WORDS BY: Ariana Magdaleno
Growing up in the 1980s in the small town of Fellsmere, Florida, I distinctly remember Mexican music blasting from our huge stereo during the weekends. And it was the mariachi sound amongst the different musical genres that would make me feel nostalgia for my parents’ birthplace. This feeling would increase with the images of mariachis performing in the black and white movies from Mexico’s Golden Era of cinema. In these movies the lead actor would always take a mariachi serenade to his beloved in order to win her affections or would sing along with the mariachi in a cantina to cry the loss of his beloved. Nostalgia would then turn into excitement for me when a small mariachi band would perform at a wedding or other family gatherings. For many Mexican and other Latin American communities, the mariachi is emblematic of our deepest sentiments: happiness, love, sadness, and loss. A mariachi band is able to create these emotions by using a particular set of instrumental sounds.
The modern mariachi is composed of string instruments such as the guitar, the violin, the vihuela, the guitarrón, and sometimes the harp as well as a single brass instrument, the trumpet. Mariachi bands generally do not have a lead singer; instead, different members of the group will take turns singing depending on the vocal needs for a particular song. This combination of musical instruments and voices creates the rich sound we recognize today. A sound that makes us dance and, if we can, sing along. It is also a sound that we just want to enjoy. A mariachi band with distinct musical sound and its charro outfits demands our full participation. It is meant for enjoyment, it is for us to laugh, to smile, to cry, to mourn, and to sing. If we cannot however sing along or dance we can observe and appreciate the artistic performance of the mariachi ensemble.
The modern mariachi originates from the state of Jalisco that is located in Mexico’s western coast. Jalisco is home to mariachi bands and also to tequila and charrerías (a type of rodeo). It is the charros or Mexican horsemen that inspire the outfits we see mariachi ensembles wear. The mariachi outfit consists of a fitted short jacket, fitted pants, and wide sombreros that are made of rich material elaborately embroidered with thread, and many times with silver or golden hues. The charro suit will sometimes have silver or gold buttons that look like coins on both the pants and the jacket sleeves. These intricate suits capture our attention and compel us to unconsciously see and hear the nostalgic complexity of the mariachi.
A mariachi band brings exhilaration to any social event and especially to family gatherings where feelings of nostalgia, love, and everything in between are always present. When we think of a mariachi we think of joy, but when we hear a mariachi we are able to feel that and a lot more. A mariachi band with its distinct sound is a celebration and a reminder of every complex emotion we have ever felt and will at some point feel.