Culture, color and tradition combine each year to bring one of the most festive events of Mexico to the forefront in a gala celebration of Mexico's flamboyant Mariachis...

There are those that say the very spirit of Mexico's rich culture runs hot in the veins of her Mariachis, those musical icons that serenade the boulevards, public squares and sidewalks of a nation with a brand and style of music that is both unique and legendary.

Like the bullfighter, the Mariachi is a symbol of nationalism and culture in Mexico, and there is great national pride in preserving the image of these singing heroes.

And there is no better place on earth to experience the sounds and colors of the Mariachi tradition than at the International Mariachi Festival of Guadalajara, staged every September, the largest celebration of Mariachi music in the world. The sights and sounds are simply unforgettable.
The ten day gala event features Catholic masses where Mariachis perform in the churches and cathedrals, numerous parades with hundreds of Mariachi floats and folk ballet artists are staged, rodeos are held, art exhibits are offered up on every corner, and most importantly, the world's largest Mariachi competition is staged at the beautiful Benito Juarez Theatre. Some 500 Mariachis in all perform at various concert halls and street markets throughout the city, coming from as far away as North and South America, Cuba, Spain, and even Croatia, demonstrating the popularity and passion of Mariachi music.

Fans can choose from dozens of different musical events during the gathering but many come for the unique opportunity of seeing the world's finest professional ensembles from Mexico and the United States, "los Mariachis VIPS," who entertain throughout the week as the event's special guests. Their evening performances, played to capacity crowds at the historic Degollado Theater, are high-spirited affairs showcasing stellar male and female bands in back-to-back and joint appearances, often with the lush accompaniment of Jalisco's philharmonic orchestra.

Festival-goers can also view a display of Mariachi-inspired art at the Regional Museum and take in the activities at the downtown headquarters, the Cabanas Cultural Institute, site of numerous workshops and featuring a marketplace for hand-crafted items designed for discerning Mariachi musicians and their cultural cousins, the "charros," or cowboys of western Mexico.

New additions to the festival agenda include train rides to the nearby and famous town of Tequila for tastings and lunch. Mexico's most infamous liquor comes from the blue agave plant and the area around Guadalajara is the predominant region for Mexico's fertile blue agave fields.

Even one of the world's most famous opera stars has a penchant for Mariachi culture. Several years back the noted opera tenor Plácido Domingo hosted the festival.

"I have loved Mariachi ever since I first came to Mexico from Spain as a child. When I courted my wife, I hired Mariachi singers to serenade her just as lovers do today. So how could I pass up a chance to experience the greatest Mariachi festival in the world?"

Even if you've never had the pleasure of seeing or hearing a Mariachi perform in their native country, chances are you've seen them in large holiday parades, concerts, theme parks or your local Mexican food restaurant. The Mariachi and their style of music can be found in all quadrants of the world now, in places as far away as Japan and Europe.

Mariachi has evolved considerably since the Spanish arrived in Cocula in 1532. Traditional Mariachis got their inspiration from a time when peasant farmers entertained themselves after a hard days work of harvesting corn. It was not the preferred music of the hacienda owners who were influenced by European styles of music, but Mariachi was a music of the people; rustic and folksy, and the Mariachi music of today still holds many of the original elements, such as the famous Mexican grito (cry).

Traditional Mariachi originally featured three instruments, the violin, vihuela (a five string guitar) and a traditional six string guitar. The groups that played them were typically quartets.  Later on, as the music grew in popularity, trumpets and basses were added as well as the elaborate and colorful costumes.

The Mariachis of yesteryear donned traditional workmen's clothes - white pants and shirt and a straw hat, and traveled around looking for work. Hacienda owners would hire them and the singing troubadours were paid more than the average laborer to entertain owners and guests at parties and social gatherings. Their songs encompassed the very deep and passionate souls of the Mexican people, from love and politics to death and revolutionary heroes, the Mariachis songs have always told the true stories of the Mexican people.

With the revolution of 1810, many of the haciendas were forced to let the Mariachis go. With a new found independence from the Spanish aristocracy, they would wander from town to town singing songs of revolutionary heroes and enemies, carrying news from one place to another, often times the only source for information about the continuing struggles of the people of Mexico. Since they could no longer earn their living playing in the rich haciendas, they turned to playing to a hungry public for whatever fee the locals could offer.  One of the hot beds for this type of public entertainment was San Pedro Tlaquepaque in the state of Jalisco, a fashionable place for the residents of Guadalajara to spend their summers.

Since the Mariachis were playing for a fee, they were forced to add new elements to their music and to expand their repertoire to include waltzes and polkas.  This is when more instruments began to be added and the costumes became quite lavish.

The most prized of the Mariachis were still those from the state of Jalisco, particularly the areas of Cocula and Tecaltitlan.

So it is near the "birthplace of Mariachi," in nearby Guadalajara, that has developed into the best place on earth to experience this extraordinary cultural icon. Don't miss The International Mariachi Festival, Aug. 31 - Sept 10 in Guadalajara.