The basic instruments of mariachi music are variations of violin, guitar and harp prototypes that were first brought to Mexico in 1519 by Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors. Natives of Mexico, who already had their own highly developed music, were taught Spanish music after the 1521 conquest and were quick to master European musical traditions. The massive importation of African slaves into Mexico during the early colonial period, combined with Spanish and indigenous musical influences, resulted in many mestizo folk music traditions. One of these was mariachi music.
Apparent links between the early mariachi and orquestas de teatro, orquestas de cuerda and/or orquestas típicas are just some of the hypotheses that have been forwarded in an attempt to trace the mariachi’s origin and evolution. What is certain is that string bands have been popular in Mexico since the colonial era (1521-1810), and that regional variations of these groups that existed in rural areas of Jalisco and surrounding states eventually evolved into what became known as the mariachi.