Tone Color
Steady, even repetitive pulse in music
Pattern of sounds occurring one after the other in music
Patter of strong and weak sounds
musical tones as defined by their frequency, or note names (e.g. A,B,C.etc)
cycles per second
a sequence of notes played in a rythm
two or more notes played simultaneously
Highly skilled performer
Pleasing musical sounds
Clashing musical sounds
instruments in a piece of music
Pitch, Timbre, Dynamics, Melody, Harmony, Consonance, Dissonance
Beat/Pulse, Rhythm, Length
Dance, Entertain,Alter Mood, Identify, Unite People, Artistic Exression
Sounds organized by a person, Random/Natural sounds, Instrumentation, Meter,Form
Mariachi is a blending of 3 cultures:
Indigenous, European, African
Every human civilization in the history of mankind has had music:
music probably existed before language
African Music traits
non-pitched percussion, Often very complex rhythmically: “syncopated, “call and response” singing,African music and dance are very closely linked
Indigenous Music
• Many percussion instruments including teponaztli (log drum), coyolli (rattles, “maracas”), huehuetl (drum with animal skin over wood frame,• Also huilacapiztli (ocarina, flute), atecocoli (conch shell “trumpet”): both play very few pitches, so any melodies are very simple, no string instruments on this continent before Spanish arrived, • Music and dance are very closely linked, just like in African music, but Aztec is generally less syncopated than African music
European Music in the 1500’s (Renaissance)
Columbus sailed in 1492, but Hernan Cortes arrived in Veracruz—on the Eastern coast of what is now Mexico (on the Gulf of Mexico)—on Holy Thursday, 1519. Bernal Diaz wrote that Cortes always travelled with musicians: “there were 6 excellent musicians with him” when he arrived in Mexico
• Spanish soldiers were conquistadors—“conquerors”, soldiers—so they did not travel with their families (like the pilgrims did to New England). But many of them settled in the new world, so very quickly a “mixed” race of people emerged, called “mestizo”: these are the first Mexicans.
• 1521 Mexico City was conquered, and one of his soldier-musicians, Ortiz, was in that year already teaching dance and viola in Mexico City. We have reports of other music schools in Mexico City, Jalisco, Michoacan, Zacatecas from the 1500’s. Music was used to teach the indigenous and mestizo people Catholicism and Spanish, but they surely played secular music too.
• When mestizo people used the European instruments to play music in their own way—with indigenous and African inflections—this was the first mariachi music (even if it wasn’t yet called mariachi)
• Common European instruments in the 1500’s
– Guitar/Vihuela (different sizes, different numbers of strings)
– Violin/Viol (different sizes)
– Harp
– Voice
– Flute (recorder), various other wind instruments (similar to modern clarinet, oboe, trumpet, trombone, etc.)
– Some percussion instruments (non-pitched instruments such as drums, etc.), but these only used to support the other instruments (in the background). Percussion is not nearly as prominent in European music as in African and Indigenous American music
• European music usually sounds more “refined” than African and Indigenous
– Uses musical pitches that we are familiar with
– Somewhat simple rhythms (less syncopated)
– “Trained” voices (with a pure sound, not rough “folk” voices)
– Some European music was written down: music notation was invented first to preserve and disseminate sacred music, and only later was secular music (“popular music”) written down. NB: though the only written music from a time period may be sacred, this doesn’t mean that secular (“popular”) music didn’t exist
– Since this European music is written down, someone took the time to “compose” it: there is less improvisation, the music can be more well-crafted (but not necessarily more complex)
• Spanish Renaissance music had dances called “Tonadillas”—literally “tunes”— including “seguidillas”, “fandangos”, “zapateados”, and others
• These songs are often sung in “coplas” (couplets): short, rhyming phrases
• “Fandango” was a very popular dance in Spain in the 1500’s. In Mexico, the word “fandango” became synonymous with “fiesta” (party), for example they might say, “let’s dance a fandango”, or “let’s go to a fandango so we can dance.” Later, the words “mariachi” and “fandango” were interchangeable: both could refer to the music, the party, or even the musicians.
• Music and dance are often linked (like African and Indigenous music), but there are European traditions of music existing without dance: sacred music, and later professional “concert music” (you don’t dance in church, and you don’t get up and dance during a classical music concert)
When the cultures came together:
• Spanish Tonadillas collided with African and indigenous music – like the mestizo “mixed race” people in Mexico – to form the sones that exist today
• The word “son” is probably of African decent, either brought by African slaves or Spanish Moors (African Muslims in Spain), though many people say it comes from the Spanish sonido (“sound”) or cancion (“song”)
• Today there are different types of sones all over Latin America, and the son is one of the most important forms of music that mariachis play.
• The son has roots that go back long before Columbus—Spanish tonadillas, African music and Indigenous Mexican music—but the son is very different from all of these: it is a new music that was created in this hemisphere
• Sones (plural) are more syncopated and complex rhythmically than most other types of music from this time, usually alternating between and combining 3/4 and 6/8 time, and often use “call and response” singing: these are all traits common in African music
• Sones often have verses sung in “coplas”, or “couplets”, they often have different song sections like chorus/verse/interludes, and most sones feature guitars and other string instruments: these are all traits common in European music
Son jarocho (played by a “trio jarocho”)
Jarocho” means “from Veracruz”
• Uses harp as the main melody instrument, also requinto (5-string guitar, sometimes plays melody as well as chords/rhythm), jarana (a small, strumming guitar), singing
Son huasteco, also called “huapango” (played by a “trio huasteco”)
From the “huasteca” region of Mexico on the eastern coast along the gulf of Mexico: Tamaulipas, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Queretaro, Puebla, San Luis Potosi
• Uses 1 violin as the main melody instrument, plus jarana (small, strumming guitar), huapanguera (another type of guitar that can play bass and chords), singing
• Singers often use falsetto (“falsete”): cracking their voice, like yodeling
• Jarana plays “apagon” and “rasgueo” strums, “slapping/stopping” and “scratching/fanning” the strings to create other effects
Son Michoacano
From Michoacan
• Uses 1-2 violins as the main melody instrument(s), plus vihuela (small 5-string guitar), guitarra de golpe (another type of guitar), arpa grande (“big harp”), another person drumming on the harp with their hands, singing
Banda Sinaloense
From Sinaloa
• Grew out of military bands: mostly brass instruments (trumpets, trombones, tuba) and drums, also clarinets
• Very loud and aggressive
(in Chiapas)
• A percussion instrument from Africa, now tuned to European pitches, with bars arranged like keys on the piano
• One marimba is played by 2-3 people together, dividing up the musical functions: melody, base line, chords/rhythmic accompaniment
• They put paper over the resonators that vibrates, making a buzzing sound like a kazoo: most other marimbas do not have this
Musica Nortena
From northern Mexico, similar to what Americans call Tex-Mex music
• Grew out of the music brought by German people who moved to Texas/Northeastern Mexico starting in 1831
• In October of 1853, German Texans held a very large song festival, which was possibly the first “Oktoberfest” celebrations in the US
• Heavy use of the accordion, but also guitars, bass, drums and bouncy “polka” rhythms: the accordion and the polka come directly from Germany
Early Mariachi
Mariachi music existed in small, rural towns/ranches in Jalisco, Nayarit, Colima, Michoacan, Zacatecas, and other nearby states in western Mexico
• The first written mention of the word “mariachi” that we have found was in 1833: “Ignacio de Lollola was born in el Rancho Mariachi”, registered in the archives of the Santiago Ysquintla church near Tepic, Nayarit
• In 1836, “Maria Ramos was baptized in Santiago Ysquintla church at the age of 29, she is originally from Mariache.” This means that the Rancho Mariache probably existed since at least 1807 (the year she was born).
