Mexican mariachi music receives international recognition

Members of the Mariachi band, Ellas Son, perform during Cinco de Mayo festivities on May 5, 2011, in Los Angeles.

Story highlights

  • UNESCO officials decide to honor mariachi music
  • Government: Mariachi music "has crossed borders," become a national symbol
  • The music also helps immigrants abroad stay connected, the government says
  • UNESCO has recognized Mexican food and many of the nation's monuments
The United Nations' cultural organization recognized mariachi music Sunday in a move that Mexican authorities hope will help preserve the well-known tradition.
The songs -- often played on festive occasions by groups of guitar, violin and trumpet performers wearing traditional clothes or wide-brimmed hats -- are sung throughout Mexico, and have become a key part of regional identity, officials said.
"The community and the family hand down musically their knowledge, history and the pleasure of singing to the nature surrounding them. They consider it their own," Mexican officials said in their application to the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO), which added mariachi music to the organization's list of intangible cultural patrimony Sunday.
Putting mariachi on the list could increase awareness of the music, UNESCO said in a statement Sunday.
"Learning by ear is the main means of transmission of traditional Mariachi, and the skill is usually passed down from fathers to sons and through performance at festive, religious and civil events," the statement said.
Mexico's application notes that the music "has crossed borders and become a symbol of Mexico."
"Immigrants, descendants of Mexicans living abroad, as well as Latin Americans, have made the modern mariachi a symbol of community identity, because it is a bond linking them to their roots in spite of the distance," the application says.
Jorge Aquino, director of the Mexican Music School in Mexico City, told last year that the music has evolved over time, and also drawn greater international attention.
"Now including in foreign countries like the United States, Japan and Colombia, there are mariachi schools, mariachi classes, mariachi degrees," he said.
Many of Mexico's monuments have already been honored by the United Nations' cultural organization.
Last year UNESCO added traditional Mexican food to its intangible cultural patrimony list. In 2008, the organization recognized Mexico's traditional Day of the Dead celebration.
This year UNESCO also added 13 other items to its list, including Chinese shadow puppetry, a ritual of transplanting rice in Hiroshima, Japan, and "poetic dueling" in Cyprus.