Music in World Cultures. Mexican Mariachi

Assignment includes book report on Jeff Nevin's "Virtuoso Mariachi" (2002)

Elaboration, 2004

16 Pages, Grade: passed


Table of Contents

1. Concert report - La Banda del Surdo (Spain)
2. World musical tradition - Mexican mariachi...(+ bibliography).
3. Book review on a world musical tradition - Nevin, Jeff. 2002. Virtuoso Mariachi. Lanham: University Press of America

Assignment #1 Spanish percussion group LA BANDA DEL SURDO - 24 April, 2004

The concert I went to took place on the market-place in Bergen/ Norway and it was a free one during the Ole Blues Festival on 24th April.

The group performed a one hour show in the afternoon surrounded by a big crowd of interested people. In the information booklet for the festival program was announced that several percussionists together with dancers as stilt walkers combine traditional Spanish music with rhythmic styles from other world cultures.

The band comes from the city of Girona in Catalonia, the north-eastern part of Spain. The main category or genre can be described as percussions and street performances including rhythms from African and Latin American countries, Flamenco, Oriental, Hip-Hop and its own creations.

The band offers a flexible scene during their concerts due to walks and movements of the whole group. There is no need for electric ampl ification because of the natural powerful sound of drums and auxiliary percussion instruments plus human voices which is effective to present any loud rhythm. That’s why it is possible for them to perform their show to all types of spaces just like boulevards, concert halls, festivals, discotheques, public squares, etc.

During the street performance together 11 percussionists were involved while some of them used surdos which are bass or tenor drums from Brazil played with a single felt-tipped mallet and the other hand. This percussion instrument provides the basic rhythm. Other percussionists played snare drums, goliaths or floor toms. 2 of them used whistles while they had their positions in the front row. The group with the biggest drums formed the back rows of the line-up. Almost everyone used tamborims played with sticks, bells, claves (jam block), rumberas, rattles or ago-gos in addition to the main-instrument depending on the present genre or rhythm they performed. There were 2 female dancers on stilts and 2 of 11 percussionists were also women, which mean that the majority was built by male musicians.

All members had special black outfits with emblems in colors of the national Spanish flag red and yellow. There was also present the green color which could refer to the flag of Brazil due to Latin American genres which I will mention below. That is a nice visual effect to demonstrate unity, nationality and creativity, some of them even used make up and painted their faces with ornamental signs.

They played several dance songs and most of them were predominated by polyrhythmic parts like in African drumming e.g. Anlo-Ewe people of Ghana, West Africa. The group played f. exp. rumba which is a Cuban dance song performed with claves and drumsticks beaten on the side of a drum.

Another song was a dance from Chile called cachimbo. The two female stilt walkers accompanied every song with impressive rhythmical body movements and sometimes waved one leg in the air which was pretty acrobatic.

The whole group performed also a Flamenco theme by just clapping with their hands beginning with a simple rhythm and adding several beats one after another which resulted in a complex polyrhythmic sound. At the same time the audience played an important role and had to clap the main beat in the 4/4 meter.

Between the songs the stilt walkers used a megaphone to announce the next dance or to involve the audience. One performance was called merengue which is a national dance of the Dominican Republic similar to the other songs concerning the complex percussion. Some dances during their concert were reminiscent of African-Brazilian samba rhythms performed during carnival in Rio de Janeiro also due to the fact that they made use of whistles and confetti pistols to motivate and “heat up” the people.

Supplementary drumsticks were often used as an instrument to produce several beats.

Noticeable in almost every fast dance rhythm they played are techniques like tempo rubato, syncopated beats, crescendo, decrescendo, and accelerations, which mean that tempo and dynamics increase or fluctuate between or often at the end of the songs. Further included some songs chants in which the members shouted words in Spanish or even the band’s name, maybe to make the audience remember this special group.

The percussionists performed on the whole as a group and now and then a special group of drums were presented separately followed again by all instruments playing together. But mostly all instruments were of equal importance to create combined rhythmical unities. The musicians acted joyful and conveyed fun, happiness and an energetic, powerful show. The audience reacted accordingly in a good mood, clapped their hands and moved to the rhythms.

The band seems to be very experimental and open to influences from different genres and cultures while creating their own mixture of it.

I enjoyed this kind of percussion concert very much also because of the positive, relaxed atmosphere and the lively, enthusiastic performance. The drummers were always involved in heavy movements and thus provoked the people to move themselves to their hypnotic rhythms.

The dancing stilt walkers caught the eye and made it possible for the group to communicate with the audience and to move even within big crowds. The connection between the group and the audience seemed to be very important to create one community. The concert was entertaining, professional, versatile and spectacular at the same time. It had a stimulating effect to the people from the northern part of Europe due to the fast rhythms and Latin attitudes of these sympathetic musicians.

