It’s always the high point of the party when the Mariachi arrive. You hear a trumpet and the thrumping rhythm, and then they fill the room. The sound swallows you, and you are wholly absorbed until the band leaves.
The band that arrived at James’s party in Queretaro on Friday night had eight members, two playing ordinary guitars, one a small guitar, one a bass guitar, two playing violins, and two playing trumpets. They crowded into the already full room for the first number, but then filed into the tiny patio for the rest of the seven songs they were contracted to play. The music was so uplifting and infectious that Perla negotiated for a full hour. Mariachis are businesses, and the negotiations are tough.
The eight men aged between perhaps 35 and 70 and had an immaculate uniform of the classic black suit with the tight trousers, a large, maroon cravat, and silver emblems on their trousers and jackets.
All of them sang in chorus, and most of them sang solo at some point. All had good voices. The music is instantly identifiable, not only because of the unique instrumentation but also because of the songs. Evidently it’s possible to find Mariachi bands playing pop songs on YouTube, but I’ve only ever heard traditional songs. Some—like Guadalajara and one about Mexico—are rousing celebrations of cities and the country; others are so bouncy that you can’t stop yourself dancing; but some are slower and sadder. At times the members of the band danced while still playing.
The Mexicans knew the songs and sang along, sometimes matching the volume of the band. Perla at the beginning of some of the song gave a loud sound that was something between a scream and a laugh: it fitted perfectly. And, of course, we gave them tequila, which they threw back with enthusiasm.
Mariachi, I learn from Wikipedia, developed in Western Mexico in the 18th century. Perla, who is from Guadalajara and loves it, always claims that Mariachi come from Jalisco state, her state. Wikipedia tells me that Mariachi “has eight socio-musical elements: mariachi instrumentation and texture, musical genres and subgenres, performance methods and styles, singing styles and forms, dance styles, performative space, performance clothing, and the word ‘mariachi.” The elements developed at different times in different places and converged to make Mariachi.
UNESCO has blessed it as Intangible Cultural Heritage, but most of all it is fun and uplifting.
Could I have Mariachi at my funeral? Death is very much part of Mexican life, so surely it must be possible to have a Mariachi band at a funeral–and looking on line I see that it does happen.