Early Mariachi
• There were at least 5 different ranchos called “Mariachi” registered in different parts of Mexico, mostly western Mexico in states near Jalisco
• The first known mention of the word “mariachi” referring to music was March 27, 1852: Cosme Santa Anna, in Rosamorada, Nayarit, wrote:
After completeing my divine duties in church on this “Sacred Saturday”, I found that in the plaza in front of that very church there were two fandangos, one gaming table and men on foot and horseback who were yelling at the top of their lungs as a result of having drunk so much wine—such a regrettable and disorderly scene! This is one of the most solemn days of the resurrection every year, we can only imagine how many crimes and excesses are being committed during these events, which generally in this part of the country are called “mariachis”… later, new musicians were brought in who created a fandango that lasted from Saturday through Monday.
• In 1895, the “Dictionary of Mexicanisms” defined “mariache” as: “fandango, dance of the people from the pueblo [small rural towns].”
To reiterate
A European music school was established in Zapotlan, Jalisco in 1533, and at least one other in Michoacan by 1580 (though there were other music schools in Mexico dating back to the 1520’s). Jalisco and Michoacan are in western Mexico, and this is the region where mariachi music appeared 300 years later: the Spanish taught their music and language to the native people/mestizos, then 300 years later these people had created their own music using Spanish instruments and song forms, mixing African rhythms and indigenous ideas. This is how mariachi was created.
Possible origins of the word “mariachi”
Originally “mariachi” meant “fiesta”, the same as “fandango”. It was also the name of several towns/ranches. Nobody knows for sure exactly where the word mariachi comes from comes from, but there are a few theories:
a few theories:
• The Cora Indians had words ending in “che” or “tze”, and the Spanish taught them music in praise of Catholic saints including La Virgen Maria. They might have called this music “Maria-che” music, which became “mariachi”
• The Coca Indians had a word “mariachi” that referred to a specific tree. This tree was cut down to form a platform that they would dance on. While dancing on the “mariachi” platform, they would play “mariachi” music.
• “Mitote” was an indigenous word that also meant “fiesta” or “celebration”. This could have eventually changed to “mariachi”
• NOTE: the French invaded Mexico in 1862, so mariachi definitely existed before then, meaning there is NO truth in the legend that the French brought “mariage” music to Mexico
Early mariachis did not have a standard instrumentation, anyone who had an instrument could play along and sing and dance with the music: folk music means everybody participates. Some regions or some towns preferred certain instruments over others, but it was not standardized
Common instruments in early mariachi:
Violins (usually 2 or more)
Guitarra de golpe (5-string, strummed guitar)
Arpa (harp)
Vihuela (5-string, strummed guitar)
Guitarron (6-string, plucked, bass guitar)
Voice (singing)
Stomping feet (“zapateado”)
FACTS (under Instrumentation)
• Early mariachi voices were very “folk-like”, unrefined
• Played mostly the “son jalisciense” and “jarabe”
• Once mariachis moved into Mexico City, all of this changed: smaller groups, they preferred to use only string instruments, the instrumentation did become standardized, the repertoire changed, the music became more “professional” and less “folk-like”
• The music was still used to unite people: mariachi musicians tried to “blend” all of their sounds together to form essentially “one sound”.
• Notably, at this time in Mexico City the trumpet was NOT welcome: most trumpet players could not blend in with a small group of string instruments (violins, acoustic guitars, maybe harp—all generally quieter instruments than the trumpet)
Cuarteto Coculense / Mariachi de Justo Villa
• From the town of Cocula, first mariachi to perform in Mexico City in1905
• Made first mariachi recordings in 1908
Mariachi Coculense de Cirilo Marmolejo
• From the town of Cocula
• First mariachi to establish themselves permanently in Mexico City (in Plaza Garibaldi)
• Went to the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933 and disbanded when they returned to Mexico
Mariachi Tapatio de Jose Marmolejo
• Jose Marmolejo was Cirilo’s nephew
• First mariachi to make a lot of recordings and appear in several movies accompanying famous singers
• Had a good trumpet player: Jesus Salazar
• The most successful mariachi in the 1930’s—the first mariachi to become famous across all across Mexico and internationally
Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan
• Founded by Gaspar Vargas in 1897, in the town called Tecalitlan, Jalisco
• Oldest known mariachi that is still active today (more than 115 years)
• Since the 1940’s, the most important and influential mariachi in the world
• “El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo” (“the best mariachi in the world”)
• Won mariachi contests in Guadalajara and Mexico City in early 1930’s
• Silvestre Vargas began to lead the group probably in the 1930’s
• Very reluctantly added a trumpet player in 1940
• Their first permanent trumpet player, Miguel Martinez, is considered the greatest mariachi trumpet player ever—certainly he was the first truly great mariachi trumpet player. He was 18 years old when he joined Vargas in 1940
• Ruben Fuentes joined Mariachi Vargas as a violinist in 1945, and had stopped playing in the group by 1955 to dedicate himself to writing music and directing Mariachi Vargas. He remains their Artistic Director today


the “modern mariachi” is an URBAN tradition (created in Mexico City), but it grew out of the rural tradition (small pueblos/ranchos). In the transition to the modern mariachi, these folk musicians had to adapt—to learn to play new kinds of music—so today the best mariachis are more “classically trained”, although they try to maintain their “folk music soul” (passion, style, energy, uniqueness)
The trumpet in mariachi
• Two competing mariachis in Mexico city in the 1940’s: Mariachi Tapatio and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan
• Tapatio was more successful, though Vargas was the “best” mariachi
• Tapatio sounded better on the radio and recordings because of their trumpet
• Under pressure from Emilio Azcarraga, the director of powerful radio station XEW, Vargas got a trumpet player
• After auditioning and rejecting the “best” trumpet players in Mexico City, they accepted the 18 year old (very young) Miguel Martinez because he was able to adapt his playing to match the rest of the mariachi
“La Epoca de Oro del Cine Mexicano” 1935-1960
• The first feature film with sound, or “talkie”, was the Jazz Singer in the United States, 1927
• First Mexican feature film with sound “Santa” in 1931
• At this time mariachis began to accompany singers more and more, appearing in many high-budget (Hollywood-style) movies which led to them playing more and more types of songs (for example newly-composed rancheras, boleros, huapangos, and others), they dressed better and became more professional in every way.
