Mexican Music

Mexico is home to some of the most diverse music in the world, celebrating the local culture throughout the country. Influenced by Mexico's peoples and their past, it celebrates life and love. It talks of history, legends, and overcoming oppression. Above all, it is a vibrant part of Mexican life.

Anyone interested in the Mexican culture must know about the most popular of its expressions: music. Through history, it has experienced a huge evolution, from the sound of the drums of a Mayan or Aztec ceremony to the modern expressions of Mexican rap.

Sculpture of Mexican Dancers

© Ernest McGray, Jr. - Sculpture of Mexican Dancers

This evolution occurred in an additive, rather than destructive, manner. That means that, far from replacing one music style with another, Mexican music incorporates previous rhythms and sounds into new ones. Although recently almost every young Mexican music artist chooses modern musical styles as a way of expression, the most widely known “product” of the Mexican music history is The Mariachi.

Mariachi Music

Dressed in traditional silver studded 'charro' suits with a matching sombrero, the presence of Mariachis is almost a requirement on national celebrations or public parties and “fiestas”, weddings and large family parties, which often feature two or three different bands that play different kinds of Mexican music.

Traditional Mariachi Clothing

© Loïc Cantillana Escobar - Traditional Mariachi Clothing (Jalisco, Mexico)

The term “Mariachi” comes from two of the many native languages of Mexico, the Nahuatl (used mostly by the ancient Aztecs), and the Coca (a language known to be used by many independent Mayan tribes). It was initially used to refer to a dance performed by a group of dancers on a wooden platform and it was an equivalent to the Spanish term “Fandango”. Nowadays, however, Mariachi refers to a certain music style and the band playing this type of music.

Mariachi Ensemble

© matt_bruensteiner - Mariachi Ensemble

The Mariachi originated in the region of Jalisco, more exactly in the city of Guadalajara. At first, the Mariachi ensembles traveled from town to town singing about very common subjects, mostly love. This led to their style spreading throughout all Mexico, and soon it was the highest representative of Mexican music.

A typical Mariachi ensemble was formed by four or five guitars, a “guitarrón” (a sort of a large bass guitar), violins, some “vihuelas” (a kind of guitar with a round back), and a harp with 28 to 40 strings. In some regions of Mexico a small snare drum was commonly included into the ensemble.

Mariachi Band

© squeakychu - Mariachi Band

Among the Mexican music played by Mariachis are famous tunes like “La Bamba”, “Cielito Lindo”, “La Cucaracha” and the extensively known Mexican hat dance.

Ranchera Music

Like the American country tunes, Ranchera music celebrates love, family life, and patriotic stories. This is music from Mexico's impressive rural country side and it uses a type of yell called “El Grito Mexicano” that sets it apart from other styles.

Early Ranchera music was rebellious. It grew out of dislike for the aristocratic music preferred by the old rulers of Mexico. After the revolution, Mexican music coming from the people became far more popular.

Ranchera Music

© erika frank - Ranchera Musicians

Norteno Music

Also called 'Grupero', Norteno music uses an accordion and a 'bajo sexto' or twelve string guitar along with other instruments. New migrants in Northern Mexico blended European waltzes and polka with Ranchero music back in the late 19th century. Today, this music has a fast polka-like beat and it is still popular in the Northern parts of the country.

Norteno Musicians

© beavela - Norteno Musicians

Many Faces of Mexican Music

Mexico is a large country. Over the years, a number of regional flavors of Mexican music have developed.

  • Mexican Son music developed from early Spanish and native music traditions, varying from region to region.
  • Music from Jalisco, Michoacan, and Colima is known as Abjeno. It also uses many traditional elements mixed with European sounds and is played along pirekaus, or Native Mexican love songs.
  • Istmenos is from the Zapotecs in Oaxaca. This music celebrates love and is often sung in both the native language of Zapotec and Spanish. It is quite popular across Mexico.
  • Southern Mexican music includes Son calentano. It features complicated violin playing and pleasing rhythms.
  • Western Mexico has Sones de arpa grande. It is mainly harp music with violins and guitars.
  • The Huasteca territory is home to Son Huasteco. It is sung in falsetto by a pair of guitar players and a violinist. Many say it is similar to jazz, because much of it is improvised.
  • The Veracruz area has Son Jarocho. Here, the region's music is strongly influenced by early African immigrants. It lacks a harp and only uses guitars.
  • Caribbean and Latin American flavors of music such as mambo, rumba, bolera, and cumbia thrive, being popular all over the country. Latin American rhythms greatly influence Mexican music, having seeped into Mexico along with immigrants over the years.


Mexican Ribbon Dancers

© Drew Leavy - Mexican Ribbon Dancers


Mexican Pop Music

Mexico has many pop stars and plenty of its own pop music. The genre is dominated by teen pop bands and now-grown former teen pop stars. Unlike American pop, Mexican pop bands have both boys and girls as singers and musicians in the same bands. Today, many Mexican pop groups release songs both in Spanish and English.

Marco Antonio Solis

© Jorge Mejía Peralta - Marco Antonio Solis, one of the most renowned Mexican pop artists

Classical and Art Music

Mexico has produced many great operas since La Partenope was first performed in 1711. Early opera was strongly influenced by European styles. By the 19th century, Mexican composers had found their own voices in operas such as Guatimotzin. It is about the last Aztec ruler defending against the Spanish. Another famous opera is Tata Vasco. It uses native melodies to tell the story of the first bishop of Michoacan.

Classical music in Mexico is considered one of the first contributors to the modern New World culture. For years Mexico produced some of the best musicians and compositions in this part of the world. Today's art music is dominated by avant-garde composers and jazz players such as Richard Lemus, Tino Contreras, Popo Sanchez and many more.

Fine arts palace, Mexico

© Oscar Alcalá - Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico, where various Mexican operas held their premieres

First Class Performers

There are as many famous Mexican musicians as there are types of music.

  • Traditionally flavored Grupera music is dominated by groups such as Yonics, La Migra, Limite, Los Temerarios and Jenni Rivera.
  • The biggest Mexican pop stars include Thalia, Linda Thomas, Luis Miguel, Alejandro Fernandez, and Gloria Trevi. Rock fans should check out Mexican rockers Los Freddys, Los Babys, La Migra, and Los Muecas.
  • Modern Mexican alternative performers include Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio, Cafe Tacuba, and Nortec Collective. Fans of American alternative will find much to like.
  • Fans of bolero will like Rafael Hernandez and Agustin Lara.
  • Seek out Jose Jose, Camilo Sesto, Roberto Carlos, or Armando Manzanero for very skilfully sung Latin ballads.
  • Modern Mexican jazz is best performed by musicians such as Antonio Sanchez, Luis Ocadiz, JJ Calatayud, Arturo Castro, Popo Sanchez. Richard Lemus, and Leo Acosta.

Quick Fun Facts About Mexican Music

  • Some famous Marachi tunes include “La Bamba”, “La Cucaracha”, “Cielito Lindo” and the famous Mexican Hat Dance.
  • Grupo Pesado is the most famous type of Norteno music today.
  • The Latin ballad or romantic ballad is one of the most popular type of love songs in Mexico. It has a slow and sweet tempo and full instrumentation behind a single singer.
  • Mexican Ska music is a huge following due in part to the popularity of Carlos Santana.
  • Classical music has been played in Mexico since at least the 16th century.
  • Luis Miguel is dubbed the “Latin Frank Sinatra” by the media.