UNESCO Tips Its Hat To Mariachi

Dec 2, 2011 By Anita Ramachandran
Anita R's picture

Mariachi Real De Mexico

Last week, UNESCO named mariachi music from Mexico as an “intangible cultural heritage” in need of preservation. According to UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), “Mariachi is a traditional music and fundamental element of Mexican culture, transmitting values, heritage, history, and different Indian languages”.

Modern mariachi music includes a wide repertoire of songs from different regions of the country and musical genres. Today the mariachi tradition exists not only in Mexico but is popular among Latinos in the US, Central, and South America as well as in Paris.

Mexican music history

Mexican music before the arrival of the Spaniards was played with rattles, drums, reed, clay flutes, and conch-shell horns. With the arrival of the Conquistadors, many of these instruments gave way to imported Spanish instruments such as violins, guitars, harps, brass horns, and woodwinds. While the Indian musicians began playing these instruments, they modified the instruments from time to time to give them shapes and tunings of their own.

Music and dance are important elements of Spanish customs and these became enormously popular throughout the Spanish speaking world during the colonial period.

A typical mariachi group playing to celebrate the occasion

A Mariachi Ensemble

A typical Mariachi troupe includes 6 to 8 violins, 2 trumpets, guitar, vihuela - a round-backed guitar, guitarró – a deep-voiced guitar, and Mexican Harp. The combination of instruments gives the ensemble unique contrasting sounds – the heart and soul of mariachi music. The musicians wear traje de charro – suit of the horsemen including the characteristic sombrero, tight fitted wool pants, and short riding boots.

Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco state is the birthplace of mariachi.  At its very soul, mariachi music is the country music of Mexico and is part of special celebratory festivals such as courtship, marriages, baptisms, patriotic holidays, and even funerals. President Lázaro Cárdenas was instrumental in bringing Mariachi music to the mainstream in the 1930s. Since 1994, Jalisco hosts an annual international mariachi festival that draws more than 10,000 performers from as far away as Japan.

Mariachi – the name

The origin of the word Mariachi has been debated by musicologists and folklorists. Some think it is a variation of the French word “marriage” - meaning wedding. Maximillian, a Frenchman, was the Emperor of Mexico in the 19th century and is credited by some with naming the music following the celebrations during his time. Linguists believe the word originated before the arrival of the French in Mexico. They suggest mariachi refers to the wood used to make the platform on which the performers danced to the music of the village musicians.

Whatever the source of its name, Mariachi is one of the most exciting and enchanting musical ensembles found anywhere in the world.


4Bs's picture
4Bs March 17, 2016 - 3:36pm

I am not really into this kind of music but I kind of agree that traditional songs could get lost. But you know, the past is the past and it's best not to live in it.

JENNAH H_C's picture
JENNAH H_C May 17, 2012 - 11:14am

i luv luv luv luv mexican food and mariachi bands+music!

Rachel Catherine's picture
Rachel Catherine December 15, 2011 - 3:58pm
I live in New Mexico and Mariachi music is everywhere! I love it. It's really popular to have at weddings. You can hear it a lot in Mesilla, which is a town right outside of Las Cruces. Mesilla was part of Mexico for a long time, even after New Mexico territory became a state in 1912.
diamond's picture
diamond December 7, 2011 - 6:41pm
mariachi music sounds so peaceful i do not want it to be modernize it any more then it already has.
AnikaP's picture
AnikaP December 7, 2011 - 5:36pm

Mariachi music sounds... cool!

jacob5's picture
jacob5 December 7, 2011 - 10:55am

i know a mexican he lives next to me hes my friend.