• NOTE: Mariachis argued bitterly over whether or not they “should” play boleros (and other types of music) because they are not from Mexico, and some mariachis felt they should only play Mexican music. But the popularity of these songs and movies across the country meant they were eventually accepted, creating the tradition of the “modern” mariachi
Manuel Esperon (1911-2011)
• He wrote music for more than 500 movies, also 947 songs
• The first to use mariachi along with the orchestra in many of these movies
• He helped make Jorge Negrete famous with his songs Ay Jalisco no te rajes, Estos altos de Jalisco, Alla en el rancho grande, Cocula, Tequila con limon, etc.
• Pedro Infante wanted to sing like Jorge Negrete, but Esperon convinced him to sing softer, more romantic, to develop his own style that is more intimate. He told him, “Jorge Negrete can sing a serenade to a girl on the eighth floor of a building and she can hear him just fine, but wouldn’t you rather whisper into a girl’s ear? You might even get a kiss from her.”
Ruben Fuentes (1926- )
• Joined Mariachi Vargas in 1945 as a violin player
• Soon began to write musical arrangements for them and became their Musical Director with control over all of the music they played—by 1955 he no longer played with Mariachi Vargas
• Became music director for RCA Victor in 1950’s, working with and writing for the greatest singers of all time
• He is considered to be responsible for defining the “modern” sound of mariachi, including using 2 or more trumpets, making the trumpets independent from the violins, adding other instruments to the mariachi for special effects (flutes, french horns, etc.), and generally treating the mariachi more seriously in the same way that classical composers treat the orchestra
• Silvestre Vargas was generally a traditionalist (he wanted mariachi to stay the same), but Ruben Fuentes was an innovator
• Remains Mariachi Vargas’ Musical Director today (almost 60 years)
First Solo Singers with Mariachi
• All were both actors and singers. Their acting affected how they sang.
• Most of these singers—especially the earlier ones—sounded more “classical” and “refined” than “folk-like”, and for this reason the singers in mariachis (the mariachi players themselves) began to sing with more refined, “classical” voices
• Later male singers are more “pop” sounding than “classical”: they have very unique (i.e. somewhat “strange-sounding”) voices that immediately catch your attention when you hear them on the radio
• Women singers have always had very strong, relatively low voices (altos, not sopranos) and have generally not sounded “trained” or “operatic”. Most have somewhat rough voices that “break” or “crack” to display emotion.
• They “acted” when they sang, making their performances very dramatic and expressive. Mariachis still sing this way today
First Solo Singers with Mariachi
• Their fame as actors helped make mariachi famous too: people went to the movies to see the actors, and they saw mariachis too
• They had training as singers — they were good singers — and this caused the mariachi musicians sing better too (imitating them)
• Mariachis had to learn to perform new repertoire, the new songs that movie composers composed for the movies, including different types of songs (no longer just playing old sones from their home town)
• Working in the movies caused mariachis to become more professional
– they dressed better, using traje charro
– they had to study to become better musicians (in order to learn new music quickly, and to play up to the standards of the movies)
– they needed to show up on time, work hard, etc.
First Solo Singers with Mariachi: 1940-50’s Lucha Reyes (1906-44)
• Sang mostly rancheras
• Strong, aggressive voice
• Sang La tequilera, El herradero, Por un amor
First Solo Singers with Mariachi: 1940-50’s Jorge Negrete (1911-53)
• Opera Singer, persuaded to return to Mexico to act and sing in movies
• Heavy, strong operatic voice
• Sang mostly rancheras
• Sang Mexico lindo y querido, Ay Jalisco no te rajes, Yo soy mexicano
First Solo Singers with Mariachi: 1940-50’s Pedro Infante (1917-57)
• The first to sing boleros with mariachi
• Lighter, more romantic voice than Jorge Negrete
• Sang Amorcito corazon, Cien anos
Next Generation of Solo Singers with Mariachi: 1950-60’s Miguel Aceves Mejia (1916-2006)
• The first to sing huapangos with mariachi (many of these were written by Ruben Fuentes)
• Had a very high, clear voice, he made singing falsetto famous in mariachi
• Was called “El Rey del Falsete” (“the king of falsetto”)
• Famous songs: La malaguena, El pastor
Next Generation of Solo Singers with Mariachi: 1950-60’s Javier Solis (1931-1966)
When Pedro Infante died, the studios needed someone to replace him: a romantic leading man who could sing romantic boleros with mariachi
• Javier Solis had a stronger, more dramatic voice than Pedro Infante, and everyone loved how he sounded singing boleros
• Solis became known as “El Rey del Bolero”. Pedro Infante was the first to sing boleros with mariachi, Javier Solis made the bolero even more famous, and his bolero recordings are still considered the best ever made today
• Frank Sinatra said “The best singer in the world today is Javier Solis”
• Pedro Infante was more of an actor who sang well, Javier Solis was more of a singer who appeared in movies
• Famous songs: Sombras, Payaso
Next Generation of Solo Singers with Mariachi: 1950-60’s Lola Beltran (1932-1996)
• Was a secretary at XEW radio station, she met composers, musicians, the owners, they heard her sing and that is how she broke into the business
• When she was young she had a very strong, clear voice, but she began to lose her voice as she got older: on some recordings she has a very raspy voice (sounds really bad!), but she was always VERY dramatic and emotional when she sang: even crying on stage.
