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“The very first Mariachi recording” as identified in the cover of the Cuarteto Coculense 1907-1909 album, precedes the Mexican Revolution and is now at the US Library of Congress.
Mariachi Before the Revolution and the Disc
The Cuarteto Coculense was composed of four musicians from the town of Cocula, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. They had 2 violins, a bass guitar known as the “guitarrón“, and a small guitar called the “vihuela“, which resembles a miniature “guitarrón” in shape and is much smaller than the size of a normal guitar. The “vihuela” sounds like a tenor guitar. Three of its five strings are tuned higher than a guitar to give it a higher pitch. Note that there were no trumpets in the quartet, which today we associate so much with the sound of Mariachis.
This quartet had taken the Mariachi music to the capital, and even performed for Mexican president Porfirio Diaz in 1905. So in 1907, they recorded the first of a series of recordings through 1909. The information I found led me to believe that they made these recordings in cylinders, the prevalent technology at the time, although not widely spread.
In those days, cylinders provided a better quality of sound but had the inconvenience that they were hard to play, and broke easily. The disc had been invented in the late 1800s but was still being refined in the early 1900s as it had poor sound.
These recordings of 1907 to 1909 preceded the 1910 Mexican Revolution that ended the dictatorship period known as the “Porfiriato“.
Cuarteto Coculense Album to Library of Congress
As the Library of Congress website says, “Thanks to the efforts of scholars and record collectors, the [Cuarteto Coculense’s] work was collected and reissued in 1998 by Arhoolie Records, revisiting and reviving an otherwise lost chapter in mariachi’s history and paying overdue homage to these recording pioneers.”
In case you’re wondering how these cylinder recordings were saved, scan technology is used to capture the sound in the cylinder foils and be able to convert it to other formats like digital or vinyl.
The Library of Congress added the Cuarteto Coculense album to the National Recording Registry on April 12, 2023.
You can listen to a short sample of their recording HERE.