Website for further information and rumba sound file:

Assignment #2 MARIACHI - A Mexican instrumental ensemble

Mexico, located to Central America, is the second-largest Latin American nation after Brazil if you consider the population of about 100 million people. It comes on the third position with a geographical size about 1, 96 sq km after Brazil and Argentina.

Furthermore Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country due to 92% of the population speaking this language. There exist 3 different ethnic groups which are Mestizo a mixed population of European, Indian and African 60%, Amerindian or Native American 30% and European 9%. In addition to Spanish as the official language there are 59 different dialects spoken by contemporary native groups. Considering religious affiliation, 90% of the population are Roman Catholics.


Traditional Mexican music is a regional phenomenon and typical local instruments are characteristic for several ensembles and also important to distinguish sound and style. There are different groups from different areas I like to mention e.g.:

- norteño ensembles from northern Mexico and southern Texas using an accordion, a bajo sexto (a large twelve-string guitar), string bass; based on a “polka-like” beat
- jarocho ensembles located around the Port and southern part of Veracruz in the east of Mexico, playing together a diatonic harp (32-36 strings), jarana jarocha (small guitar type with 10 strings) and requinto (small four-stringed instrument of the guitar family); these 2 guitar types are flat-backed and played with a pick
- huasteco trio from the huasteca region of northern Veracruz and the state of Tamaulipas using a single violin, a huapanguera (a local guitar variant with eight or ten strings in five courses) and a smaller five-stringed jarana; accompanying the lead singer who uses high-pitched falsetto singing
- marimba groups located in the south of Mexico and countries further south with the marimba of African origin as a primary instrument, a xylophone with wooden keys and membranes covering the openings of the hanging resonators and tuned to the western scale

I like to focus my interest on the mariachi ensemble which has its roots in Jalisco a western state of Mexico and is also centered in the neighboring states like Colima, Nayarit, Michoacán and Guerrero.

The name mariachi refers to a Mexican musical group, an individual musician in this group and denotes a whole genre or manner of playing.

This kind of ensemble exists since the 19th century according to a diary entry written in Guerrero in 1859, in which the priest Ignacio Aguilar called a musical ensemble Mariache. Another local priest, Cosme Santa Anna from the state Nayarit, wrote in a letter dated 1852 to his archbishop about “Mariachis” playing, drinking and gambling on Holy Saturday during fiestas and celebrating a social musical event called fandango. This was performed on a wooden platform also called mariache with dancers on it called mariaches. On the other hand Mexican scholars found out that the term could come from the Coca language of Natives who lived in Jalisco.

Due to Spanish colonialization in the 16th century, musical instruments like guitar types, violin or harp were introduced to Mexico’s Native American people. Also African music was brought to them during the colonial period due to embarked slaves, e.g. the above mentioned marimba instrument. The accordion was introduced to Texas by German immigrants during the 1840’s.

In general there are distinctions made like traditional vs. modern mariachi considering instrumentations, rural vs. urbanized characteristics or common vs. virtuoso mariachi considering techniques, abilities and classical skilled musicians.

The earliest traditional mariachi ensemble was a string-based quartette or quintet consisting of a vihuela, 2 violins and a harp as the minimum orchestration while others included or replaced that with a guitarrón and guitarra de golpe. 3 musical functions are represented with it namely melody, chordal accompaniment and bass. Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán is one of the oldest and still existing groups formed in 1898 in Tecalitlán, Jalisco.

The mariachi harp is the oldest and most “original” instrument consisting of a soundboard made of tacote wood native in western Mexico and a soundbox constructed of cedar. It is a 36-stringed, diatonic instrument tuned in C major and it has 4 soundholes of decreasing size running up the length. There are no bridge pins and thus the strings run directly from the soundboard to the tuning pegs. The pegs were past made of wood but today made of aluminium. Once there were used gut strings but today they are nylon.


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Music in World Cultures. Mexican Mariachi
Assignment includes book report on Jeff Nevin's "Virtuoso Mariachi" (2002)
University of Bergen  (Grieg Academy - Department of Music)
Music in World Cultures
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
474 KB
Assignment Portofolio: Book review on Nevin, Jeff. 2002. Virtuoso Mariachi. Lanham: University Press of America, World musical tradition - Mexican mariachi(+ bibliography), Concert report
Mexican, Music, World, Culture, Mariachi, Ethnomusicology, Ethnomusikwissenschaft, Spanish, La Banda, traditional, Jalisco, virtuos, Nevin, trumpet, Mexico, Mexiko, Sones, Del Surdo, Bergen, Jeff, Ethno-Musik, Ethnologie
Quote paper
Kristin Peukert (Author), 2004, Music in World Cultures. Mexican Mariachi, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Music in World Cultures. Mexican Mariachi

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free