• She is the most important female singer in the history of mariachi, called “Lola la Grande” (“Lola, the great one”) or “La Reina de la Cancion Ranchera” (“queen of ranchera songs”)
• Famous songs: Cucurrucucu Paloma, Paloma negra
• Made almost 40 movies in 1950-60’s
Next Generation of Solo Singers with Mariachi: 1950-60’s Jose Alfredo Jimenez (1926-1973)
• Equally famous for being a songwriter and singer
• He has a lower and rougher voice than most other male mariachi singers
• His singing voice is very “ordinary”: he sings just like he is speaking, you might listen to him and say “I could sing like that”
• Not particularly handsome, looks and sounds like a “regular guy”
• He wrote more than 1,000 songs
• His songs may seem very simple on the surface, but they are very heart-felt, they express the emotions that everyone feels in a direct way
• So people identify with him and his songs: they want to sing along with the songs, to express what they are feeling
• He has written more songs that are in the standard repertoire of mariachis than any other person: many other singers sing his songs
• Famous songs: El rey, Ella, Paloma querida, Amaneci en tus brazos
Next Generation of Solo Singers with Mariachi (1970-80’s) Vicente Fernandez (1940- )
The most famous mariachi singer ever
• Born in Jalisco, dropped out of school in 5th grade, worked many different small jobs (janitor, restaurants, etc.), began singing local contests and with strolling mariachis, appeared in some small television shows, auditioned for record companies, but always struggled
• When Javier Solis died in 1966, CBS/Sony records offered him a recording contract that same year
• Appeared in 31 movies from 1971-1991, then stopped acting, but he continues to record and tour as a singer
• Has a strong, high voice with a lot of personality, but he bragged that he never took singing lessons in his life
• Famous songs: El jalisciense, Volver volver, Por tu maldito amor
Next Generation of Solo Singers with Mariachi (1970-80’s)Juan Gabriel (1950- )
• Equally famous for being a songwriter and singer
• Has a unique, very high voice (sometimes sounds like a girl!)
• More of a “pop singer” voice, not at all a “classical” voice
• Spent years singing in restaurants and writing songs until signing a contract with RCA at 21 years old
• Written more than 1,000 songs, many other singers sing his songs as well
• Wrote many songs for singer Rocio Durcal, they also recorded together
• Famous songs: Querida, Amor Eterno
Next Generation of Solo Singers with Mariachi (1970-80’s)Linda Ronstadt (1946- )
• Born in Tucson, Arizona, has been very successful singing in many different styles throughout her life
• The Ronstadt family is very important in Tucson history, her great grandfather moved to Mexico from Germany in the 1840’s, married a Mexican woman then and settled in Tucson (which was then part of Mexico). Her father, Gilbert, sold horse-drawn wagons, owned the biggest hardware store in Tucson at the time, and he loved to sing Mexican songs with his family and in public concerts
• Is considered “the most successful female rock & roll singer in the 1970’s”, and has sold more than 100 million records world-wide
• Crossed over into country/rock, worked with The Eagles, recorded with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, sang on Broadway, recorded jazz with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, Cuban boleros, and had many other collaborations
• In 1986 she sang with Mariachi Vargas at the Tucson Mariachi Conference, then in 1987 she released the album “Canciones de mi Padre”, “My Father’s Songs” — produced by Ruben Fuentes, and using members of Mariachi Vargas and others
• This was the best mariachi arranger/producer in the world (Ruben Fuentes), the best mariachi musicians in the world, recorded in the best studios (in Los Angeles, using Linda’s studio/engineers), and Linda did a GREAT job emulating mariachi style. These are some of the best mariachi recordings ever made
• She wanted these recordings to be as traditional as possible, an homage to her father and to the great ranchera singers, especially Lola Beltran: the arrangements and her singing style are very old-fashioned, but the recording quality and the performances of the mariachi on the recordings are modern and first-rate
• Recorded “Mas Canciones” (“More Songs”) in 1991. Both won Grammys
• It is not a coincidence that mariachi programs in schools grew so much in the late 1980-90’s, after the conferences in San Antonio and Tucson, and after Linda’s US tours, appearances on television to promote Canciones de mi Padre
La cigarra
Rasgueo (or “golpe rasgueado”)
a slow guitar/vihuela strum, like “fanning” the strings. Used often in huapangos.
a noisy guitar/vihuela strum, slapping or “stopping” the strings. Used often in huapangos.
Singing with more than one note per syllable, which makes it difficult to understand the words (common in opera)
Singing with only one note per syllable, which makes it easier to understand the words (common in mariachi and pop songs)
high female voice
low female voice
High male voice
low male voice
anything that has existed for a long time and is still considered “great” today. Classic cars, classic movies, etc.
belongs to a long-standing and well-recognized tradition of art. European Classical Music is one tradition that goes back 500 years and includes some of the “best” music ever created, but there is also Indian Classical Music, people call jazz music “America’s Classical Music”, and many people are starting to call mariachi “Mexico’s Classical Music”.• Many Mexican songs are now considered “classics”, but some are even considered “classical” songs, meaning they are placed among the most beautiful and best songs ever written in any style, anywhere in the world: we put them alongside the best European songs and the best classical music written in the past 500 years.
Most Important “Classical” Mariachi Song Composers Agustin Lara 1897-1970
• Was “reborn” in Tlacotalpan after a near-death experience. He even acquired a new birth certificate with the birth date 1900 — you will find both dates
• His lifetime in Mexico was known as “the Golden Age of Song”
• Had may wives, said: “women were an inspiration that needed constant replenishing”
• He was known as “El Flaco de Oro”, had a big scar on his face from a jealous lover
• Visited Spain many times, was awarded honorary Spanish citizenship
• Wrote: Suite Espanola (Granada, Cuerdas de mi Guitarra, Silverio Perez, etc.), Solamente Una Vez, Noche de ronda, Maria Bonita
• Placido Domingo and other opera singers have sung many of his songs — many of them are considered some of the best songs ever written
Granada http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6IAn6NbbSc
Most Important “Classical” Mariachi Song Composers Maria Grever (1884-1951)
• People consider it an honor to sing her songs because they are so well crafted and in many cases very difficult to sing (only the best singers in the world are capable of singing them)
• 1949, at the height of her career, she received the “Medalla al Merito Civil” and the “Medalla del Corazon de Mexico”
• Wrote 860 songs, including: Jurame, Cuando vuelvo a tu lado, Despedida, Te quiero dijiste, Alma mia
Jurame http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-MCRbCKS-Y
Important Classical Composers Influenced by Mariachi Manuel M. Ponce (1882-1948)
• Classical composer, often called the father of Mexican Classical Music and the “creator of the modern Mexican song”, studied in the National Conservatory from 1901-1903, then went to study music in Italy and Germany. Returned to Mexico to teach at the National Conservatory in 1909.
