The History of the Mariachi
The Wedding of Musical Traditions
Prior to the arrival of Cortes the music of Mexico, played with rattles, drums, reed and clay flutes, and conch-shell horns, was an integral part of religious celebrations. Quickly, however, as Christianity spread, in many areas these instruments gave way to instruments imported by the Spanish: violins, guitars and harps, brass horns, and woodwinds. The Indian and mestizo musicians not only learned to play European instruments, but also to build their own, sometimes giving them shapes and tunings of their own invention.
Music and dance were important elements of Spanish theatrical productions, enormously popular throughout the Spanish speaking world during the colonial period. The typical Spanish theatrical orchestra of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries was comprised of violins (usually two), harp and guitars (or guitar variants). It was from this group that several of the most distinctive regional ensembles of Mexico developed, including the Mariachi.
Mariachi - What Does It Mean?
Musicologists and folklorists have argued for years over the origin of the word - Mariachi.
The explanation that appears most frequently - especially on record jackets and in travel brochures - is that it is a variation of the French word mariage, meaning wedding or marriage, and comes from the time in the nineteenth century when Maximillian, a Frenchman, was Emperor of Mexico. According to this myth the Mariachi was named by the French after the celebration with which it was most commonly associated. But this explanation, always regarded as highly doubtful by linguists, was totally discredited recently when a use of the word was found that predated the time when the French arrived in Mexico.
Currently, however, the best scholarly opinion is that the word mariachi has native roots. One theory is that it comes from...