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Mariachi earns UNESCO recognition

December 2, 2011

Mariachi music has been officially recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in its annual list of “intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding.”

Mariachi, which originated in Jalisco and is considered Mexico’s most traditional and recognizable form of music, was chosen last weekend by UNESCO officials at a summit in Bali, Indonesia.

The “intangible” aspect of the heritage designation is to highlight cultural practices and traditions that lack a physical presence, differentiating them the from castles or ancient relics commonly found in UNESCO World Heritage Sites. When a tradition or custom enters the list, countries must commit to take steps to protect them.

Traditional Mexican cuisine is one of five Mexican contributions among the 213 cultural practices and expressions of intangible heritage previously registered from 68 countries. Other practices include Spanish flamenco and Argentine tango.

Mariachi was among 19 new additions, which also included Portuguese Fado music, French horse riding, South Korea’s ramie weaving technique and Turkey’s keskek meat dish.

According to the UNESCO committee, “mariachi music conveys values ​​that promote respect for the natural heritage of regional Mexico and the local history, both in Spanish and in indigenous languages ​​from the west of the country.”

To celebrate the committee’s decision, a mariachi band entered the meeting room and sang “El son de la negra,” one of the genre’s most emblematic songs.

Jalisco Secretary of Culture Alejandro Cravioto declared that “there is no Mexican musical expression more widespread throughout the world, and this universality had to be reflected in the list of intangible heritage.”

Cravioto said mariachi accompanies the Mexican people’s journey through life, “being present from baptism to burial.” He also noted that, along with Mexican food, it is the only element that migrants can always carry with them.

“Mariachi is a tradition that has managed to put one foot squarely in the 21st century. It has real roots as a spectacle and as a fundamental aspect of many dates important to Mexican families,” added musician and researcher Luis Ku, who wants measures to be taken to support mariachi heritage as as consequence of the UNESCO recognition.

Those who dedicate their lives to mariachi music have called for serious academic research on the genre, claiming a cultural bias against mariachi has existed for decades.

“Of course this is great news, but the party will end and then things are forgotten. This should be exploited to put mariachi in the place it deserves. It seems incredible, but even now, after so many years, many intellectuals still despise mariachi, despite the roots, tradition and how nice this music is,” said musician and television host Cornelio Garcia.

“It’s weird, but that happens in Mexico, but instead it is greatly appreciated elsewhere … they even have mariachi in Harvard!” Garcia concluded by calling for the University of Guadalajara to host an assembly of the topic.

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