This Website introduces the Mariachi music of Mexico. The country of Mexico is also briefly reviewed to give you some background knowledge of where Mariachi comes from. Geographical features, climates, and history of Mexico are covered, as are some of the distinct features of Mexico. Also, a quick outline of some of Mexico's major historical events is covered. The origins of Mariachi music are discussed; including the origin of the name Mariachi, the different styles that formed Mariachi, and the lack of official documentation of Mariachi. Mariachi originated in the state of Jalisco in the 1930s, and evolved over the years to cater to different musician and listener's tastes. The instruments used in a Mariachi band have remained fairly constant with some change to emphasize different sounds and styles. The outfit of a Mariachi player has also transcended into a cultural feature for Mariachi and Mexico. Mariachi music is a popular Mexican social art form, which is often used in social gatherings. A sample song with translation and interpretation is provided.
Mexico has a diverse culture, including elements such as spicy food and finely crafted silver, but one of the most treasured parts of Mexican culture is its music, especially Mariachi music. Almost anyone can picture a Mariachi band, a group of men dressed in matching suits, wearing wide-brimmed hats, and usually playing vibrantly in a town square or park. A typical band consists of guitars, violins, trumpets, and basses (Chamorro 2001). Mariachi music has a rich history and remains important to Mexican culture. Their songs may be sung about an abundance of topics and are often very expressive or emotional. On this web page, you will learn the basics of Mariachi music and how Mariachi has grown and evolved throughout the years.
Mexico is at the base of North America, wedged in between The United States of America and Central American counties of Guatemala and Belize. The Pacific Ocean lines the entire western coast, while the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea border the eastern coastline. Mexico is geographically diverse. The north, mountainous desserts terrains are the most typical, which run up until the Rio Grande, which creates the U.S. – Mexico border (Roberts 2003). Mountains extend all the way through Mexico, however the mountains in the southern part are more tropical (Roberts 2003). The central and southern parts of Mexico (near Guadalajara) are flatlands, and are the only part of the country where crops can be grown consistently (Roberts 2003).
Corresponding to its geographical variety, Mexico has many different types of climates. The coastlines are usually hot and humid, and among some the world's top locations for vacationing. The high altitudes inland have a typical spring climate year round, with cooler periods in December through March (Mexperience 2002-2004). Lower inland altitude locations are typically much hotter year round and can range from desert to jungle. The central and southern parts of Mexico have a rainy season, which lasts from May through October (Mexperience 2002-2004). The Yucatan peninsula is also threatened by a hurricane season every year from June to October (Mexperience 2002-2004).
One of the first groups of peoples to inhabit Mexico were the Maya, who came from the present day areas of Honduras and Guatemala around 400 BC, and lost their last large city around 1697 AD when they were finally overtaken by Spain (Foster 2004). The Aztecs, who built the city of Tenochtitlan around 1345, are famous for their pyramids devoted to the sun and war (Foster 2004). They ruled the land until the early 1500s, when at that time Hernan Cortes brought a fleet of Spanish ships over from Europe to conquer the land and its inhabitants (Foster 2004). A Spanish monarchy reigned for the next 300 years, as more and more immigrants came to Mexico from Europe and Africa, the population of indigenous Mexicans plummeted (Ransom 1994). The Mexican revolution lasted from 1911 to 1917, when finally a constitution was formed and signed, one that is still intact today (Ransom 1994). Mexico's history is well documented, and with its inclusion in NAFTA it will move into the future with the uncertainty of the trade agreement's success.
Mexico has so many distinctive features that it's hard to focus on just a few. Many people associate Mexico with beach vacation cities like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, or Acapulco. Other popular vacation spots are the Maya ruins and temples found in the southern part of the Country. Another distinct feature of Mexico is its food. Mexico is known for its tacos and quesadillas, which often come as spicy as anywhere else in the world. Of course, Mariachi music and costumes are often associated with Mexico. There are some negative distinctive features as well. Drug trafficking and run down border towns are often the first things that Americans think of when considering Mexico. Good and bad, Mexico is one of the most distinctive countries in the world.
The origin of Mariachi has a direct relationship with Mexico's own history. Around 1775, music styles from Europe, Asia, and Africa were all prevalent in Mexico due to all the settlers who inhabited the land. These three music styles all combined for a mestizo (mixed) style of music, which came to be known as Mariachi (Harpole et al 1989). This combination of musical styles originated in the Mexican state of Jalisco (Chamorro 2001). Mariachi stayed unique to Jalisco and the southwestern part of Mexico for the next 150 years until it spread to the rest of the nation.
For a long time many believed that the word “Mariachi” had been derived from the French word meaning marriage (Chamorro 2001). This theory has been disproved over the years however. Now it is accepted that the word “Mariachi” comes from a native word in western Mexico and means “a social gathering involving dancing” (Chamorro 2001). Mariachi can be synonymous with the Spanish word “Fandango,” but only in its interpretation. Mariachi doesn't really have many written records of its origin (Harpole et al 1989). Mariachi is usually passed through families as a pastime, just listening as a young child and slowly learning songs simply by hearing them (Harpole et al 1989). Due to this informal style of learning, there aren't many written records of exactly when or how Mariachi developed.
The Cultural Significance of Mariachi
Although many modern American music styles are becoming more popular among Mexican culture, I believe that nothing will replace the cultural importance of Mariachi music. Mariachi may experience a roller coaster of popularity in the future, but I conclude that it will remain a stronghold of Mexican life because of its adaptive nature.
Mariachi is undoubtedly a large part of Mexican cultural life. Its history, origins, and growth have given Mariachi a beloved reputation with almost all Mexican people. The distinct sounds and sights of Mariachi are so distinctive that people all over the world can distinguish this type of music. Specific instruments, such as the guitarron and vihuela, that are particular to Mariachi alone, helps give this style of music its uniqueness. Although Mariachi styles can vary throughout Mexico, past stars have helped Mariachi become a national phenomenon. An explosion in popularity in the last seventy-five years has helped propel Mariachi into being a significant cultural aspect of Mexico.
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