La Historia/The History
Mariachi music was first passed down aurally. The songs were not written down, so parts were taught and learned by ear. Though many regions of Mexico developed a distinct sound, much of today’s mariachi music emerged during the 19th century from the Mexican state of Jalisco. But mariachi’s roots start even earlier than the 1800s.
When Spaniards arrived to Mexico in 1519, the Aztecs and other native peoples already had a highly developed musical culture. The American musicians played rattles, drums, reed and clay flutes, and conch shell horns. During their colonization, the Spanish brought their own instruments and music to Mexico. The Indian and European traditions began to mix, and the indigenous musicians learned to play the European instruments. They also began to build their own, sometimes altering the shape and tuning to create new instruments.
A third influence on mariachi music came when African slaves were brought to the Mexico coast in the 17th century. By 1775, the blending of the three musical traditions had become known as mestizo (mixed). Common mestizo ensembles included a harp, a violin or two, some form of guitar, and singing. Sometime in the 1800s, in the villages west of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, these musical groups became known as mariachi.
The principal music played by these mariachis was the son, the popular music of the day. The lyrics of the sones frequently describe country life; the songs depict the plants, animals and people of the region. Sometimes lyrics even use the courtship of farm animals as a metaphor for the romantic relationships of humans. The son from Jalisco is called the son jalisciense. Sones from other regions include the son jarocho or veracruzano, from the region around the Gulf port of Veracruz; and the son huasteco, from northeastern Mexico. The most famous example of the son jarocho is “La Bamba.” A typical son huasteco, also known as the huapango, is “La Malagueña.” There are some sones, such as “El Gusto,” which are common in all three regions and clearly date back to a common ancestor.
Los Instrumentos Musicales/Musical Instruments
Today, mariachi groups consist of at least five different instruments: the violin, the trumpet, the guitar, the vihuela (a high-pitched, five-string guitar) and the guitarrón (literally “large guitar”). The accordion can also be used. The violin provides the melody, or main line, of the song. A second violin, if used, plays harmony. Sometimes three violins play three different notes to make a complete chord. Trumpets strengthen the melody, and guitar, vihuela and guitarrón provide the rhythm.
El Baile/The Dance
Mariachi music is enjoyable for its auditory qualities, but it began as accompaniment for dancing. A regional dance developed along with the individual sound of each son. To dance the huapango, or huasteco, couples line up in opposing columns. Dancers keep their torsos still and upright as their feet perform rapid, intricate shuffling maneuvers. The huapango is sometimes performed with a glass of water on the head to show off the dancer’s upper body control.
The zapateado is another mariachi-connected dance that is performed with precision and intensity. The traditional dance technique originated in Spain and is associated with both son jalisciense and son jarocho music. Zapateado performers drive the heels of their shoes into the dance floor, pounding out swift, syncopated rhythms that add another percussion-like element to the music. The distinctive footwork of the zapateado is so vigorous it can reduce even the most sturdy dance floor to splinters.
Jarabe is another kind of music related to the son. In the 19th century, Guadalajaran music professor Jesús González Rubio composed a medley of danzas, jotas and polkas. The composition is called the Jarabe Tapatio—the Mexican Hat Dance. Since then the Jarabe Tapatio has become the national dance of Mexico.
La Ropa/The Clothing
Mariachi began as informal folk music to accompany dance, so early mariachi groups did not have specific uniforms. Sometimes groups wore regional costumes, but by the 1930s, mariachis were wearing the traje de charro, the classical outfit of the Mexican cowboy. The history of the charro suit can be traced back to the peasants of Salamanca and Andalucia, Spain, whose outfits were tight pants, shirt, jacket, boots and a hat. Later, aristocratic families added colors and other adornments for special occasions.
Today’s charro suits are usually black. There are two main types of trajes (suits); one has bontonaduras (shiny metal buttons) and the others are made with greca, or Greek design, a type of pattern of Mexican suede embroidery. Some of the most ornate and expensive suits use both bontonadurs and greca. The International Charro Association has guidelines for trajes de charro standards.
Mariachis of both genders wear the traje de charro to perform, though women can wear a skirt made to echo the tight charro pants. For the Mexican Hat Dance, male dancers wear the classic outfit of the charro while the women wear the china, a festive, brightly sequined skirt with a hand-woven shawl. Women also wear large bunches of silk flowers at the back of their heads where their hair has been drawn back from their faces.
Las Compañias/The Companies
Mariachi Monumental de América de Juan Jose Almaguer
Mariachi Monumental de América was founded in 1995 under the musical direction of Juan Jose Almaguer. Formerly known as Mariachi Sol de America de Juan Jose Almaguer, this fine mariachi ensemble dazzles audiences nation-wide with its impressive musicianship and elegant, youthful performances. A combination of versatile individual talent and a mutual passion for mariachi music coalesces the group’s energetic and professional shows. Mariachi Monumental de América provides an intense musical entertainment experience for the traditional, contemporary and classical tastes.
Mariachi Monumental de América has had the honor of sharing the stage with: Luis Miguel, Vicente Fernandez, Alejandro Fernandez, Juan Gabriel, Joan Sebastian, Pedro Fernandez, Ana Gabriel, Los Temerarios, Conjunto Primavera, Jaguares and many more. Mariachi Monumental de America has performed at the Latin American Film Festival, Plaza de la Raza Mariachi Showcase, Mariachi USA, Fiesta Broadway, and at mariachi conferences.
Ballet Folklórico Paso del Norte
Ballet Folklórico Paso del Norte returns to Popejoy Hall for its 11th Ovation Series showing. The company was founded in 1978 as an affiliate of El Paso Community College. Ballet Folklórico Paso del Norte just celebrated its 30th anniversary. Now an independent non-profit, the troupe has performed at many notable events, including the Texas Sesquicentennial Celebration and the inauguration of the Texas Games. The company has also performed at the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference and shared the stage with artists like Linda Ronstadt, Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, Mariachi Cobre and Mariachi Reyna De Los Angeles. The group was invited to perform for various Mexican governors, a unique honor for an American company. Ballet Folklorico Paso del Norte was also the first non-Mexican company invited to the Instituto Mexicano Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales in Mexico City.