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Everything You Need to Know About Mexican Mariachi Songs And Music

Read all about mariachi songs, their outfits, history, dancing, and more, and then see where you can experience a live band in Mexico.

It is more than likely that you have heard of mariachi music but what do you know about their songs, their origins, their cultural importance, and their dance? Before you book your suite and head to Mexico, some basic knowledge about Mexican mariachi is a must. 

So come along. I am going to give you a complete guide to mariachi music and everything that it can mean for you during your next escape. Within just a short time you might find yourself wearing a sombrero and singing “Ay Ay Ay!”

What instruments are in a mariachi band?

Mariachi bands generally have a standard array of instruments that they use but this has not always been the way. Back before the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico, the locals played mostly drums, horns, flutes, and rattles of various sorts. With the coming of European influences, however, violins, brass instruments, guitars, and various more commonly known instruments came into use by the locals.

Mariachi band playing the guitar in Mexico

By taking these instruments and making them right there in Mexico, the local indigenous population brought their own style and tone to the instruments that they played giving way to ranchero music. The Spanish arrival also brought the concept of musical groups which were soon also adopted and adapted. Pretty soon this would give rise to a type of Mexican folk group that could be found in various parts of the country.

Early on these bands would be very traditionally done by two or more people however more people in the banc became standard over time. By the mid 1900s it became normal for these groups to use a pair of trumpets alongside several violins, a tiny guitar called a vihuela and a huge bass guitar called a guitarron. However as time progressed and the music concepts evolved, several alterations have occurred to include all sorts of differing music styles that fit with the mariachi songs. 

Where did mariachi originate?

We all have a specific idea of what a mariachi band is but they looked very different when they started. Let's start at the beginning of this historical timeline. Mariachi groups were made up of mostly string instruments like guitars and violins and the outfits were that of simple peasants. Yes, instead of the elaborate and fancy attire that we know today they wore very basic white pants, shirts, and sandals.

Mariachi music was popular in the haciendas and was a frequent place of work for many Mexican musical groups. In its beginning towards the center west of the country, the music was referred to as “son” but a distinction came about as the bands grew and changed. 

Black and white photo of an old fashioned mariachi band

After the historical revolution in Mexico, a lot of mariachi bands lost their employment in the haciendas and instead became wandering groups who would travel and play for money. Because of this personalized play style, they had to begin incorporating other requested styles into their bands. Now instead of the traditional “son” in haciendas they were also playing polkas and waltzes in front of large public audiences.

This continued for some time, but by 1908 the first recordings were made and by the 1930s the mariachis that we recognize today had formed and developed into professional groups. Quickly the music style of mariachi bands had transformed from the widely known folk style into a world-renowned style that embellished the spirit of Mexico. 

With influences from the United States music industry on their doorstep new mariachi songs started to broaden their styles. But even then, modern mariachi players are requested to start with old-school pieces of music to lay the foundation for their skills. 

What is the Mexican mariachi outfit?

We mentioned the original mariachi outfit being very basic but as time continued so did the advances in mariachi style. In the 1920s what is commonly known as the Charro outfits came into play. This is the classic Mexican look that we are familiar with today.

Much of its design was inspired and influenced by cowboys of its time. The hats or sombreros, the ruffled shirts, jackets, pants, boots, and even spurs are all signature styles derived from cowboy attire. However, the simplistic version of these mariachi outfits soon took on more elaborate embellishments and additions to make these outfits more eye catching and usable as performance attire. 

Now from the sombrero all the way down to the boots you will find beautiful embroidered designs that make each mariachi group unique. 

Sombrero used as part of the mariachi outfit

How to dance to mariachi music

Does mariachi have a special dance that goes with it? Actually, yes! Though it is quite a complicated and stylistic one. It’s called Zapateado which is Spanish for a kind of Tap dance. When you see it you may liken it to a type of Flamenco based on the way they move and tap their feet on the floor.

There are other dances however that are not necessarily historically connected to this kind of music but are used nonetheless. A type of Folk Ballet in Mexico is sometimes used for mariachi songs and can become very elaborate in its performance. 

However, if you feel the rhythm and you want to dance your own style, there is nothing to say that you cannot do that too. Mariachi music is a lively rhythm that is meant to be enjoyed by all. 

Why is mariachi music important?

Mariachi music has become a surprising emblem of cultural heritage for many Mexicans. For many, it can be a proud part of their history and a well known representation of their origins. Not only is it culturally important but its lyrics also depict many topics that are important to Mexicans and other nationalities alike. Often they talk about home, their land, the natural things around them, strength of character, respect, and several types of love. 

In addition, mariachi can be a family value since the skills are often passed down the generations by teaching their children. These mariachi talents are then often used for festivals and cultural celebrations.

Where can you go to see a live mariachi band?

Now you know all about Mexican mariachi bands, music, history, and more, you may be inspired to go and find yourself an authentic mariachi show. Let me show you a couple of places where you may get to enjoy this music. 

Excellence Riviera Cancun

The first option is a contemporary resort in the Mexican Caribbean. Excellence Riviera Cancun, found along the shores of the Riviera Maya is a place where authentic styles, hacienda architecture, and exciting entertainment take hold. 

If you plan for the right time and check with the resort concierge beforehand, you could enjoy an incredible mariachi show right there in the comfort of your resort. 

Live mariachi music near Cancun

Xoximilco Tour

Another option is a 3-hour boat tour that is just over 10 minutes away from the Excellence Riviera Cancun resort which can also be organized with your resort concierge or by contacting Seasons Tours. This tour involves a ride on a beautiful Trajinera (Mexican boat) at night with elaborate decorations where you will be taken on an adventure of lively fiestas, mariachi music, flowers, drinks, and dinner. 

So, are you ready to experience some Mexican mariachi?

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