AskDefine | Define mariachi

Dictionary Definition

mariachi n : a group of street musicians in Mexico

User Contributed Dictionary



Spanish mariacho


  1. Of or pertaining to a traditional form of Mexican music, either sung or purely instrumental.
  2. Of or pertaining to a band playing such music, or to the singers of such songs.

Extensive Definition

Mariachi is a type of musical group, originally from Cocula, Jalisco, Mexico. Usually a mariachi consists of at least three violins, two trumpets, one Mexican guitar, one vihuela (a high-pitched, five-string guitar) and one guitarrón (a small-scaled acoustic bass). They dress in silver studded charro outfits with wide-brimmed hats. The original Mariachi were Mexican street musicians or buskers. Many mariachis are professional entertainers doing paid gigs in the mainstream entertainment industry. Professionals are normally skilled at more than one instrument, and they also sing. They sometimes accompany ranchera singers such as Vicente Fernandez. Although ranchera singers dress in a traje de charro, they are not mariachis.
Although mariachis are hired to play at events such as weddings and other formal occasions, such as a quinceañera (fifteenth birthday celebration for girls), they are very often used to serenade women because many of the songs in a typical repertoire have as a theme the desire to touch the heart of the opposite sex. Some of the songs are sad; others are about how much that special someone appreciates your company. Trios of mariachis can be found for hire in different places at night (the best known venues are Plaza de los Mariachis in Guadalajara and Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City) for the purposes of serenading. Mother's days are also another popular occasion for mariachis.
Tourists frequently confuse mariachis with all types of buskers seen in Mexico, such as jarochos. Mariachi refers to musicians who dress and play in a style typical of the Mexican state of Jalisco, although the style and music played has spread far beyond the limits of Jalisco and jalisciense music itself. Generally a guitarrón and a vihuela must be included for a group to be considered a mariachi.


Mariachi music as we know it today results from the confluence of several different influences: European styled concert ensembles on haciendas composed of violins, harp, guitars, jawharps and other instruments, simpler coastal folk ensembles whose African influence gives mariachi some of its key rhythmic elements, and the harp and violin ensembles of the tierra caliente. It originated in the Mexican state of Jalisco, in the town of Cocula, in the 19th century, the first example cited in print dates from 1880. By the end of the nineteenth century, the vihuela, two violins, and the guitarrón which had replaced the harp, were the instruments of the mariachi(s). Trumpets, now a key part of the mariachi sound were introduced later, during the early days of broadcast radio.


Musicologists and folklorists have argued for years over the origin of mariachi.
Standard Spanish dictionaries and encyclopedias name the French word mariage (meaning wedding or marriage) as a possible origin, and date it back to the 1860s, when Maximillian of Habsburg was Emperor of Mexico. This theory was probably first put forward by Alfonso Reyes.
Another probable theory of the origin of the word mariachi is that it originated in the language of the Cora, an indigenous people of Nayarit (not Jalisco where the band originated). It may refer to the wood used to make the instruments


In the 19th century, many Mariachi were roaming laborers moving from one hacienda to another, often more than the average laborer. With the revolution, however, many of the haciendas were forced to dismiss the mariachi, who then wandered from town to town singing songs (corridos) of revolutionary heroes and enemies, and carrying news from one place to another. The Mariachi took to playing in public venues for tips. One of the most popular of these venues was San Pedro Tlaquepaque in the state of Jalisco, a fashionable place for the residents of Guadalajara to spend the summer.
From the beginning, mariachi music was dance music. The traditional dance technique associated with both the son jalisciense and son jarocho is the zapateado. When dancing the zapateado, which originated in Spain, the performers drive the heels of their boots into the dance-floor, pounding out swift, often syncopated rhythms which complement that of the musical instruments. Another typical mariachi dance, the Jarabe tapatío or Mexican Hat Dance, from Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, has become the national dance of Mexico. It is highly stylized, with prescribed movements and costumes. The male wears the classic outfit of the Jalisco horsemen, similar to the outfit of a cowboy, or charro, while the female wears a hand-woven shawl and a bright sequined skirt.
Until the 1930s, Mariachis were semi-professional and almost entirely unknown outside their own region. This began to change when Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, founded by Gaspar Vargas in 1898, went from Jalisco to Mexico City. President Lázaro Cárdenas invited them to play at his inauguration in 1934, and later to accompany him in his campaign in 1936.
Silvestre Vargas, who had taken over from his father as leader of the Mariachi Vargas in 1928, soon hired a trained musician, Rubén Fuentes, as musical director. Together, Vargas and Fuentes standardized musical arrangements for many of the popular sones and insisted on the use of written music, which greatly facilitated the exchange among different mariachi bands. Their arrangements were used by the great singers of their time, including Pedro Infante, Lola Beltran, Jorge Negrete, Javier Solís and José Alfredo Jiménez. Influenced by jazz and Cuban music in the 1950s, they introduced the trumpet into the standard ensemble, which now included six to eight violins, a guitarrón, a vihuela, a guitar, two trumpets, and occasionally a harp as well. Trumpets were also introduced to mariachi music to accommodate the technical limitations of music recording equipment available for the cinema. However, nowadays trumpets have become an essential part of the signature mariachi sound, as exemplified by the opening notes of "El Son de la Negra."
Aided by the advent of radio, television, and the movies, mariachi music went on to become a definitive part of Mexican culture, and the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán appeared in over 200 films in the 1940s and 1950s, often considered the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.
Prior to the 1930s, photographs show early mariachis dressed in calzones de manta, and huaraches, homespun white cotton pants and shirts and leather sandals, the clothes worn by most peasants in Jalisco. During the 1930s, however, many mariachi took to wearing the traje de charro, consisting of a waist-length jacket and tightly fitted wool pants which open slightly at the ankle to fit over a short riding boot. Both pants and jacket are often ornamented with embroidery, intricately cut leather designs, or silver buttons in a variety of shapes. This outfit is often complemented by a large bow-tie, a wide belt and a large sombrero. It is said that General Porfirio Díaz ordered a mariachi band to wear charro suits while playing for the United States Secretary of State. If true, this may be the source of traditional dress for mariachi bands.
The mariachi tradition was further extended to a widespread mainstream audience in the United States when popular American folk rock singer Linda Ronstadt realized her dream of making a record of Mexican Canciones in 1987. Ronstadt came from a leading Arizona ranch family who had a long tradition of making and singing Mexican folk music. In 1987, her Canciones De Mi Padre disc was a surprise smash hit with the American public and brought Mariachi music to a level of recognition and credibility it had not seen before north of the border. The album went on to multi-platinum status, becoming at the time the biggest selling non-English language disc in United States history. It also spawned a successful videocassette of Linda's elaborate stage show which was later released on DVD. Ronstadt went on to record a sequel titled "Mas Canciones."
The mariachi tradition has been extensively influenced from Mexico to the United States, Argentina and to other countries, particularly Colombia. Colombian music is highly influenced by popular Mexican mariachi traditions.
The American composer Jeff Nevin has composed a Concerto for Mariachi and Orchestra, which was premiered by the La Jolla Symphony.
Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan is one of the oldest mariachi's in mexico's history. Their sones are what makes them unique.


