The Beginning as Testament
Traditional Mexican Mariachi
While the exact origin of Mariachi is unknown, its roots having been continuously mutated and lost over time, studies show that Mariachi is a musical consequence of the Spanish colonization of Mexico.
The meaning of the word “Mariachi” itself continues to be a topic of discussion, though many people agree that it stems from a “Coca” word, indigenous Yuto-Azteca group, which can mean music or festivity. This word appears in documents pre-dating the French invasion, contradicting another theory that “Mariachi” originates from the French word “Mariage”.
When speaking of or listening to Mariachi, thoughts turn to tequila, cantinas, and Jalisco; and in effect, these elements are inseparable from the music in the films that made Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, and Mariachi itself famous. However, Mariachi wasn’t originally so strongly associated with such stereotypical images before it became famous through movies. Jalisco, one of the places where Mariachi emerged, made the music its own, developed it, commercialized it. But it wasn’t only here where Mariachi players existed; the style also emerged in Michoacan, Colima, Nayarit, and Zacatecas, with each place giving the genre its own style and tone.
From its origins to the popular style we know today, Mariachi has passed through many transformations. One of the first was the integration of the Mariachi dance, a “zapateado”, a tap dance with a rhythmic base performed on a wooden stage, which became fundamental to the music. There have also been changes in the instrumentation: in the beginning the groups had 4 to 6 “mariacheros” or Mariachi players, and in general the music was made using a “guitarra de golpe” (a kind of guitar), a “vihuela” (another kind of guitar), two violins, and a large harp. Over time, the original guitar type became the classical Spanish guitar, and later some groups exchanged the harp for a “guitarron”, (a kind of bass guitar).
Traditionally the musicians dressed in their normal work clothes, or ponchos. Once they formed their groups and started to hire themselves out for private performances, specific though simple ideas of dress or costume were defined and unified. But it wasn’t until the 1930s that the film world created the modern Mariachi image we know today, costuming the “mariacheros” as cowboys. Since then the costuming has become more luxurious, with silver adornments, and even pistols with cartridges.
Another important change that came with the passing of time is the number of musicians in the Mariachi groups, principally motivated by the incorporation of new instruments and the practical needs created by them. The popularization of Mariachi and the competition between groups gave way to the integration of the trumpet (said by many to stem from a whim by a film producer) at the beginning of the 1930s, and at the end of that same decade new importance was given to violins.
During the 1940s the trumpet continued to gain recognition, until it became indispensable to Mariachi itself. Pedro Infante, accompanied by the Mariachi of Juan Guitron, made what were possibly the first recordings of the genre with trumpets.
By the 1960s, inclusion of the trumpet had become widespread, and Mariachi had become a lucrative style attracting a wide variety of musicians. As a consequence, Mariachi adapted its rhythm, intonation, and feeling to the commercial needs and realities of the singer. This was the beginning of Mariachi’s conversion into a musical style as accompaniment, leaving aside its traditional rural origins.
Composers and arrangers made use of the Mariachi instrumentation to write diverse themes in unlikely genres like bolero, later to be interpreted by stars like Javier Solis, or Manuel Esperon, a composer of innumerable films who wrote Mariachi music and orchestrated refined arrangements.
In the 1970s, with all of these influences, Mariachi became what we know it as today, converted in its folkloric imagery, and representative of Mexico. This new Mariachi spread around the world, even taking on such seemingly divergent styles as The Beatles covers, and hosting concerts with entire orchestras.
The new generation of “mariacheros”, often symphony musicians who interpret Mexican music in popular Mariachi attire, play a sound far removed from the traditional music with a taste of the earlier years.
This disc is a testament to the songs sung by our grandparents in the fields, or in the town festivals. The album was recorded in-studio, but we have attempted to conserve the touch and spontaneity of the original style. The songs are interpreted with some variation in the instrumentation to exemplify the combinations of the past, including the “zapateado” and the inclusion of the trumpet.