Growing up the daughter of a talented musician, it’s no wonder I am attracted to a variety of songs and sounds from around the globe. For years I attended Highland Games just to hear the shrill of bagpipes and watch the synched coordination of a Pipe and Drum band. Years later, I was drawn to Reggaeton, Salsa and Merengue, and learned (or at least tried) to dance Bachata with my friends in the Republica Dominicana.
Since moving to México in November, I have been exposed to two of many wonderful types of music native to the area: Mariachi and Banda. While living in Guadalajara, I heard more Mariachi than Banda music, and enjoyed hours wandering around Plaza de los Mariachis and El Parían in Tlaquepaque, listening to traditional songs. With decorative, handsome costumes, deep emotional vocals and a vibrant combination of strings, horns and guitar, it is hard to decide my favorite aspect of Los Mariachis (OK, possibly, it’s the pants. But more on that later…)
Recently I moved from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta, and have become more familiar with Banda music: a brass-based form of traditional music, with songs including rancheras, corridos, baladas, and boleros, as well as modern Mexican pop and the occasional cumbia. Most Banda music is a derived form of polka, or traditional German and Polish music. In Puerto Vallarta, Banda seems to be everywhere: in taxis, in tiendas, along el Malécon, and of course on the TV channel dedicated to this style of song: Bandamax. It is hard to avoid this catchy, unique blend of voice and rhythm, resplendent with dramatic lyrics about love and life. In fact, I haven’t owned a TV in years but my new casa has one and, since moving in, I only watch Bandamax.
Banda fascinates and delights me for many reasons. First, there number of members ranges from 10 to 20 in one Banda group. There may be more than one lead singer, and the use of wind instruments – including clarinet, trombone, saxophone and tuba (sousaphone) – is predominant in songwriting. One notable Banda instrument is the tambour, a type of bass drum with a cymbal on top and a head made from animal hide. Bandas were originally called “Tambours” after this drum; the Tambour style originated in the state of Zacatecas. Another instrument in the percussion section is the tarola: a snare drum with timbales, resembling tom-toms on a regular drum set. Winds and precessions, along with accordion, cowbells, cymbals and guitar, can make a full Banda performance can look like a party – and that’s just the group on stage!
Familiarizing myself with Banda has not been an easy task: I ask the kids I volunteer with on Saturdays what is popular, and most of them can name off several groups or sing the songs on cue (an entertaining improv version of Karaoke). I find myself searching on youtube for videos by El Banda de Límon, Banda Carnival and Banda Rosario de Los Angeles (whose hilarious video El Ruletero features taxi driving mania to lyrics that state “I am the lord ruletero, I am the warrior , if lord of the warrior, I am from Tacubaya”), a unique version of the original posted by BetoRassan.
I have watched dozens of female Banda performers like Jenni Rivera, La Renia de Banda, who sadly died in December 2012 at age 43, much too early to lose her beautiful voice and commanding stage presence. While there are many wonderful mujeres de Banda, like Graciela Beltran and Ana Bárbara, for many there will always only be one reina, and that’s Jenni.
Predictably, I find myself swooning over guapo Banda artists like El Bebeto, who began singing professionally at the age of 13, and Espinoza Paz, a braces-smiling, suave, Latin Grammy-award nominee. Even mi favorito, Puerto Rican Reggaeton artist Tito el Bambino is featured on Bandamax in the video for Te Pido Perdón, a collaboration with Banda el Recodo. Tito also recorded sang a version of his hit song El Amor with Jenni Rivera that is melodic and memorial, armonioso y hermoso.
As mentioned earlier, my father has been a musician for 60+ years; he still plays trombone (among countless other instruments) and writes endless scores and songs. Dad would probably appreciate all the horns and percussion that make up the foundation of a solid Banda group. Every time I watch a great Banda video or hear a song heavy in the trombone section, I think of my Dad! Another great reason for me to love this music.
My next aventura en Banda is learning the danza tradicional that accompanies the music in clubs and at parties, but until I meet the right vaquero con clase to show me the steps and turns for bailando, I’m content to listen to the music, learn the words and watch the videos on Bandamax. Just don’t ask me to sing – that’s a misión I find for now is best left up to the cantantes... o los chavos!