The contemporary mariachi ensemble plays a wide range of music: sones jalisciences, rancheras, corridos, sones jarocho, sones istmeños, huapangos (or sones huastecos), boleros, canciones, jarabes, danzónes, valses, pasos dobles and recently cumbias and other modern rhythms.
Mariachi music gets its characteristic sound from the various Jalisco sons (sones jaliscienses) that formed the basis of the early ensembles repertoire. There are two principal catgories of son in Jalisco: those from the South (sones del sur) and those from the North (sones alteñeos). The sones in the South were influenced by African music brought to the coastal regions by slaves who worked sugar plantations there during colonial times, and by the folk traditions of the high plateaus of the tirra caliente. The sones in the North were influenced by the criollo ensembles popular on haciendas. The mixture of the rhythmic complexity of music from the south and the clog-dance driven structure of the music from the north came together to form a village son jalisciense in the larger towns of central Jalisco, and from that the mariachi sound emerged.


Traditional mariachi music is made up of a combination of song-specific melodies and common tropes (introductions, bridges, and codas). The presence of the tropes allows for an ensemble to play a piece without everyone in the ensemble needing to know it well. Much of the ensemble can play basic obligato parts for much of any given piece and still demonstrate virtuosity in the trope figures.
Mariachi violin music is typically played in fixed positions, and the positions are generally limited to I and III. Most mariachi pieces are made up of collections of smaller pieces, and with respect to the violin, it's common to include some in the first and some in the fifth position. For example in the famous Jarabe Tapatío, the first two sections are in first position, followed by two section in third with a short bridge in first, after which the piece finishes in first. The nearly exclusive use of these two relatively stable positions facilitates playing together in tune.


The musicians’ background was from working-class and rural towns, so the first Mariachis dressed in a peasants attire, which included large straw sombreros with a chin strap, a hat band, red sarape or black wool blanket over the shoulder, long straight-cut muslin pants, a cotton shirt of the same material called manta, a red sash around the waist, and simple huaraches (sandals). The black wool blanket and the red sash are the only added item. The traje de charro evokes gentleman landowners and talented cowboys (charros) of the time of Maximillian's rule.


Current mariachi instrumentation includes a guitarrón, a vihuela, a guitar, violins, and trumpets. Some groups might use a guitarra de golpe, a mariachi harp or even a flute. From the 70's some singers have occasionally added other instruments as accordion, organ, keyboard, harmonica, saxophone and even drums, although they were considered additions, never part of the mariachi instrumentation itself. During the last years ranchera singers as Alejandro Fernandez, Pablo Montero and Pepe Aguilar have made fusions of mariachi with orchestra and drums/percussions giving birth to a mariachi/pop ballads crossover style.


The Mariachi music became the symbol of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) because it represented the Mexican’s national spirit or the Spanish-indigenous blood of Mexican ethnicity. The Mariachi has different forms of music such as son, cancion ranchera, bolero ranchero, huapango and polka. As well, Mariachi is poetic using the copla and seguidilla forms. This music is so anchored in Mexico’s history that it is found in all types of celebration. Over time, this popularity has divided Mariachi music into two types: the authentic folk mariachi which consists of only string instruments and the commercial urban Mariachi which has changed the original music the mariachis played. The music was at first introduced by men; today, women mariachis have been on the rise. This came with the popularity of Mariachi music among the Mexican community living in the United States, which allowed women to be part of this cultural phenomenon. Still, the presence of women in Mariachi bands within Mexico's borders remains scarce.

See also



  • Chamorro Escalante, J Arturo - Mariachi Antiguo, Jarabe y Son - Guadalajara (2006) Secretaría de Cultra de Jalisco
  • Jáuregui, Jesús - El Mariachi. Símbolo Musical de México - México D.F. (2007) Taurus
mariachi in Danish: Mariachi
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mariachi in Russian: Мариачи
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