Mariachi is a genre of music that originated in the State of Jalisco, in Western Mexico. It is an integration of stringed instruments highly influenced by the cultural impacts of the historical development of Western Mexico. Throughout the history of mariachi, musicians have experimented with brass, wind, and percussion instruments. In addition, sociohistorical factors have influenced the repertoire in terms of the performance of diverse regional song forms as well as the evolution of the performance attire. Mariachi is important to the study of Mexican music because, as an ensemble created during the colonial period, it found its essence during the postcolonial era, blossomed during the nationalist era, and made a global impact during contemporary times. Throughout this development, particularly since the nationalist era, mariachi music has become emblematic of Mexican music by appropriating various Mexican regional song forms, experimenting in popular radio programs, appearing in the first Mexican films, and performing during presidential campaigns (Loza 1993, Turino 2003, Sheehy 2005, de la Mora 2006, Jáuregui 2007).
The term “Mariachi” is said to be an adaptation of the French word for marriage or wedding “mariage” as this type of musical formation used to play at such events. This traces from the 19th century during the reign of Maximilian I of Mexico (Archduke Maximilian of Austria) and the influence of Napoleon III over Mexico.
The mariachi ensemble generally consists of violins, trumpets, a classical guitar, a vihuela (a high-pitched, five-string guitar), a guitarrón (a large acoustic bass) and, on occasion, a harp or two. They dress in silver studded charro outfits with wide-brimmed hats. The original Mariachi were Mexican street musicians or buskers. Many mariachis are professional entertainers doing paid gigs in the mainstream entertainment industry. Professionals are normally skilled at more than one instrument, and they also sing. They sometimes accompany ranchera singers such as Vicente Fernandez or even pop star Luis Miguel. Although ranchera singers dress in a traje de charro (Charro suit), they are not mariachis. Besides the typical instrumentation, mariachi music, as well as many other forms of traditional Mexican music, is also noted for the grito mexicano, a yell that is done at musical interludes within a song, either by the musicians and/or the listening audience.