The Prized Jewel of Mexico: The Mariachi Band!

Last Updated on November 24, 2021

What is a Mariachi Band?

In the brilliant words of Lebanese writer Khalil Gibran, “music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.” Like all forms of self-expression, music is perceived in separate ways by different people.

Some connect more to the melody of the song, while others connect more to the lyrics. Many relate to the harmony between the music and the lyrics. A lot of people even say that they connect to various aspects of music depending on their mood.

Regardless of your standpoint, it is irrefutable that music is food for the mind, body, and soul. It is a form of expression which allows you to speak your mind, tell a story, and connect with your listeners.

Music is one of the oldest forms of self-expression, dating back to nearly 40,000 years ago. As time progressed, music has developed from simple flute-based serenades to complex integration of various instruments and vocals. There are over 1,300 genres ranging from pop and reggae to electronic dance music, Punk, and even Norwegian Hip Hop.

Due to the subjective nature of the art form, some listeners may connect with some genres and not feel any connection to others. In truth, for as long as I’ve been alive, I have never met a single individual who didn’t connect with at least one genre of music. As you can see, this is one artform humankind cannot do without.

As much as I’d love to take you through the various nuances of music, that is a topic for another day. Today, I shall take you through the inner workings of a delightful artform and the jewel of Mexico: Mariachi! Without further ado, let’s get this show underway!

The InnerWorkings of the Mariachi Band

When I think of the magical city of Mexico, three things come to mind: the piñata, tequila, and the pinnacle of Mexican culture: the marvelous mariachi band. Mariachi is a regional genre of Mexican music which dates back to the 1800s. This musical ensemble usually comprises about eight violins, a minimum of one guitar, two trumpets, a vihuela, and a guitarrón. Aside from their charro outfits, the mariachi band is characterized by their turns in singing lead and backup. The fluency and harmony of it all are genuinely exhilarating.

Similar to numerous art forms, mariachi goes beyond the joyful sound of music. It represents the culmination of societal revolution expressed through the voices and sounds of musicians. It encapsulates the essence of the authentic Mexican spirit. In a nutshell, it is a magical and traditional experience unique to this country.

The songs performed by the mariachi band speak about various topics ranging from love, death, and betrayal to politics, revolution, and machismo. In the next section, we shall discuss the origin of this elegant art form.

The Origins of the Mariachi Band

For as long as I can remember, mariachi has been considered a genre of music unique to the Mexican populace. It represents a culture that embraces homegrown elements as well as foreign elements to accomplish this peculiar sound.

At this point, we are all conversant with the inner workings of the mariachi band. However, this presents us with a question: how was this particular genre established?

The mariachi band emerged in the early 1800s in west-central Mexico. There have been numerous theories and disputes regarding the origins of the word “Mariachi.” We shall discuss the most prominent views below.

  • The first theory states that the word mariachi comes from the Indian tribe indigenous to what we know as modern-day Mexico. The term is said to have been taken from the local name for the Cirimo tree. This tree is also called the Pilla tree. What makes this tree so unique, though? You see, the wood from this tree is rumored to have been used to make various instruments of the mariachi band, such as the guitar. However, if this were true, the term mariachi would be attached to the guitar, not the art form. This point is further bolstered by the fact that the guitar is used for various genres of music, not only mariachi.
  • Another theory states that the word comes from a local festival held in honour of the revered virgin, Maria H. (pronounced as mah-ree-ah ah-chay). To sum it up, this name is rumored to have been given to the musicians who performed at this festival year after year.
  • It has also been rumored that the name comes from the French term for a wedding – marriage. This rumor is because mariachi bands usually perform at weddings and similar joyful occasions. However, there is a significant loophole in this theory. You see, mariachi music originated in a city in Mexico that the French never visited – Jalisco. Even if they did, mariachi was already in existence before the French came in the 1860s.

The truth is that for an art form that embodies years of societal revolution and serves as the pinnacle of Mexican culture, its origins are exceedingly tricky to pinpoint. However, we can say for sure that the mariachi band is treated with a great deal of prestige in Mexico and around the world.

The Evolution of Modern-Day Mariachi

One thing that is incredibly unique about mariachi music is that it was still in development during the Mexican revolution. As a result of this revolution, the mariachi band was forced to undergo an evolution.

You see, mariachi music was a haven for the people of Mexico. As such, it thrived with the support of the masses. In the 19th Century, the criollos did all they could to wipe out every ounce of Spanish presence in the great city of Mexico. By so doing, they were crucial supporters of mariachi music. As a result of this immense support, the average mariachi quickly found work and made more than the average labourer.

However, with the revolution, the mariachi experienced a rough patch. Most bands couldn’t find employment and resorted to a nomadic lifestyle, wandering from town-to-town heralding songs of revolutionary heroes and their adversaries, carrying the tales of the revolution from one city to another.

Sadly, they couldn’t keep up with this lifestyle. The mariachi then took to performing at venues for a fee. One of the most prominent venues was the San Pedro Tlaquepaque in Jalisco, the getaway town for Guadalajara residents in the hot summers.

This change marked a turning point in the history of the mariachi band. Since they were playing for a fee, the mariachi musicians were forced to add more elements to their sound (such as waltzes and polkas) to bolster their repertoire. By so doing, the mariachi band began to regain its popularity in the entirety of Mexico.

With the emergence of radio and television, the popularity of the mariachi superseded the city of Mexico and spread to the corners of the world. As time went on, they infused Jazz and Cuban music elements, which led to the inclusion of the trumpet.

Today, mariachi music has spread as far as Japan and the United States, with people employing bands to perform at weddings and other fun-filled occasions. It’s so strange to accept that a single music genre can encapsulate an entire revolution. However, it is undeniable that no one does it better than the mariachi band. It represents the joyful nature of the average Mexican and their love for music and melodic tunes.

Conclusion

Ultimately, music is a treasure that supersedes human understanding. Sure, we can group it into different genres and produce various beats and sounds. However, the way music heals the soul remains utterly beautiful yet inexplicable. To this end, I leave you with the wise words of Charlie Parker. “Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”

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