The origins of the word "mariachi" are not very clear. One theory, that the word came from the French word for marriage has been totally discounted. Many historians believed that the word originated when a Frenchman named Maximillian was the emperor of Mexico. Evidence of the usage of the word dates back much earlier than the arrival of Europeans, so the word had to come from somewhere else. Another theory states that the origin came from the name of the wood used to make the guitars or platforms on which the musicians performed. The most recent theory, however, dates the word back to the early 1500’s to the Coca Indian word for a musician (Ruiz, 2002). Today, the term mariachi refers to the musicians who play traditional Mexican music on streets, at celebrations, and in cafes.
The history of the mariachi can be traced back to the sixteenth century and the days of the Spanish colonization. During this time, theatre was immensely popular. The instruments used in these theatrical productions included violins, guitars, and harps. It was to this time, and to these instruments, that the origins of the modern mariachi can be traced (Mexico, The Melting of Two Cultures, 1991).
The modern mariachi ensemble originated in the Mexican state of Jalisco where traveling groups of musicians would play for hire in haciendas. During the Mexican Revolution which began in 1910, they were unable to perform in the haciendas as they had in the past and were forced to travel from town to town singing about, and thus carrying news about, the war. During this time, they would play for fees at celebrations or for tips in public squares and cafes (Collins, 2004).
After the revolution, the music of the mariachi became a symbol of Mexican national pride. Many of the songs spoke of the heroes of the war and of the struggles of the commoners. The popularity of mariachi music continued to grow, and the populist president Lázaro Cárdenas, elected in 1934, further boosted their popularity with the Mexican elite (Sharp, 2004).
As more and more Mexicans came across the border to the U.S., they brought their traditions and culture with them. Mariachi was now a part of this culture all across Mexico. Mariachi music could be found in cafes and public squares all across the Southwest by the 1950’s. Today, it can still be heard in public venues in the Southwest, and it can also be heard at festivals and concerts all across the country. When Linda Ronstadt released an album of mariachi music in 1988, the genre reached nationwide popularity (Sharp, 2004).
Throughout its history, the mariachi and their music could be found just about anywhere in Mexico. In the early days, the mariachi were roving musicians with no musical training. Mariachi bands were made up primarily of men. Most of them couldn’t read music, but the groups were very skilled at blending their musical talents together. Before the revolution, they played for hire in haciendas, and...