What is Mariachi?
Mariachi is easily accepted as a dominant cultural symbol of Mexico and Mexican identity. The history of modern Mariachi can be traced to the 1920s and 30s in Mexico City. The word Mariachi refers to a genre of music, which is said to have originated in rural mestizo communities in Mexico. Mariachi also refers to a type of ensemble, today typically composed of violins, guitars, vihuelas, guitarrón, and trumpets. At the same time Mariachi refers to a member of this group. Mariachi musicians and ensembles have together formed their own community, their own culture, where the language of the music is best understood. Mariachis is an identity that carries great value to all of them. As a symbol, a musical genre, a culture, and an identity, modern Mariachi spread in Mexico and has grown to become a source of pride for people across the world.
The ensembles prior to the 1900s who were associated with Mariachi had different types of intrumentations, songs, vestures, and regional affiliation; these differences make the identification of what was Mariachi difficult. However, the word Mariachi has been documented in writings as early as 1852. Furthermore, there are many identifiable regions in Mexico where Mariachi was present in those early years. Today those regions would comprise the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, and Michoacán, as well as some parts of Sinaloa, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato and Guerrero. This list alone exemplifies the great breadth of Mariachi representations prior to the 1900s. Early recordings of Mariachi such as the one in the video to the right were primarily composed of string instruments like the violin, guitarra de golpe, and the harp.
Mariachi in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema
The popularization of the modern Mariachi can be attributed in large part to the success of Mexican cinema beginning with the film Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936). The Mexican cinematic industry experienced a boom during the late 1930s and through the 1950s. It was around this time that a new movie genre emerged: la comedia ranchera. These films depicted a rural ranch life weaved with romantic comedy and popular music, primarily represented by Mariachi. They fell in line with the government efforts to unify the country after the revolutionary war, promoting a shared past and sense of belonging for all Mexicans. It was in these films that the image of the singing charro and his Mariachi was developed and popularized.
Mariachi in the United States
Mexican Mariachi reached great audiences throughout the world and particularly in the United States given the long and historic ties between the two countries. Early on people in the U.S. were drawn to the theaters for films depicting Mariachis, as well as for Mariachi performances. The growing popularity of Mariachi in the U.S. in these early years is best exemplified by Mariachi Coculense de Cirilo Marmolejo’s performance at the 1933-1934 Chicago World’s Fair and the popularity of the original Mexican comedia ranchera, Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936), the first Mexican film to be released in the U.S. with English subtitles. Today there are Mariachi ensembles across the country. Some of the most renowned Mariachi ensembles in the world are based in the United States. Groups like Mariachi Los Camperos, Mariachi Sol de Mexico, Mariachi Mujer Dos Mil, Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, and Mariachi Divas, just to name a few, have all performed in large Mariachi Festivals, at the White House, the Million Dollar Theater, and in 2008 Mariachi Mujer Dos Mil was selected to perform at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, an incredible accomplishment that highlights the presence, popularity, and success of Mariachis in the world.
Women in Mariachi
The performance of Mariachi Mujer Dos Mil at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic opening ceremony signals the established presence of women in Mariachi. The history of Mariachi documented by early scholars and in popular discourse has propelled an image of Mariachi as male dominated. However, the work of incredible female Mariachi scholars like Leticia Soto Flores, Laura Sobrino, Leonor Xóchitl Pérez, Cándida F. Jáquez, Cynthia Reifler Flores and others, has made great strides in documenting the history and presence of the female Mariachi musicians since the 1920s. All-female groups have been identified as early as 1948 in Mexico with the founding of Mariachi Las Adelitas and 1964 in the United States. However, the earliest recount of a woman Mariachi musician is of Doña Rosa Quirino (1891-1969) whose story, as told by her daughter, documents her participation in a Mariachi ensemble as a violinist in 1920. Among the all-female Mariachis in the United States it was the honor of Mariachi Las Rancheritas (1964-1980) to perform for the troops on duty during the Vietnam War. This is an incredible event in the history of women in Mariachi that thankfully has documented keepsakes that were collected and displayed years later on the mujeresenelmariachi.com website.
Mariachi: Present and Proud
Today Mariachi music is a symbol of pride and honor for countless people across the world. Mariachi musicians are validated every time they put on their traje de charro and step in front of an enthusiastic audience. Currently there are Mariachis present in practically all the countries in the Americas. The Encuentro Internacional del Mariachi y la Charrería held in Guadalajara, Jalisco since its founding in 1994 has highlighted the presence of these Mariachis from countless countries in the Americas and in countries all over the world. They have welcomed Mariachis from over 20 different countries including Ecuador, Colombia, Australia, Canada, France, Croatia, Cuba, and many others. In 2011, Mariachi was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. Mariachi musicians carry the responsibility and privilege of representing this highly beloved, highly recognized, honorable art form. Audiences across the world are tasked to respect and delight in the wonders of Mariachi. In the hearts of millions across the world Mariachi is present and proud.
- This section was written and compiled by Silvina Hernández (Brown class of 2017).
- Gurza, Agustín. “‘Allá En El Rancho Grande:’ The Song, the Movie, and the Dawn of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema.” The Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings. Last modified November 1, 2016. http://frontera.library.ucla.edu/blog/2016/11/%E2%80%9Call%C3%A1-en-el-rancho-grande%E2%80%9D-song-movie-and-dawn-golden-age-mexican-cinema.
- Henriques, Donald. “Performing Nationalism: Mariachi, Media and the Transformation of a Tradition (1920-1942).” PhD diss., University of Texas at Austin, 2006.
- Nevin, Jeff. Virtouso Mariachi. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2002.
- Osegueda, Mike. "Fresnan to perform mariachi music at Olympic ceremony.” The Fresno Bee. Last Modified August 08, 2008. http://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/122742FDB6E30680?p=WORLDNEWS.
- Sheehy, Daniel. Mariachi Music In America: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
- Sobrino, Laura and Leonor Xóchitl Pérez. “Las Rancheritas Y Su Mariachi.” Mujeres En El Mariachi. Accessed May 15, 2017. http://www.mujeresenelmariachi.com/usa.
- Soto Flores, Leticia. “How Musical is Woman?: Performing Gender in Mariachi Music.” PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 2015.