Mariachi music: the most iconic songs for a romantic ‘serenata’

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Several things characterize Mexican culture, its distinctive and rich gastronomy, its joyous people, the amazing architecture (from pre-Hispanic times to today), its diverse and colorful crafts and arts, and of course its unique music, above all the iconic mariachi.

It’s almost impossible to picture Mexico without a set of musicians, all dressed in impressive charro attires, playing folkloric tunes, and besides being one of the most festive elements of every party, they have also become symbols of courtship in the form of romantic serenatas (serenades). What are their origins, and how have they gained such an important place in Mexican culture and romantic affairs? We’ll see right away.

Origins of the word Mariachi

Although the origins of the Mariachi genre aren’t that clear there are three versions of how this music was named. The first one is that the term comes from the indigenous people from Techaluta, Jalisco, who gave that name to the type of wooden floor where they perform their dances. The second theory is that the name is the joining of the name María, as in Virgin Mary, and the word ‘shi’ in the Coca language means song or music. This comes from the Coca tradition from Cocula, which celebrated the Inmaculada Concepción since colonial times. Lastly, the third theory claims that the term comes from the French word marriage. According to this theory, the French named this music like that because when they invaded the country during the Pastry War, they realized that this type of music was commonly played at weddings.

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History of the Mariachi genre

As with everything in Mexican culture, the origins of the mariachi genre are full of syncretism. It’s the merging of pre-Hispanic music and instruments used for festivities and rituals, mainly wind instruments, with Spanish instruments like guitars and violins. It’s dated that the first mariachi, similar to what we know today, appeared in the region of Cocula and Tecatitlán in the state of Jalisco. They used a ‘guitarrón’ (a large guitar) two violins, a vihuela (small guitar), and a flute-like instrument called chirimía. In the 19th century, the tradition of the mariachi arrived in Mexico City making it one of the most popular genres in the entire country.

During the Porfiriato, between the late 19th century and the early 20th century, Mariachi music was degraded since it was considered the music of the masses at a time when the elites were all about European culture, especially French traditions. However, Mariachi music was still played as the iconic music of weddings.

During the Mexican Revolution, the civil war that toppled Porfirio Díaz and his dictatorship, the Mariachi genre experienced a rebirth. This happened not only because the movement tried to exalt a Mexican patriotism, but also because music became one of the most important weapons of information throughout the country in the form of ‘corridos’ that narrated the battles and the status of the revolution.

Still, what would make Mariachi music the most iconic genre of the country was the movie industry in what is known as the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. During this time, hundreds of movies were made within a year, and most of them would exalt as well Mexican patriotism, especially the ranchero culture and with it, the Mariachi. Most of the movie legends and icons such as Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete became the faces of the genre popularizing and making the songs they interpret, Mexican anthems we all sing along with the traditional Mariachi bands.

The most iconic Mariachi songs

“Cien años” by Rubén Fuentes and Alberto Cervantes

“Volver, volver” by Fernando Z. Maldonado

“Deja que salga la luna” by José Alfredo Jiménez

“Hermoso cariño” by Fernando Z. Maldonado

“Si nos dejan” by José Alfredo Jiménez

“Entrega total” by Abelardo Pulido Buenrostro

“Bésame mucho” by Consuelito Velázquez

“Amanecí en tus brazos” by José Alfredo Jiménez

“El día que me quieras” by Carlos Gardel

“Qué bonito amor” by José Alfredo Jiménez

Photos from Shutterstock