This past weekend my partners’ cousin celebrated his 20th birthday. As is our custom, every one had a great time! Good food, good company and to round it all off there were mariachis. As I watched the mariachis perform I got to thinking about what mariachis mean to Mexicans. The quintessential emblem of Mexico and all that it means to be Mexican, even those who aren’t crazy about the music appreciate what they represent. Known for their romantic lyrics and inflated sense of their own masculinity, their services have become indispensable to the serenading and “conquest” of girlfriends and sometimes boyfriends for generations. Their presence at Mexican weddings, Quinceañeras (15th birthday parties for girls, similar to a sweet 16 party), Mother’s day, Birthday parties is what lends an air of occasion and festivity. Most would agree that the absence of Mariachis at an important occasion would be unusual and make the occasion feel incomplete.

Originating in the Mexican state of Jalisco, Mariachis appropriated regional Mexican styles of music plus the European tradition of the troubadour and dressed it all up in the style of the Mexican charro (cowboy). The word “Mariachi” itself of unclear origin. Some say it is a corruption of the french words “Mariage” meaning wedding or “Marche” meaning walking. Linguists say however, that Mariachis existed long before the french presence in Mexico and note that it is a word belonging to the now extinct Coca language of central Jalisco, referring to the wood by which the platforms were constructed for the performances. Whatever the origin of the word, Mariachis have taken on cultural meaning and profound social significance and are loved and appreciated by many.

In my short time here in Mexico, I have found a few songs that I’ve claimed as my favorites. (Here, here and here and this one too!) With literally thousands of songs that are traditionally sung by mariachis to learn; I know I have my work cut out for me learning a few more by heart.

If you’re interested in seeing Mariachis live here in Mexico I recomend you visit Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City (Eje Central between Calle República de Honduras and Calle República de Peru, a few blocks north of the Palacio de Bellas Artes) or Plaza de los Mariachis in Guadalajara (Calzada Independencia between Javier Mina and Álvaro Obregón).

Have you seen Mariachis perform before? Do you have any favorite songs or memories?