Mariachi Music in Latin Culture

By Cathryn Fitzsimmons

What is Mariachi?

Mariachi is a genre of music that originates from 19th century Western Mexico. It is recognized for its multiple use of instruments, dances, and passionate singing. Mariachi is a style of music passed down from generation to generation of Hispanic history, known for its imprint of Mexican culture on today's society.


  • The name Mariachi is derived from the Spanish name of the wood used for making platforms for dancing on top of

Where can Mariachi be found Today?

Mariachi can be found everywhere, especially in main locations of Mexico such as cities in Jalisco and Chihuahua. It is played in the United States also, being mostly listened to in heavily hispanic populated areas such as Texas and Arizona.

Famous Mariachi Performers

History of Mariachi

Where did Mariachi Originate From?

Prior to the Spanish immigration to Mexico, most music was unified to a single instrument, such as rattles, drums, and flutes. However, when the first people began arriving from Spain, violins, guitars, harps, brass, and woodwind instruments were introduced, replacing most of the traditional noisemakers. Originally, these instruments were intended to be used for religious ceremonies, however, as the native Mexicans began learning how to play them, they often began to give them modified shapes and tunings. Eventually, the style of groupings and duets in music were introduced also by the Spanish, and so gave rise to a number of folk musical styles in Mexico. With European influences strongly encouraged and pronounced, natives began to preform these instruments to large crowds, similar to a play or theatre production. Many began hiring these forms of entertainment as it the Mariachi music style was popular among many people. However, after the Mexican Revolution, many employers had to let people go. Mariachi groups began to wander and play for a fee, which obliged them to incorporate other music into their arsenal, including waltzes and polkas. In the early 20th century, U.S., record companies began actively recording rural music in other parts of the world. One of these recordings by Columbia, Edison and Victor in 1908 became the first mariachi recordings. This style became popular within the Mexican population both in and out of the United States.
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Mariachi band from 1910, after the Mexican Revolution

Other Influences

Mariachi music was heavily influenced by

  • Celebratory traditions in Mexico which gave a certain mood to the songs
  • Immigrants from Spain into Mexico, as they brought multiple instruments that are key components in Mariachi music today
  • Jazz and Cuban music introduced the trumpet, which gave way to a large variation in style for the notes and sound of Mariachi music

Characteristics of Mariachi Music

What are the Main Characteristics of Music in Mariachi?

The components in Mariachi music often differ from artist to artist depending on the type of feeling they want to translate to their audience. However, the main characteristics of this music are that the sound has multiple layers of chords and instrument sounds, there is a vocalist, there is a steady, constant beat and rhythm, and serves both a utilitarian and an entertainment function.

Instruments Used in Mariachi

Main Vocals in Mariachi

There is no a lead singer in Mariachi; instead, everyone in the band does some sort of vocalization. Different members sing the lead in different songs. It is common practice to try to match the voice with the type of song that is being performed so that the emotion of the piece is conveyed in the most artistic way possible

Cultural Traditions Portrayed in Mariachi

  • Mariachi represents the cultural aspect of its origin place, Mexico. The vocalized parts of songs in Mariachi is most commonly spoken in Spanish, and the typical clothing style represents Mexico as well
  • Mariachi musicians preform at many traditional events, such as serenades and Quinceañeras
  • Influences from the Mexican American community in the United States heavily stress upon maintaining the cultural roots of the music, so as not to lose the sound of their herritage
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Traditional Mariachi clothing


  • Originally the Mariachi groups wore traditional rural costumes from Jalisco which consisted of cotton blankets and straw or palm leaf sombreros
  • Later, the style of the "charro”, or "Mexican Cowboy" was adapted, usually with a black short suit jacket with a decorative lasso pattern and riding boots

Connections From Mariachi to Dance

The most common dance in mariachi is "zapateado", which is a footwork from Spain. "Zapateado" includes rhythmic stomping of feet on top of a raised platform which often provides the percussive rhythm of mariachi music. The dance varies by region.


Another traditional type of dance associated with Mariachi is the "jarabe tapatío," or in English, more well known as the Mexican Hat Dance.

mariachi dancers

The Future of Mariachi Music

  • Mariachi music been maintaining a steady decline in popularity until the beginning of the 2000's, especially in the United States and other countries, but still is popular in Mexico, its place of origin
  • However, with more recent increase of immigration from Mexico, the declining Mariachi trend will hopefully make a comeback, as the music holds close to its ethnic roots, and is pressured to continue for its ever growing audience