Mexican regional music is quite distinct, offering subtle to dramatic differences in everything from the instrumentation to the language and text used as well as the costumes and choreography. As a large country, Mexico's states and provinces have each developed numerous forms, some dating back to the Aztec empire, and today we see remarkable preservation of the traditional music spread beyond the original boundaries.
During the independence period in Mexico (18101910) we find the origins of most of the country's regional forms that developed largely within a mestizo context (mixing Spanish with indigenous elements). Along the eastern peninsula and in some southern areas, more Creole mixing is evident as African influences were included in the development of music and dance there. Son jarocho is an example of the more Creole influences, as it blends Spanish, African (and even Caribbean) elements with indigenous ones. From the southern coastal plain of Veracruz, son jarocho is harp music with a highly repetitive musical structure and improvisational lyrics. A classic example of this style of son is "La Bamba," which features a distinct three-chord repeated pattern underlying a simple verse (or verses) which allow for variation and improvisation.
Another southern form is the son istmeño or son oaxaqueño, which comes from the areas of Oaxaca and Chiapas. Within this region we find two distinct types of son defined by their instrumentation: banda and the African-derived marimba. The xylophone instrument known as marimba is found from southern Mexico to Ecuador, and in many countries throughout Central America. Marimba ensembles tend to play instrumental music (for dancing zapateados), and are sometimes joined by a drummer with a "portable" setup including bass and snare drums and a cymbal. The marimbas themselves can be either sencilla (single) or doble (double), allowing for two players to play together.
One of Mexico's regional forms actually resides in five states (Tamaulipas, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Querétaro and Puebla) and is characterized by one distinct feature: its rhythm. Son huasteco is the term associated with the huapango rhythm and features violin and guitar instrumentation with highly improvisational text, often structured around the Spanish décima form. The word "huapango" is derived from the Náhuatl term cuauh-panco, which means "to dance on a wooden platform," demonstrating links to its Aztec past. Huapangos are also used in competitive form, such as the huapango arribeño, where dueling poets improvise complex décimas around topical events.
One of the most identifiable forms of regional Mexican son is defined by its instrumentation: son jaliciense (from the state of Jalisco) is represented by the mariachi. The mariachi is an ensemble dating back to the early 19th century, and at that time (and until the early 1920s) consisted primarily of string instruments including two violins, the vihuela and guitarra de golpe (guitar relatives), the guitarrón (a large-bodied, four-string bass guitar) or the harp. Around 1927 trumpets were added as well as more violins. The ideal mariachi tends to have around nine musicians and always will include the guitarrón, while the harp is optional. Mariachis became regarded as one of Mexico's more "refined" ensembles, and by the mid-20th century their popularity spread throughout Mexico as the era of Mexican cinema propelled these groups and individual artists to stardom.
Regional forms abound in the country; some, such as the chilena, came by way of neighboring Latin American countries. Genres such as the son calentano (also called son guerrense), son michoacano and many others serve as links to Mexico's distinct musical character and thrive today more than 100 years after they first emerged.