of female mariachis including all-female Mariachi groups such as Mariachi Mujer 2000 and Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea. Mariachi Mujer has performed with Mexican artists such as Vikki Carr, Pablo Montero, Gerardito Fernandez and Nydia Rojas. Mariachi Divas have won 2 Grammy Awards, have toured extensively in the United States and are the official Mariachi of Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. New York's first international all-female mariachi is 2015 Latin Grammy nominated Mariachi Flor de Toloache, who are featured in Dan Auerbach's The Arcs. There is an all-female Mariachi in London, UK, Mariachi Las Adelitas UK, who plays traditional Mexican Mariachi music as well as some English-language covers in Mariachi style. Another well-recognized mariachi from the United States is the Roma High School Mariachi Nuevo Santander, they have landed first place on the Mariachi Vargas Extravanganza competition since 2013. They have participated in competitions around the TX and the U.S. including UIL Mariachi State competitions and the world-known America's Got Talent.


The most common dance technique in mariachi is zapateado, a kind of footwork from Spain. Pounding of feet into a raised platform often provides the percussive.

Los Tigres del norte

Artist Video

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [,]. Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization.

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Date: June 2018.

Photo Credits: (1) "La Cucaracha", (2) "Mexico - The Best Boleros from the Costa Chica", (3) Lila Downs, (4) Son Huasteca trio @ Alfredo Guati Rojo National Watercolor Museum in Mexico City, (5) Rodrigo y Gabriela, (6) Son Jarocho group Zarahuato @ Museo de Arte Popular, (7) Los de Abajo, (8) "Mariachi – Mi Nombre Es Mexico", (9) Monument to the mariachi in Plaza Garibaldi, Mexico City, (10) Mariachi with guitarrón, (11) Mariachi Group @ the 10th anniversary celebration of Wikipedia in Guadalajara, (12) Los Tigres del Norte @ Chumash Casino Resort (unknown/website/wikipedia).

FolkWorld Homepage German Content English Content Editorial & Commentary News & Gossip Letters to the Editors CD & DVD Reviews Book Reviews Folk for Kidz Folk & Roots Online Guide - Archives & External Links Search FolkWorld About Contact Privacy Policy

FolkWorld - Home of European Music
FolkWorld Homepage
Layout & Idea of FolkWorld © The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld