Mexican Mariachi Music

Mariachi Band
••• A mariachi group. Blend Images / Jeremy Woodhouse / Getty

Mariachi music is the sound of Mexico. It is the musical accompaniment to the important moments in life. But what exactly is mariachi? A Mariachi band is a Mexican musical group consisting of four or more musicians that wear charro suits. Mariachi is said to have originated in the state of Jalisco, in the city of Cocula, near Guadalajara, as well as surrounding states of western Mexico. Mariachi is now popular throughout Mexico and the Southwest United States, and is considered representative of Mexican music and culture.

Mariachi was recognized by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2011. The listing cites that: "Mariachi music transmits values of respect for the natural heritage of the regions of Mexico and local history in the Spanish language and the different Indian languages of Western Mexico."

Origins of the Word Mariachi:

There are different theories as to the provenance of the word mariachi. Some say it comes from the French word mariage because it was the type of music played at weddings, other refute this theory (apparently the word was in use in Mexico before the French intervention in Mexico in the 1860s). Others claim that it comes from the native language Coca. In this language, a term similar to the word mariachi is used to refer to the type of wood that is used to make the platform on which musicians would stand to perform.

Mariachi Instruments:

The traditional mariachi band was made up of at least two violins, a guitar, a guitarrón (large bass guitar) and a vihuela (similar to a guitar but with a rounded back).

Nowadays mariachi bands also usually include trumpets, and sometimes a harp. One or more of the musicians also sing.

The Mariachi Costume:

Since the early 1900s the charro suit, or traje de charro has been worn by mariachis. A charro is a Mexican cowboy from the state of Jalisco. The charro suit that mariachis wear consists of a waist-length jacket, bow tie, fitted pants, short boots and a wide-brimmed sombrero.

The suits are elaborately decorated with silver or gold buttons and embroidered designs. According to legend, musicians began to wear this costume during the Porfiriato. Prior to that, they wore the plain clothing associated with campesinos or laborors, but president Porfirio Diaz wanted the musicians playing at an important event to wear something special, so they borrowed the costumes of a group of Mexican cowboys, thus starting the custom of mariachi bands dressing in the clothing typical of the charros. 

Where to Hear Mariachi Music:

You can hear mariachi music at almost any destination in Mexico, but two places that are famous for mariachis are the Plaza de los Mariachis in Guadalajara and Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City. In these plazas you will find itinerant mariachis that you can hire to play a few songs.

Mariachi Songs:

Hiring a mariachi band to perform a song or two for you is a great way to spend an evening. If you are in a plaza or a restaurant and there is a mariachi band performing, you can request a specific song. Here are a few song titles you might consider:

  • Las Mañanitas (if someone in your party is celebrating a birthday or other important event such as an anniversary)
  • Mexico Lindo y Querido
  • El Rey
  • Cielito Lindo
  • El Jarabe Tapatío