As the song title says, South of the Border (down Mexico way…) is where a style of music originated called Mariachi. It is generally a joyous, happy, very rhythmic music immediately recognized as the sound of the Mariachi Band.
Early Mexican musicians were somewhat like the wondering minstrels of Western Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries. They traveled from town to town looking for work playing their music. If they were lucky enough to find work they sometimes made more than the average day laborer. Because they played for money they needed to change and add new styles to their repertoire. Consequently, they were always adding new material to their backlog of traditional music. Mariachi music encompassed the aspects of regional songs.
“The Mariachi is the sum of a cultural evolution that has taken place over the last century or so in Mexico,” says Camille Collins in her article, What is the Mariachi? The music often speaks of such cultural aspects as love, heroes, betrayal, death and machismo. As far as we know, the vast repertoire of Mariachi music is original Mexican, not of Spanish heritage. The criollos (Mexicans of Spanish decent) literally did away with all vestiges of Spanish occupation in Mexico. The average citizen strongly supported the Mariachi musicians and this unique style of Mexican music.
The Mariachi music we know today was developed in the 19th century in the southern part of the state of Jalisco in Mexico. Originally, the Mexican ensemble of folk musicians consisted of two violins, acoustic guitar, vihuela (a five-string high-pitched guitar), guitarron (a large bass guitar) and a Mexican folk harp. Later trumpets were added and became a very important element of contemporary Mariachi Bands, sometimes eclipsing the violins. The size of the ensemble varies.
When radio and television came on the scene a brand new audience was born for this popular style of music. This led to recording contracts that proved to be a financial boom for some. Motion pictures were another vehicle to expose this music to an accepting audience. They were a very popular element in the first Mexicans films.
The very festive contemporary dress is usually silver-studded charro (cowboy/horseman) embroidered costumes with large wide-brimmed sombreros (hats) and fancy boots.
Mariachi bands appear in almost every aspect of modern society. They play at festive holidays and parties; weddings; political campaigns; private serenades; commercial events; conventions and conferences, to name a few.
For many years Mariachi bands and their music have been part of the mainstream entertainment industry. If you are not familiar with this music, give it a try! I can almost guarantee you will like it. To quote Camille Collins, “The only thing more Mexican than tequila is the Mariachi and it seems a shame to have one without the other.”