Desde el Escritorio Sept. 10, 1997

Desde el Escritorio de Randy Osborne


Almost everything you wanted to know about Mexican Mariachi music but were afraid you wouldn't find out even if you became bilingual and tuned into the Spanish Language Broadcast "Cuatro Estrellas en Cielo" (Four Stars in Heaven).
September 10, 1997

Copyright Randy Osborne F.F.S.I. La Guitarreria Fina, 1997

Here in San Jose on Sunday Mornings we have a beautiful program on KLOK Radio 1170 AM, 9am-11am, called "Cuatro Estrellas en Cielo". In listening to this 2 hour broadcast of the greatest singers of this century accompanied by the remarkable Mariachi musicians, we also receive snippets of history. In the early days of Mariachi, percussion instruments initially accompanied the singers. Later came the violins, trumpets, guitars, and the guitarron (the bowl-backed instrument that provides the pungent bass). The documentation of Mariachi music dates to 1848 in newspapers. At that time in Mexico's history, the country and it's people were ruled by Maximillan and Carlotta who were French. Their army was eventually defeated at Puebla by a great ragtag force of Mexican peasant farmers and that is why Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) is celebrated today.

The word Mariachi is probably not derived from any Spanish root, but rather from these possibilities. University thesis have been done (not that they include the ultimate point of research I will divulge here) and upon reading you may become convinced that the French wanted Wedding Music and there is the source of the word (FR. marier - to Marry, ie: mariachi). My colleague, eminent historian and luthier Richard Brune has suggested that the word mariachi comes from the french word maraich/er which means a couple of things. The Oxford French Dictionary defines maraicher as:

  • market gardner
  • truck farmer
  • The former is an American usage. As agrarian as Mexico was and still is, there may be some weight worthy of that vantage point.
  • If we go far enough North in Spain we will eventually be out of the sphere of influence of the Moorish or Arabic melody that we are accustomed to hearing in the Flamenco Cante. A century ago Francis Tarrega arranged a song known as "The Gran Jota" with it's 20 variations of virtuoso and rhythmic varieties. In the Province of Aragon north of Madrid is the birthplace of the Jota but not the only place one will find the Jota. In Navarre above Aragon and just south of hte Pyranees mountains, the Jota will also be found; not to leave out the island of Mallorca, hte area of Segovia and Valencia. The Jota of Aragon dates to teh 18th century with songs written as far back as 1779. In the period of about 1809 when the War of Independance took place is the time when the popularity of the Jota spread all over Spain. The instrumentation of accompaniment for the Jota of Aragon consists of Lauds, bandurrias, guitars, and castanets (called pulgaretas in Aragon because the Spanish word for thumb is pulgar). It is normal for the ensemble to start at an Andante pace and after the introduction to change to a Largo pace. Then the female singer begins an incredible emotional vocal followed by a repeat of the intro as an outro. At first you think, "Is this a vocal that is tangent to Rhythm & Blues because of the intense outpouring of emotion?" Then you realize that this is the root of the Mariachi vocals. In duets of male and female, the heart wrenching harmonized voices are just as if they were the spine tingling melodies of Mariachi music of Mexico.

    As to when the Jota came to Mexico with it's beautiful melody I'm not certain. It is very interesting also in Spain that the guitar makers call themselves "guitarreros", but that guitar makers of Paracho, Michocan (of which there are 2000 makeing 5000 instruments weekly) call themselves "lauderos" from the word Laud.

    The term for the instrumentation to accompany the Jota is Rondalla, though another is Tuna. It is very common for students in Spain to form Rondallas or Tunas as a recreative and social if not a business venture.

    As to the manufacturing of Lauds and Bandurrias, 60 years ago all the guitar makers of Spain made them personally, usually in at least 3 grades. If you didn't and a customer came along, whoever on the street who had an instrument ready to go got the deal. Now the times have changed (although I understand that there are 600 small orchestras in and around Valencia) and we see that even the guitar makers of Granada since the 1960's have gradually phased out the making of Lauds and Bandurrias due to lack of demand. Now we find that principally the manufacturing of Lauds and Bandurrias is left to the factories of Valencia such as Alhambra and others.

    In my Golden Era CD series G.E. 41, Lauds and Bandurrias 1960 Vol. 2, my favorite vocals are from the recordings of Rondalla Goya de Jorge Sanchez Candial.

    Coming next week

    Comment ce va l'ecole de luthier francais aujourd'hui? (How goes it for the French school of lutherie today?)


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