The birthplace of mariachi music, Guadalajara has also produced some well-known musicians including rock star Carlos Santana. It is a great place to catch live music of all kinds.
The home of mariachi and some of Mexico’s most loved musicians, Guadalajara is a great place to enjoy live music. Visitors can sit back and be serenaded at local restaurants or go out and dance to the traditional and contemporary rhythms that have become the soundtrack to the city.
Birthplace of Mariachi
Mexico’s most emblematic musical genre, mariachi is a century-old form of folk incorporating string instruments, as well as acoustic guitars and horns. It is performed by troupes dressed in sombreros and distinctive, traditional outfits. As the birthplace of the genre, the city is immortalized in the popular song “Guadalajara, Guadalajara,” which visitors will be able to hear live in almost any of the plazas or Mexican restaurants in the historic center, or in the delightful market district of Tlaquepaque.
Guadalajara also hosts an annual International Mariachi Festival in August, which draws groups from all over Mexico and even international mariachi outfits from as far afield as the United States, South America, Europe and Japan. The festival includes a colorful parade along Avenida 16 de Septiembre, with mariachis playing on floats while folkloric dancers perform and Mexican rodeos known as Charros shown off their skills.
Guadalajara is also the birthplace of Vicente Fernandez, “the king of ranchera” another popular Mexican genre. Fernandez is the best loved representative of this traditional music form which originated at around the time of the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century. “Chente,” as he is affectionately known, is accompanied live by a mariachi group but is not technically a mariachi musician himself, as he plays no instrument live.
Having sold over 50 million records worldwide, the 74-year old singer finally retired last year, but fortunately for fans his son Alejandro Fernandez continues to carry the flame. No lightweight himself, Alejandro has sold more than 30 million records, combining pop, ranchera and mariachi with great success. True giants of the local music scene, the Fernandez family owns the largest music venue in Guadalajara, the 15,000-capacity Arena VFG, located beside the family ranch on the southern outskirts of the city.
Rock, Pop and Jazz
Guadalajara has also produced some hugely successful rock and pop acts. Legendary guitarist Carlos Santana was born just outside the city in the town of Autlan de Navarro. Although he first found success in the United States in the 1960s, Santana’s roots remain important to him, as he demonstrated in December 2013 by playing a special homecoming show at the Arena VFG with an array of famous guests from the world of Latin music.
The most successful contemporary band to have emerged from Guadalajara is undoubtedly Maná, a pop/rock act with Latin, calypso, reggae and ska influences. Maná first found fame with their seminal 1992 album ¿Dónde Jugarán Los Niños? and have since won four Grammy Awards and seven Latin Grammys and sold some 35 million albums worldwide. Although considered the biggest Latin rock band in the world, they remain socially and politically conscious, having performed for Barack Obama at campaign rallies and his re-inauguration ball, and also expressed support for U.S. immigration reform, the Puerto Rican independence movement and Mexico’s indigenous Zapatista rebels.
The next big band to come out of Guadalajara may be Troker, a thrilling six-piece jazz fusion act. In 2013 Troker became the first artist from Guadalajara to play at the United Kingdom’s prestigious Glastonbury Festival, and the organizers enjoyed their performance so much that they invited them to come back again this year. Troker will also showcase its unique blend of jazz, rock, funk, hip-hop and psychedelia at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas this week.
Visitors to Guadalajara can usually catch one half of Troker playing popular rock, jazz, cumbia and even mambo covers under the moniker Trioker at some of the city’s most distinguished restaurants. While not on tour, Trioker perform at Cafe Candela (Javier Mina 183 in central Zapopan) on Tuesday nights, at I Latina (Avenida Inglaterra 3128) on Thursday nights and at Sotano 2 in Plaza Andares on Fridays and Saturdays. It is well worth checking them out.
Duncan Tucker is a freelance journalist from the UK. He speaks fluent Spanish and has lived in Guadalajara, Mexico for over three years. A former staff writer at the Guadalajara Reporter, Duncan is now associate editor of Nearshore Americas and also writes regularly for Al Jazeera and the Huffington Post. Much of his work can be found on his blog The Tequila Files. Follow Duncan on Twitter @DuncanTucker.