Mariachi, the soul of Mexican music


Recently, the mariachi musical tradition was recognized as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. But do you know where this worldwide icon of Mexican culture was born?

Located in the Valles region of the state of Jalisco, Cocula is a famous town in the country because it was here where the musical proposal acclaimed by all and known as mariachi, the soul of the party in Mexico and the world, it was born.

During the pre-Hispanic era, in Coculán, the original name of Cocula, Jalisco; It is said that the Cocas Indians had such a fascination for music and a facility for sound reproduction that they played their rustic instruments with special love and passion to feel close to Cocolli and Teocáyatl, their main gods.

When the conquerors arrived in these lands, they noticed the musical facility of the Cocas indigenous, which theirs skills took advantage of to spread Christianity among the peoples of the region through songs performed by groups called “Guitarrones del Cerro” or “Mariachi”. They used flutes and drums to create their religious melodies.

Over time, the sounds of guitars and other Old-World instruments were added to these groups, which, combined with shells, flutes and other indigenous instruments, became a new musical discovery that little by little defined the style that later it was known as mariachi.

The new sound, product of the fusion between Europe and Mexico, began to be known as mariachi. Little by little, it was integrated into popular festivals through profane songs, such as seguidillas, tiranas or sevillanas.

By the time of Don Porfirio (Former Mexico President and dictator), the usual formation of a Mariachi was made up of violins, guitar, guitarrón and vihuela; these last two instruments had been replaced the double bass and the Spanish lute. At that time, Mexico had a fascination for all instumets from Europe, which made mariachi music considered only for “the populace”. However, when the Mexican Revolution occurred, the mariachi became a national pride.

Cirilo Marmolejo was born in Tecoaltiche, Jalisco, in 1890 and he was a Mexican guitarrón and vihuela player, a pioneer of mariachi music in Mexico. His group laid the foundations for the image of the marichis, which is known to this day, as it was the first ensemble of musicians to wear traditional mariachi clothing.

His mariachi was the first ensemble recorded to tour  in the United States, and were the first to add the sound of the trumpet to the lineup of classical instruments in mariachi music.

It was President Lázaro Cárdenas who sent Mariachi Vargas on tour throughout the country, taking the genre to the highest peak of its existence. In a short time, Mexican movies were in charge of turning mariachi into the favorite musical language of Mexico.

What does mariachi mean?

There are several theories about the origin of the word mariachi, however, the most accepted is that the word derives from the name that the indigenous people gave to the tables on which they danced while they played. The original name has unfortunately been lost, but it is believed that it may have originated from the tree from which they took the wood to make the wood boards.

Other versions says that it is a mestizo word made up of the name María and the Cocas words “Shi” and “Son”, which together say “In honor of María”, since the main intention with which the group known as mariachi, was to adore the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, presented to the natives in 1528 by Fray Miguel de Bolonia.

It was also thought that the word mariachi came from the French “mariage” which means “marriage”, because during the French occupation the Europeans used to hire musical groups to entertain at weddings; however, this has been denied because there is evidence of the existence of the word long before the arrival of France in Mexico.

There is a proposal that the word mariachi comes from the Mayan marreamchi, which means “Those who have my same blood”, “My relatives” or “Those who have my same spirit”. However, this theory is not official, and it is not certain that such a word exists in the maaya t’aan.

In the song “The Little Prince”

Juan Gabriel, the singer-songwriter wrote a beautiful homage to mariachi music and in his lyrics he says that the word mariachi means “holiday” in the Otomi language. There is no proof of this, but who would dare contradict the divo from Juárez?

Currently, mariachi means “Group of musicians who interpret Mexican songs and dress in the charro style.” Their repertoire is so vast that they play from sones to spice up a party, to romantic boleros to serenade.

Source: Mexico Desconocido