The music of mariachi dates back to the 18th century and has long and deep ties in New Mexico that predate our becoming part of the U.S. The genre resonates with listeners, including Hispanics and Latinos, but with all audiences because the music’s passion can be felt by all. MSA through its annual festival seeks to capture and provide an outlet for that interest, while educating a broader audience about its history.
Mariachi Spectacular premiered in Albuquerque in 1991 as a Mexican-style Rodeo concert. It has since evolved into the one of the world’s foremost mariachi festivals, bringing revered masters and aspiring young musicians together, from around our country and internationally as well, for workshops, concerts and more. Fans from across the globe today can now watch the streaming performances, Live on the Internet, of our Student Showcase Concert. We’re delighted to report that over 25,000 people tuned in during each of the last two years these broadcasts have been offered.
The hallmark of Mariachi Spectacular is its annual July festival. As one of the most affordable yet acclaimed festivals of its kind, it attracts hundreds of participants and thousands of spectators from across New Mexico and the world. It celebrates a folk art form that has roots in Mexico and U.S. Border States, and does more than any other mariachi festival to educate the next generation, while honoring legends and pioneers. MSA’s contribution to the genre is evaluated by the caliber of performers, the number of spectators and participants, and the number of mariachi groups and ballet folklorico groups attracted from all areas of the U.S. and Mexico.
This festival is unique because it combines cultural enrichment for spectators with intensive artistic immersion and instruction for performers, ensuring that New Mexico plays a role in developing Mariachi and Ballet folklorico students and future masters.
First mariachi to make sound recordings
In autumn of 1908, four musicians from Cocula, Jalisco, known as the Cuarteto Coculense or Mariachi de Justo Villa, became the first mariachi to make phonograph recordings, cutting some 60 sides for the Edison, Victor, and Columbia labels, all of which had primitive recording facilities in Mexico City at that time. All three companies abandoned the country after the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, and nearly two decades passed before the next mariachi recordings were made.
Mariachi Coculense de Cirilo Marmolejo
First mariachi to record after the Mexican Revolution
By 1926, the Mexican Revolution had waned, and the Cristero War was just erupting. That same year, Cirilo Marmolejo and his Mariachi Coculense—by then residents of Mexico’s capital city—became the second mariachi in history to make phonograph recordings. These 78 rpm records used the latest “electric” technology, which Discos Victor had recently installed in its Mexico City studios. This new system was radically superior to any previous technology, and here the guitarrón may be heard prominently for the first time.
Mariachi Tapatío de José Marmolejo
Prototype of the Urban Mariachi
After Mariachi Coculense’s extended engagement at the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair, José Marmolejo (nephew of Cirilo) left his uncle’s mariachi to form a group of younger musicians with more modern ideas. The most novel feature of this new ensemble was that it contained a trumpet, a controversial addition any mariachi in those days. Radio, films, and records soon helped Mariachi Tapatío become the most popular mariachi in Mexico — and the trumpet to become a permanent feature in mariachi music.
Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán
The most important mariachi in history
begins making records & films
In 1934, an all-string mariachi from the village of Tecalitlán, Jalisco, led by young violinist Silvestre Vargas, arrived in Mexico City, where they took up permanent residence. The group occasionally appeared on live radio, but found it difficult to compete with Mariachi Tapatío’s dominance of the artistic scene. It wasn’t until 1937 that Mariachi Vargas made it first film, Así es mi Tierra; and its first records, four songs for Discos Peerless. This visionary group would become the most influential mariachi of all time.
de Pepe Villa
The trumpet duet is inaugurated
In the early 1950s, vihuela player Pepe Villa of Mariachi Pulido came up with the novel idea of forming a mariachi with two trumpets, something almost previously unheard of. In 1953, he inaugurated Mariachi México de Pepe Villa, consisting of former Mariachi Pulido members and trumpeter Miguel Martínez, who had recently left Mariachi Vargas. This new sound took the mariachi world by storm, and the two-trumpet combination remains the standard instrumentation in mariachi music today.
La Fonda de Los Camperos
The mariachi restaurant concept is born
In 1961, violinist Nati Cano took over Mariachi Los Camperos and proceeded to transform it into the preeminent mariachi of the United States. In 1969, in downtown Los Angeles, the group opened La Fonda de Los Camperos—the first restaurant to present a first-class mariachi stage show, and where the musicians themselves were partners in the business. The original La Fonda closed in 2007, but today restaurants of this nature are popular in the US, Mexico, and other countries.
First International Mariachi Conference
Birth of the mariachi conference and festival movement
In 1979, music educator Belle San Miguel and mariachi musician Juan Ortiz organized the world’s first International Mariachi Conference. The initial event in San Antonio, Texas included workshops, concerts, lectures, competitions, and a mariachi Mass. Concerts pairing mariachi with symphony orchestra were later added. This concept was recreated in various locations, developing into what is often referred to as a mariachi conference and festival “movement.” Today, dozens of such events are held each year in the United States, Mexico, and other countries.
Canciones de Mi Padre
Mariachi music promoted internationally to an unprecedented degree
In 1987, pop singer Linda Ronstadt decided to record an album in Spanish to pay tribute to her Mexican roots. She enlisted the services of arranger Rubén Fuentes, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, and other mariachi luminaries for this project. Her highly successful tours brought mariachi music to venues and audiences that had never heard this music before. Her Grammy-winning Canciones de mi Padre became a worldwide hit, and the biggest selling foreign language album in US record history.
Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque founded
Unique festival pays permanent tribute to mariachi pioneers
Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque was cofounded in 1991 by the University of New Mexico Division of Continuing Education and the festival’s executive director, Noberta Frésquez. One unparalleled aspect of this festival is that it has consistently brought together numerous legendary pioneer mariachi musicians, many of whom have been inducted into the Mariachi Spectacular’s unique Hall of Fame. This, along with exemplary workshops and concerts, helps to make Mariachi Spectacular one of the most important mariachi festivals in the world.
UNESCO grants international
recognition to mariachi tradition
Mariachi added to Representative List of Cultural Heritage
In 2011, UNESCO officially added the mariachi tradition to its Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritages in Need of Safeguarding. According to this declaration, the mariachi is a living heritage that provides a sense of identity to its community. By recognizing the mariachi as a fundamental element of Mexican culture, UNESCO attempts to achieve greater protection for this tradition through worldwide awareness. Since this designation, the Mexican government has given more official support to mariachi music than ever before.