• Wrote a lot of music that was inspired by Mexican folk music, but much of his music still sounded “European”
• Wrote Estrellita and La pajarera
Estrellita http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXgfjMAg0Ps
Important Classical Composers Influenced by Mariachi Carlos Chavez 1899-1978
• The first truly great Mexican composer, and probably the most important Mexican composer of all time
• The first person to write classical music with Mexican and indigenous themes, ideas, and instruments that truly sounded “Mexican” as opposed to sounding more “European” (Manuel M. Ponce wrote many Mexican pieces and songs, but in many ways they still sounded European)
• Became Director of the Orquesta Sinfonica Mexicana, and Director of the National Conservatory, teaching music composition, and influenced the next generation of Mexican composers. Founded publishing company Ediciones Mexicanas de Musica to publish Mexican classical music, and became director of Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, promoting all types of Mexican art
• Lived his later years in New York, teaching, conducting and composing
• Wrote Sinfonia India, Xochipilli: An Imagined Aztec Music, Chapultepec
Sinfonia India http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEJ40UlIweo
Important Classical Composers Influenced by Mariachi Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940)
• A very important Mexican composer who wrote very “modern” music inspired by Mexican folk music (and mariachi) but which distorts and re-works the original so that it sounds quite different
• Born the same year as Carlos Chavez, but began to compose later in life
• Studied violin at National Conservatory, Chavez invited him to be his assistant conductor of the Orquesta Sinfonica de Mexico from 1929-1935, and this is when he began to compose more seriously.
• Most famous pieces: 8 x Radio (8 musicians on the radio), Noche de los Maya (soundtrack to the movie), Sensemaya (you might have heard this in the movie “Sin City”)
8 X Radio http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkG_ngZ75E4
Important Classical Composers Influenced by Mariachi Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958)
• Less important than Chavez and Revueltas, but created some of the most recognizable Mexican Classical music
• Studied with Carlos Chavez in the National Conservatory, then played percussion in the Orquesta Sinfonica de Mexico
• Spent as much time conducting as composing
• Most important work called Huapango, written in 1941. Written for orchestra, based on 3 traditional huapangos
Huapango http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07-kvAU85wM
Important Classical Composers Influenced by Mariachi Blas Galindo (1910-1993)
• Studied with Carlos Chavez at National Conservatory, went to the Berkshire Music Festival with Moncayo, studied with Aaron Copland and others.
• Spent most of his career as a teacher and promoting concerts, not composing
• Most important work is Sones de Mariachi, which tried to make the orchestra sound as much like mariachi as possible
Sones de mariachi http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvEEfa81l0M
Important Classical Composers Influenced by Mariachi Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
One of the most important American composers, friend of Carlos Chavez
• His best known compositions include Fanfare For the Common Man, Appalachian Spring, “Hoedown” from his ballet Rodeo
• Wrote El Salon Mexico in 1936, very much in a “Mexican” style, after visiting Carlos Chavez in Mexico City.
• El Salon Mexico is obviously based on Mexican songs, but still sounds very much like Copland’s very “American-sounding” music
El Salon Mexico http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dD2szZViN-s
Other Important Mariachi Song Composers and Arrangers Tomas Mendez(1926-1995)
• One of the best and most important ranchera composers: has many “classic” mariachi songs, though not usually considered “classical” songs
• Worked at radio station XEW as an assistant producer and turning on the “applause” sign before becoming a songwriter—met Lola Beltran here
• He loved birds, wrote many songs about them (paloma = dove, gorrioncillo = little sparrow, golondrina = swallow, etc.)
• Most famous songs: Paloma Negra, Cucurrucucu paloma
Other Important Mariachi Song Composers and Arrangers Ernesto Cortazar and Manuel Esperon
• These two people together wrote many of the best early rancheras
• Wrote a lot for Jorge Negrete
• Wrote: Tequila con limon, Esos Altos de Jalisco, Ay Jalisco no te rajes
Son jalisciense
the original mariachi music, the most important type of song in early mariachi, and what that keeps mariachis connected to their roots today
Solo singer with generally “non-obtrusive” accompaniment
Ranchera Valseada
in the rhythm of a waltz, counted in 3
Ranchera Polkeada
in the rhythm of a polka, counted in 2
Ranchera Lenta
slow ranchera, counted in 4
tells a story (can be in 2 or 3)
came to Mexico from Cuba in the 1940s
Bolero Ranchero
Bolero Romantico
uses rasgueo and apagon manicos and often falsetto singing. Can be fast or slow, in major or minor keys
German dance, “bouncy” beat, in 2 (2-step dance), instrumental (no voices, just instruments)
Paso Doble
from Spain, bullfight music
Dance from Vienna, Austria, in 3, usually played by mariachis as an instrumental piece (without voices) but not always
from Venezuela, more “modern” sounding – first appeared in mariachi on Vargas’s “La Nueva Dimension” album 1968
from Columbia, dance music
taking music from a different genre (a different style of music) and playing that music with another ensemble. For example, taking classical music and playing it with a mariachi. There are two ways to do this:
1) Change the music to sound like the new ensemble (take a classical melody and make it “sound mariachi”)
2) Change the way the new ensemble plays to make it sound more like the original music (make the mariachi “sound like a symphony orchestra”)
Spanish Moors
African Muslims in Spain
MARIACHI IN THE US Natividad “Nati” Cano (1933- ) and Los Camperos de Nati Cano
• Born near Guadalajara, Jalisco, began to play vihuela professionally with his father and grandfather when he was 8 years old
• Studied violin at Academia de Musica in Guadalajara for 6 years
• Moved to Mexicali in 1950 (17 years old) to play with Mariachi Chapala, then to Los Angeles in 1959 to join Mariachi Aguila and perform at the famous “Million Dollar Theater”: night club/theater where they backed up Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Miguel Aceves Mejia, Javier Solis, Lola Beltran, etc.
