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Mexico’s Very Musical Mariachis

Mariachi Band in Guadalajara, Mexico
Credit: Judy King

I’m a sucker for a band. I’m equally enthusiastic about a high school band’s rendition of a Sousa march or the 76 Trombones grand finale number from “The Music Man.” So, It’s no surprise that I fell instantly and totally in love with the music of Mexico’s very musical mariachis on my visit to Guadalajara in 1990.

Ten elegantly attired, handsome musicians should catch the attention of tourists, but it was the music – polished, professional and poignant – that went straight to my heart and soul.

Nothing conveys the image and diversity of Mexico more completely than mariachi music. The love of mariachi’s traditional songs has passed from father to son for generations here in Jalisco where the genre was born on the haciendas centuries ago. The five violins, two trumpets and three guitars in graduated sizes from the small vihuela to the guitarron (bass in guitar form) blend in distinctive perfection – in 30 countries around the world.

If a trip to Guadalajara is in your future, plan it around the International Convention of Mariachi and Charrería  (Mexico’s unique national rodeo-like sport). During the city’s annual August convention of mariachi musicians, students, teachers, artists, fans and lecturers, thousands of mariachi performers and enthusiasts fill the plazas, theaters and streets of Guadalajara for the city’s most colorful celebration of music, art and folkloric dance.

Mexico’s top mariachi groups and many of the country’s best singers are featured in nightly performances at the Teatro Degollado where the skill of the musicians and their silver decorative buttons compete with the theater’s European-style baroque interior for the audience’s attention.

Tickets cost from US$30 to US$130 for the galas. If they are sold out, another favorite event is the Mariachi Mass on Sunday, September 2 at the Basilica of Zapopan, the home of the ancient statue of the Virgin Mary, the patron of Jalisco, Lake Chapala and Guadalajara.

Visitors to the city have many other opportunities to see the 50 or so groups perform. The official program includes a schedule of the daily concerts slated for a half dozen city shopping malls. Keep a sharp watch and be prepared to stop and enjoy pop-up and planned concerts in the city’s historic downtown plazas.

Mariachis, including all-female groups, attend from various Mexican states, and from countries around the world. This includes one group each from Sweden, Canada, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Cuba and Bolivia; five U.S. mariachi groups; three from Columbia; and, two groups from Peru.

Each year a different array of international groups makes the pilgrimage to Jalisco and all things mariachi. We’ve seen groups from Japan, Austria, France, Estonia and Paraguay, all delighted to be part of the colorful celebration of music, art and folkloric dance.

The festival ends next Sunday, September 2, so if you can’t make it this year, mark your calendars for next year!