What is mariachi, and why are they dressed like that?

What exactly is mariachi music? Just for a moment, let’s put aside the ocean breezes, the picturesque mountains and the warm and vibrant culture. One of the things that make Mexico such a romantic and enchanting destination is that is home to the mariachi. Mariachi is a musical performance group of typically 12 men but there are sometimes groups with fewer or more members. The instruments in a Mariachi ensemble are typically violins, trumpets, a classical guitar, a guitarron (large acoustic bass guitar), a vihuela (high- pitched, five-stringed guitar) and sometimes a harp. The performers dress in charro (Mexican horseman) outfits accented with silver and wear wide-brimmed hats.

The word  “mariachi” refers to a group of mariachi performers, a member of the group and the style of music. Although the exact birthplace of Mariachi is unknown, its origins trace back to Mexican western states such as Nayarit, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Colima, Aguascalientes and in particular, Jalisco.

Most people will tell you that mariachi music originated in Jalisco. With the arrival of Hernan Cortés in 1519 came professional musicians with instruments such as the vihuela and harp which were later used by mariachi. Natives had their own traditions but then quickly learned Spanish musical styles and practices. With the African slaves imported to Mexico in the colonial period, African music also played an important role in traditional mestizo folk music. Mariachi is an example of that blending of culture and music. Mariachi often play at special formal events such as weddings, quinceaoeras (a girl’s fifteenth birthday) and Mother’s Day celebrations. Because mariachi music and its lyrics are very romantic, they are often hired to serenade women. Prices of hiring mariachi vary but they are often quite expensive. As a result, mariachi trios are often hired to serenade women or for special occasions. Perhaps the two best-known venues for mariachi are Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City and Plaza de los Mariachis in Guadalajara.

If you want to see mariachi, you don’t  have to go to Mexico’s big cities. If you are planning a vacation to Mexico, Puerto Vallarta is a lovely beach destination located in the state of Jalisco on the Pacific coast. There are a number of mariachi groups in Puerto Vallarta and in the nearby city Nuevo Vallarta. In addition to its lovely weather, gorgeous beaches and warm people, the chance to enjoy a real mariachi performance is just one more reason to plan a trip to Mexico.

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