MEXICO CITY Trumpeter Domingo Ramirez is hoping that U.N. recognition of the mariachi music he has played for 60 years will give business a boost.
"Before it was a decent living and today we do it because it's our profession," the 73-year-old said while waiting for business in Mexico City's Plaza Garibaldi, where strolling bands with violins, trumpets and guitars are a feature of the streetscape.
"But there are days when you don't make anything," said Ramirez as his 16-year-old son David ran from car to car looking for paying customers.
Last week, the U.N educational and cultural agency, UNESCO, added mariachi music and 18 other practices to its intangible cultural heritage list, along with Taekkyeon, a traditional Korean martial art, and French horseback riding. The list now includes 232 items spanning 70 countries.
Even if more modern Mexican musical genres have surpassed mariachi in popularity on its native soil, no one mistakes the form-fitting suits and wide-brimmed sombreros on show at Garibaldi, famous as the capital's home of mariachi.
The thousands of tourists who visit the square each year, both local and foreign, have helped build a global audience for musicians like Ramirez, who started singing and playing when he was 12 and still continues even though he's lost most of his teeth.
"We prefer to work at private homes," he said. "The people come for us here and we go and play ten songs for them."
In one such home performance last week in one of the capital's upscale southern neighbourhoods, businessman Jose Acevedo hired an 11-piece mariachi band to serenade his wife on her 40th birthday.
The one-hour performance as the clock struck midnight cost a hefty 6000 pesos, but Acevedo said it was well worth the cost.
"I just wanted to surprise my wife and make sure her birthday was a special day," he said. "Since then she's been telling all her friends."
The leader of the band who performed that night, Jesus Vazquez Hernandez, said business for him lately has been good, ticking off a full weekend of engagements scheduled.
In light of the U.N.'s recent nod, many argue it can only help breathe new life into a musical tradition that, along with tequila, already serves as shorthand for Mexican culture the world over.
"This will help people better appreciate Mariachi music," said Cornelio Garcia, a musician and Mariachi promoter in the eastern state of Jalisco, the music's birthplace. "Just like when a writer is given the Nobel price and everybody wants to read him." (Additional reporting and writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Krista Hughes)