• 1961 he became music director of Mariachi Aguila and changed their name to Los Camperos de Nati Cano
• Very much a musical perfectionist with a highly motivating personality, Los Camperos have always been one of the best and most “professional” mariachis in the world: Nati dressed the mariachi in more “flashy” trajes (white jackets!), added some choreography to performances, performed some American songs in addition to traditional mariachi, developed a great “mariachi show”
• 1969 opened La Fonda restaurant in Hollywood where they performed “dinner-shows” 5 nights per week for more than 40 years, leaving La Fonda in 2011
• Playing in La Fonda gave them a “steady gig” — the mariachi is a full-time job for the musicians — so Nati could rehearse with them and perfect their show on a regular basis. Every great mariachi has had some sort of steady work like this: otherwise the musicians have to work other places to support themselves, which will make the group sound less rehearsed
• Los Camperos de Nati Cano were the first important and influential mariachi based in the US, and they are widely recognized as one of the best mariachis in the world in spite of the fact that they are not based in Mexico
• Known for very strong playing (all instruments are very strong), great singing, and very professional behavior on stage (everyone stands the same, everyone has a big smile, they hold their violins at the same angle, they all move together when they move, etc.)
• They recorded about 6 or 7 albums, toured with Linda Ronstadt, they have been active in mariachi conferences, and are one of 3 groups featured every year at the Encuentro de Mariachi y la Charreria in Guadalajara
• 1989 Nati Cano received the “National Heritage Fellowship” from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor awarded in traditional arts in the US
• Nati Cano is retiring soon, and has passed the direction of Los Camperos to Jesus “Chuy” Guzman, violin/voice
MARIACHI IN THE US Mariachi Los Changuitos Feos (“The Ugly Little Monkeys”)
• Founded in 1964, in Tucson, by catholic priest Father Charles Rourke, to give cultural experiences to Hispanic youth
• Established as a “youth mariachi”, so when students graduate from high school they must leave the mariachi (they “graduate” from the mariachi): over nearly 50 years there have been many “generations” who have graduated from the mariachi, some former members have even joined Los Camperos de Nati Cano, Mariachi Sol de Mexico, Mariachi Cobre and others
• Recognized as the first youth mariachi in the US, they still exist today
• They use money raised from performances to give college scholarships to their students when they graduate: they have given scholarships to hundreds of students
• In 1971, several of the original members of Los Changuitos Feos graduated from high school, had to leave the Changuitos, then formed Mariachi Cobre (“cobre” means “copper” — Arizona is the “copper state”)
• Most important founding members are brothers Steve and Randy Carrillo (trumpet and guitarron): they are still the leaders of Mariachi Cobre today
• 1982 began performing 5 days per week at EPCOT Center in Florida (part of Disneyworld) and continue performing there today — this has been their “steady gig”, like La Fonda for Los Camperos, allowing them to perform together daily and rehearse regularly
• Mariachi Cobre is widely considered one of the top 3 mariachis in the US
• They are most known for having fantastic singers, led by Steve Carrillo
• They don’t have a strong arranger/composer that works with them (no Ruben Fuentes), so they usually perform traditional versions of traditional songs, but they do it VERY well, better than most mariachis.
• Or they perform some songs that most mariachis can’t play, that allow them to show off their exceptional singers (Estrellita, Granada, etc.)
• They also have performed with more American symphony orchestras than any other mariachi. Because of their connections with Disney they met several symphony orchestra conductors who invited them to perform with different orchestras, including Doc Severinsen (former band leader on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson) and Keith Lockhart (Boston Pops)
Mariachi Conferences
• 1979 first mariachi conference, held in San Antonio, Texas, organized by Juan and Belle Ortiz. Juan and Belle also had school-based mariachis since 1970.
• 1983 Tucson International Mariachi Conference (TIMC) began and continues to this day, started by Mariachi Cobre. TIMC contains an important educational component (in addition to concerts) where young mariachi students learn from master musicians: this has become the model for other mariachi conferences
• Because of these conferences, San Antonio and Tucson have been “centers” for mariachi education in the US since the mid-1980’s, with dozens of school-based mariachi programs (unlike Los Changuitos Feos, which is community-based)
• San Antonio programs have spread all over South Texas in 100 or more schools, including many of the small border towns. Tucson programs have not spread much to other parts of Arizona (Phoenix has some, but not as much as Tucson)
• Other cities have emulated these conferences, including Albuquerque and Las Cruces (New Mexico), Las Vegas (Nevada), Wenatchee (Washington), Chula Vista (California), and many others
• Other cities — especially Los Angeles — have had isolated school-based programs since the 1960’s (UCLA began a mariachi class in 1961), but San Antonio and Tucson were the first to have multiple strong programs, which is because of their conferences
Mariachi in Schools
• In the beginning, individual teachers had to fight to offer mariachi in their school. Many taught for free before and after school or on their lunch hour until proving that mariachi was worthy of being offered as a class-for-credit.
• The great success of mariachi in Tucson and San Antonio that blossomed in the 1980’s, continued and spread to other cities in the 1990’s, has now led administrators in school districts in other cities to implement similar programs
• These newer programs are said to be implemented from the “top down” — administrators decide to put mariachi in their schools, then they look for someone to teach it— whereas the earlier programs were started from the “bottom up” — teachers had to fight to convince administrations to allow them to teach mariachi
• Today we have more and more school-based mariachi programs starting, and a shortage of qualified mariachi teachers: most mariachi teachers are mariachi musicians who did not attend college (do not have a Music degree), or they are American music teachers who know very little about mariachi music
• UCLA has a strong “Ethnomusicology” department (study of non-Western music), and they started a mariachi ensemble in 1961
• Many other colleges and universities also have had mariachi ensembles for many years, including Arizona State (started in 1985), but Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California, was the first to offer a college degree in mariachi music in 2004 (Associate Degree in Music: Mariachi Specialization)
• At least 3 other schools in the US offer similar mariachi degrees now (including bachelor’s degrees), and several universities in Mexico are designing degrees
Demographics of Latinos in US
• Hispanics are expected to total 18% of US population by 2020
• Currently Arizona: 30%, California and Texas: 38%, New Mexico: 46%
• Phoenix and Tucson are both about 40% Hispanic
Benefits of Mariachi in schools
• Students benefit from all music education: skill building, teamwork, discipline, a great after-school/weekend activity, etc.
