Celebrating 50 Years of Jamaica-Mexico Friendship: Mariachi and Folk Dancing from Guadalajara

On Saturday, September 17 at 6:30 p.m., the Mexican Embassy will proudly present a most unusual and delightful performance at the Little Theatre in Kingston: the Mariachi Orgullo de Jalisco and the Guadalajara Dance Company. The performance will recognize fifty years – yes, a half-century – of friendship between Mexico and Jamaica – a very special occasion.

A typical modern mariachi band with their instruments.
A typical modern mariachi band with their instruments.

If you are not familiar with Mariachi, you may still recognize the music when you hear it. It is that wonderfully energetic sound – a blend of trumpets, violins and at least one guitar – that is practically the musical essence of Mexico. All the players in the band (which may consist of eight, nine, ten people) sing the chorus, and some sing solo. Mariachi developed in the nineteenth century out of the older son, a folk music style that featured string instruments – guitars, harps, etc. Son jaliscense – out of the state of Jalisco – became known as Mariachi, although it’s not clear where the name came from; it is now believed to have indigenous roots. Jalisco became the center of Mariachi by the end of the nineteenth century. From then on, it gradually developed from its rural folk roots and became increasingly popular in urban areas. It is often used for special occasions – birthdays, weddings and other celebrations.

A Charro at a Mexican rodeo. (Photo: Benjamin Arredondo)
A Charro at a Mexican rodeo. (Photo: Benjamin Arredondo)

Mariachi is also associated with the Charro tradition. A Charro is a traditional Mexican horseman. Horse-riding became hugely popular after the Mexican War of Independence and the Charreada is a kind of rodeo that developed from the Charro‘s rustic roots on the hacienda or ranch. Like Mariachi, it is bright, colorful and full of energy. The Charros wear closely fitted suits, chaps, boots, and a wide brim sombrero hat. It is very similar to what the Mariachi musicians wear, but more decorated with embroidery, intricate leather designs on the boots and shiny buttons. Quite splendid!

The Palacio De Gobierno, Guadalajara, Jalisco State, Mexico.
The Palacio De Gobierno, Guadalajara.

It is that vibrant music that is filled with an intense energy. And so, Mariachi is not just music; it was always intended to be danced to. Guadalajara is the capital of Jalisco state. I wonder if the dancers will perform the “Jarabe Tapatío” – The Mexican Hat Dance. I remember seeing this performed in London, once. Mexican folk dance incorporates often syncopated rhythms, with the women swaying and swishing their beautiful long skirts. The men perform a kind of tap dance with quite a lot of stamping of feet (a touch of the flamenco influence?)

Of course, the Mariachi and folk dance traditions are far more complex than what I have described above: there are many dances, many regional and local influences and many types of Mariachi music. Like all great traditions, it has evolved and it continues to evolve in different ways, even beyond Mexico’s borders. But I hope this gives you a little useful background. And I hope that you will join the Mexican Embassy and friends at the Little Theatre. It will be a great family event, too.

The Hat Dance.
The Hat Dance.

By the way, I wondered if female Mariachi bands exist. I found one, Flor De Toloache, which calls itself the “first and only established all female Mariachi band founded in New York in 2008.” The band was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2015. They sound quite a bit different from the traditional Mariachi – very much New York, in fact!

Tickets are J$1,500 each and are on sale at the Little Theatre, the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Chilito’s Mexican Restaurant and also at the Embassy of Mexico (PCJ Building, 36 Trafalgar Road, Kingston 10).


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