Mariachi in Cocula, Jalisco, in the 1930s
Excitement is running high as our new season kicks off on the Segerstrom Stage with American Mariachi (Sept. 7-Oct. 5), a joyful, big-hearted comedy with live mariachi music. This style of music and musical group performance dates back to at least the 18th century, where it evolved over time in the countryside of various regions of Western Mexico. With violins, guitars and harps, the mariachi groups were small and not typically known outside of regions where they performed.
The mariachi ensemble that is familiar to us today originated in the 19th century in the Mexican state of Jalisco in Cocula, referred to as “La Cuna del Mariachi” or “The Cradle of Mariachi.” In other areas such as Veracruz and Huasteca, the northeast region of the country, the ensemble evolved differently. By the end of the 19th century, the cocula or the vihuela, two violins, and the guitarrón (which replaced the harp) were considered the instruments of the mariachi.
From the 19th to the 20th century, migrations from rural areas into Guadalajara, along with the Mexican government’s cultural promotion gradually re-labeled it as Son style, with the name of “mariachi” being used for the urban form. The musical style began to take on national prominence in the first half of the 20th century, as it received radio play in the 1920s and was used in the promotion at presidential inaugurations. By the 1950s, the mariachi was becoming more orchestral but did not lose its traditional base. The classical guitar, two trumpets and more violins were added to make the ensemble able to play different styles other than the Son style.
In 2011, UNESCO recognized mariachi as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, joining six other entries on the Mexican list of that category.
Learn more about the history of mariachi in this Smithsonian Folkways Recording article and with this interactive “history of mariachi” timeline.
Learn more about American Mariachi and buy tickets.