• Cultural benefit to Hispanic students: Children learn the music of their parents/grandparents, this is a benefit to the entire community
• Parents more engaged in their children’s education: come to more teacher’s conferences, come to concerts, may take more interest in their child’s school
• Mariachi fits well with traditional American ensembles (orchestra, band, choir), even better than some other “non-traditional” music ensembles (steel drums, guitar ensemble, gospel choir, etc.)
• Promotes the participation of women in mariachi: school-based mariachis are usually 50% male/female, unlike most professional mariachis
The US Influencing Mariachi in Mexico “Encuentro de Mariachi y la Charreria”
• Mariachi conference in Guadalajara, started in 1994
• Copied Tucson conference, but it is now bigger than any conference in US
• Usually about 50-60 mariachi groups from around the world participate (500-700 musicians), most from Mexico and a few from the US, but also Columbia, Cuba, Venezuela, Chile, France, Japan, Slovakia, Croatia, and other countries
The US Influencing Mariachi in Mexico Universities in Mexico recently starting mariachi programs/degrees
• Universidad de Guadalajara (U de G), Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara (UAG), Conservatorio Nacional in Mexico City — all begun after 2005 (Southwestern began offering their mariachi degree in 2004)
• Escuela de Mariachi Ollin Yoliztli founded in 2012 in Plaza Garibaldi: Ollin Yoliztli is a fairly large university, they opened a dedicated “School of Mariachi” in 2012 (like ASU has a “School of Music”)
Women in Mariachi
• Traditionally women would dance or sing “with” mariachi, but not play instruments “in” a mariachi ensemble
• When mariachis moved into Mexico City, they performed in bars/restaurants in Plaza Garibaldi late into the night or waited on the street to be hired to perform for private events — so “being a mariachi” meant “spending time in bars and on the street at night”. Many people felt it wasn’t “respectable” for women to do this
• But at least since the 1940’s, all-female mariachis have existed in Mexico: Mariachi Las Coronelas is the earliest known all-female mariachi, and by the 1950’s there were at least two others
• In the US, two all-female mariachis existed in the 1970’s: Mariachi Las Generales from Los Angeles and Mariachi Estrella from Topeka, Kansas. Both began by performing in church — avoiding the stigma associated with performing in bars and staying out late
• Despite these groups and other women performing with some mostly-male mariachis, no “show” mariachi, or virtuoso mariachi (such as Vargas, Camperos, etc.), had ever featured a female member — even though female solo singers have always been an important part of the modern mariachi (Lucha Reyes, etc.)
• In 1975, Rebecca Gonzales joined Los Camperos de Nati Cano and became the first woman to perform in a high-level, world-class, “show” mariachi. She is from San Jose, started playing in a mariachi there in 1972, then moved to LA within a year to perform with the UCLA student group “Mariachi Uclatlan”, and joined Los Camperos in 1975. Later played with Mariachi Cobre.
• Laura Sobrino also played in Mariachi Uclatlan in 1978 (having started with UC Santa Cruz student mariachi in 1975), then joined Mariachi Los Galleros de Pedro Rey in 1979 and Mariachi Sol de Mexico in 1986
• Rebecca Gonzales and Laura Sobrino are the most important women mariachi performers in the US, pioneering and “breaking the glass ceiling” for women after
All-Female Mariachis in the US • Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles
• Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles (“Queen of the Angels”, also based in Los Angeles) was formed in 1994 by Jose Hernandez (director of Mariachi Sol de Mexico). Their music reflects the unique sound and style of Jose Hernandez
All-Female Mariachis in the US • Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea
• Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea was founded in 1999. They have members with very diverse backgrounds (Cuban, African-American, Swiss, Japanese, etc.), and their music is very diverse too: they often perform with percussion and flute, allowing them to create very authentic versions of Cuban dance music (as well as traditional mariachi and other types of music). They also sing many songs in English, “cover” songs of American hits. Their recordings have been nominated for Grammys several times, and they won a Grammy for Best Regional Mexican Album in 2009. They perform at Disneyland in Los Angeles
All-Female Mariachis in the US • Mariachi Mujer 2000
• Mariachi Mujer 2000 was founded by Marisa Orduno and Laura Sobrino in 1999. Laura very much wants to prove that “the women are just as good as the men” in mariachi, so most of what they play is very traditional mariachi: it sounds just like the male groups, except they are all women singing
All-Female Mariachis in the US
• With proliferation of school-based mariachi programs, more and more women now play mariachi: most school-based mariachis are roughly 50/50 guys/girls
• But most top “show” mariachis are still all-male, or now all-female: why? Is this good or bad? Do you prefer “integrated” mariachis, or all-male and all-female?
Other important people to mariachi in the US Mark Fogelquist
• Began playing in Mariachi Uclatlan in 1960’s, then became their student/ director, and director of a professional “spinoff” of the student mariachi
Other important people to mariachi in the US Jonathan Clark
• Began playing guitarron in San Jose, then moved to Mexico City to learn more
• Was offered small jobs performing, enough to pay his rent week-to-week, and ended up staying in Mexico City (living near Plaza Garibaldi) for 11 years
• Has a large collection of historical photographs and recorded interviews with the most important mariachi musicians in the 20th century
• When the pueblo Tecalitlan decided to create a museum honoring Mariachi Vargas, Ruben Fuentes said “go talk to Jon, he knows more about our history than anyone else”: he is the curator of the Mariachi Vargas museum in Tecalitlan
Other important people to mariachi in the US Daniel Sheehy
• Began playing with Mariachi Uclatlan in 1960’s
• Curator of Smithsonian Folkways
• Wrote the book “Mariachi Music in America”
Other important people to mariachi in the US Juan and Belle Ortiz (husband and wife)
• Teachers in San Antonio
• Began San Antonio mariachi conference in 1979
• Juan directs Mariachi Campanas de America — combining Tex-Mex with mariachi (using drum set, saxophones, trombones)
• Belle created the first school-based mariachi in Texas in 1970: after teaching choir for more than 10 years they finally allowed her to teach mariachi
Three Aesthetics in Mariachi Music Today
1. Perfectionist (or “traditionalist”)
2. Modernist
3. Constructionist
Perfectionist (or “traditionalist”):
believe in performing “traditional” mariachi music as perfectly as possible but essentially without changing it — just “perfecting” it. These mariachis will play the same songs (and the same versions of those songs) as other mariachis, but they try to play them as well as possible. “Preserve the mariachi tradition and raise the standards of mariachi”.
believe in seeking out new music to perform with mariachi or new ways of performing traditional mariachi music, just as “modern artists” try to create “new art” that is completely different from anything that has been done before. “Be on the cutting edge of mariachi”.
believe in creating new music which is clearly in keeping with “traditional” mariachi, such as writing new songs that sound 100% pure mariachi, creating new music without breaking with the established tradition. “Enlarging the tradition of mariachi”.
