The History and Cultural Significance of Mariachi

April 3, 2024

Mariachi popular or mariachi campesino as it’s sometimes referred to in Jalisco, Mexico, has a rich history extending as far back as the 1500s. Thinking of the style today, we often think of mariachi moderno (modern mariachi) that became popular in the 1930- ‘50s, thanks to the development of radio and Mexican cinema. Before the Latin GRAMMY®-nominated Mariachi Herencia de México take the stage at their upcoming performance on Friday, April 13, 2024, learn more about the history and cultural significance of mariachi from UW-Oshkosh Director of Chicana/o and Latinx Studies, Juan Garcia Oyervides.

Purchase your tickets to the 7:30 p.m. performance here. Learn more about mariachi music in a pre-show discussion from 6:40-7:10 p.m. with the ensemble members moderated by Juan Garcia Oyervides. This event is free for Mariachi Herencia de México ticket holders with community support from Community First Credit Union.

Music is a wonderful way to connect people. Every time we share a theatrical event with someone else, there is a beautiful instant that comes with the end of each piece where audiences can recognize each other’s emotions as well as their own. We can also further appreciate the ways in which our differences become relevant and irrelevant.
Juan Garcia Oyervides - UW-Oshkosh Director of Chicana/o and Latinx Studies

As the inaugural director, Juan has multiple roles which include assembling an interdisciplinary academic program centering around the complex social/cultural realities, challenges and possibilities in the U.S. facing Latinx communities, including the chicana and chicano experience. This has led to the Wisconsin Mariachi’s Academia Popular Project, a series of free events taking place at UW-Oshkosh from March through April supported by the FCVP Arts Center. “This project invites the Fox Valley region to learn about the role mariachi music and culture have in our local communities, enjoy the music together, and engage with ongoing conversations about the emerging role of Mexican American arts in the region,” Juan remarked.

Historically, mariachi trios would perform at popular celebrations in their local communities including marriages, funerals and other religious events, often accompanied by dancers. “These traditional practices spread throughout the Spanish colonial territories of what was then called “New Spain,” yielding a vast repertoire of music that people continued to call mariachi, until the Mexican revolution in the early 20th century brought the music to the cities,” Juan shared. These historical events ultimately transformed mariachi into its modernized form we know today.

Two commonly established variants of mariachi tradition are the modern mariachi and the mariachi campesino or mariachi tradicional. The mariachi campesino form is still popular in smaller villages in Mexico. More recently, there’s been a renewed awareness for this art and some institutional efforts to recognize its contributions in Mexico. Modern mariachi is characterized by incorporating the trumpet and wearing the trajes de charro (clothing of the horseman), originally worn by hacendados (wealthy landowners) in Mexico. It showcased the landowners’ wealth and horse-riding skills, regardless of their ability to ride. “The traje de charro is a key element in recognizing real mariachi,” Juan shared. “It has become synonymous with the music itself.”

Mariachi music is unique in its ability to incorporate different musical traditions while remaining closely associated with mestizo Mexican identities. It has become one of the most salient symbols that people associate with Mexican culture. Today, modern mariachis with their charro attire are recognized as symbols of a global Mexican identity, in the U.S., Europe, Asia and South America.
Juan Garcia Oyervides - UW-Oshkosh Director of Chicana/o and Latinx Studies

Modern mariachi incorporates a wide variety of themes and tropes in musical stories, predominantly in Spanish, but this seems to be changing. Although more women are sharing and expanding modern mariachi, mariachi retains many stories told from the male perspective. “These stories are as different as the people that sing them,” Juan shared, “In recent conversations I have had with mariachi performers, they note a healthy abundance of love songs, expressing the bliss and the pain that comes with it. The tragic story of a hurt man because of his capacity for love, and the cold, cruel, yet beautiful woman are two common tropes.”

Mariachi Herencia de México is well established in the industry, continuously receiving critical acclaim. Audiences can expect an excellent performance from some of the best mariachi music anywhere. The group’s music is very energetic and progressive within the mariachi tradition.
Juan Garcia Oyervides - UW-Oshkosh Director of Chicana/o and Latinx Studies

Audiences will hear a couple of songs in English, as well as both male and female leading voices. “Performances like this are essential to maintaining the cultural wellbeing of any community,” Juan explained. “It allows us to come together to enjoy exceptional music and become participants where the musical landscape is changing. It is up to all of us who participate in this concert to make sure we actively engage and enjoy one of the most salient genres of Mexican and Mexican American music. This concert, like all forms of art, is an invitation to engage with the artists and each other.”

Written by Philomena Dorobek, Brand Storyteller
Fox Cities Performing Arts Center