Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Wonder Team. Wonder Team Wonders, “What is mariachi?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Wonder Team!

When you think of Mexico and its culture, what kinds of things come to mind? If you know a girl who has recently turned 15, then you may think of the quinceañera. Others might point to El Día de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead. Or perhaps you think of that fun party game—the piñata.

Today’s Wonder of the Day is about another piece of Mexican culture. It’s one that’s sure to please the eyes and ears. What are we talking about? The mariachi band, of course!

The musical tradition of mariachi includes many elements. You might recognize a band’s unique clothing, instruments, and musical style. But mariachi also includes special dancing and performance methods.

Mariachi dates back to at least the 19th century. It started in western Mexico—possibly in the state of Jalisco. Over time, this style of music has become popular beyond Mexico’s borders. In 2011, UNESCO even named mariachi as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Where did the word “mariachi” come from? Its origin is somewhat unclear. Many people believe it came from the French word “mariage.” That’s because mariachi bands would often play at weddings. However, experts now say the word was in use in Mexico long before the French ever arrived.

Today, most believe the word came from the Cora Indians. Native to Jalisco, the Coras used the word “mariachi” to describe a specific type of tree that grew in the area—and the wood that came from it. This happened to be the same type of wood used to make early mariachi instruments.

Today, mariachi bands usually feature at least four musicians. Often, they include as many as a dozen or more! Traditional mariachi instruments are the violin, guitar, guitarrón, and vihuela (a small five-string guitar with a round back). Modern mariachi bands usually also include trumpets and sometimes harps.

It’s easy to recognize mariachi bands because of the traditional charro suits they wear to perform. These special outfits include waist-length jackets, fitted pants, and special bowties. Most band members also wear boots and sombreros. Mariachi bands always dress to impress—their suits usually include intricate embroidery.

Have you ever seen a mariachi band? You can sometimes find them in restaurants. Many also stroll through the crowds at festivals and celebrations. Their songs often cover topics such as love, betrayal, death, heroes, and animals. Since mariachi bands are expected to play songs requested by the crowd, they often know hundreds of different songs!

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1

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