Important Modern Mariachis Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan
• Since 1950’s they have been considered “El mejor mariachi del mundo” (“The best mariachi in the world”)
• Ruben Fuentes has controlled all of the music they’ve played since then, though he often hired other people to write under his supervision. He is close to 90 years old today and still in control behind the scenes
Important Modern Mariachis Other Important Mariachi Vargas Musicians/Arrangers
• Jesus Rodriguez de Hijar joined Mariachi Vargas in 1955 as first violin and their on-stage music director when Ruben Fuentes stopped playing. He wrote many musical arrangements for Vargas before leaving and founding Mariachi de America de Jesus Rodriguez de Hijar in 1975
• Rigoberto Alfaro was guitar player for Vargas and another very good musical arranger for them for many years. He wrote many arrangements for Vicente Fernandez, Jose Alfredo Jimenez and others (wrote the musical arrangements for El rey, De que manera te olvido, many others)
• Jose “Pepe” Martinez joined Mariachi Vargas in 1975 and became first violin/on-stage music director when Jesus Rodriguez de Hijar stepped down. Since then he has been the “face” of Mariachi Vargas: a very charismatic, dynamic performer, with a big smile and always out in front of the mariachi when they are on stage. He has written many of the most popular and emblematic arrangements and original songs that Mariachi Vargas has recorded over the past 40 years
• Important recording: La Nueva Dimension, 1968, had the songs La Bikina and La Gruta, using the “joropo” rhythm from Venezuela and very modern harmonies (like jazz music) new to mariachi. Some people say this album marks the beginning of mariachi becoming “too modern”, but most recognize it as a landmark recording that opened the door to new sounds and capabilities of mariachis forever. Regardless, this is an historic and groundbreaking recording.
• Jesus Rodriguez de Hijar and Rigoberto Alfaro co-composed La Bikina, La Gruta and a few other similar songs around the same time, together with Ruben Fuentes. Rigoberto and Jesus were probably more responsible for writing these songs and inventing this new style, but Ruben sometimes receives more credit because he was in charge of the group at the time.
• Important recording: Mexicanisimo, 1986, featuring Violin Huapango
• Important recording: El Mariachi, 1989, featuring Viva Veracruz
• Important recording: En Concierto, 1989, featuring Huapango de Moncayo, La boda de Luis Alonso, Carmen, etc. (transcriptions of classical music)
• Important recording: La Fiesta del Mariachi, 1994, featuring El viajero, La fiesta del mariachi, Viva Veracruz II
• Recently Mariachi Vargas has become somewhat more traditional, less “modern”. They are primarily a Constructionist mariachi today, though they began as a purely Traditionalist mariachi (before 1950), and from 1950-2000 they were perhaps the most Modernist mariachi. They are without question the most important mariachi in history.
• No other mariachi has shaped the world of mariachi more: when Mariachi Vargas records something new, every mariachi in the world knows, and if they like it they immediately begin to imitate them.
Important Modern Mariachis Mariachi Cobre
• Performs very traditional mariachi music, but extremely well. They are one of the most purely “Perfectionist” mariachis today.
Important Modern Mariachis Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano
• Nati Cano was very “Modernist” when he was young (recording Hello Dolly and catering to American audiences in LA), but he has become an outspoken critic of modernist mariachis, now saying we should “preserve the tradition” of mariachi
• But they still contribute new arrangements of Mexican songs, so they are more a blend of “Constructionist” and “Perfectionist” mariachi today.
Important Modern Mariachis Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez
• Based in Los Angeles, founded in 1981 by Jose Hernandez
• Jose is the youngest of 8 children, 5 generations of mariachi (back to 1879)
• Two of his brothers, Crescencio “Chencho” Hernandez and Pedro Rey, played trumpet briefly with Mariachi Vargas in the 1960’s. They were great trumpet players: Jose grew up with some of the best mariachis in the world
• Jose opened Cielito Lindo restaurant in South El Monte (near LA) in 1986, and Sol de Mexico has played there 5 days per week ever since
• Jose founded Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles (all female mariachi) in 1994
• Jose is a great trumpet player and mariachi arranger who is known for the high quality of his “modern-sounding” arrangements. His musical vision is what sets his mariachi apart from all of the others today. Some consider his style too “flashy” or “Hollywood-style”. But it is unique and very influential. They are second only to Mariachi Vargas in their influence on other mariachis (a lot of mariachis try to copy the “Sol de Mexico sound”).
• El rey de la huasteca is their biggest traditional-mariachi song: it is an original, new-sounding but still traditional mariachi piece
• Sol de Mexico is best known for performing other styles of music with mariachi, including New York, New York (Jose sings it in English), Recordando a Glen Miller (jazz music), Acapulco Girls (with the Beach Boys).
• They are considered the most important “Modernist” mariachi today.
The Best in the World?
• Most people consider Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan and Mariachi Sol de Mexico the top mariachis in the world, though many put Los Camperos in that category too, and there are one or two in Guadalajara today that are rivaling them both: Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan (directed by Pepe Martinez’s nephews!) and Mariachi Internacional de Guadalajara.
• At this point the question of “who is best?” partly comes down to personal taste: some people prefer traditional (old-fashioned) sound, some people prefer modern and new sounds. The top mariachis in the world all play and sing amazingly — how do they differentiate themselves from the others?
• The next question is, how influential have they been? In this way, it is clear that Vargas and Sol de Mexico are #1 and 2. Los Camperos and Cobre have been very influential too — pioneering mariachi in the US and leading the best mariachi conferences — but they simply haven’t created as much of their own music as Sol and Vargas have: they perform extremely well, but haven’t influenced many other mariachis to play in a “Cobre/Camperos style”. So they have had less impact on mariachi music than Vargas and Sol. The other two mariachis in Guadalajara are so new (last 10-15 years) that they haven’t had the chance to rival Vargas and Sol in this way yet. And even Mariachi Sol de Mexico has had far less impact than Vargas if you consider everything they have done in the past 80 years, though many people will argue that Sol has had even more impact than Vargas in the past 20 years.