September 23, 2010

Latin Music Primer. Vol. 1: Banda [Mexico]

[My friend Sebastian posted this on his Facebook page, and a quick phone consultation indicated that he is indeed contemplating a series introducing various schools of popular music from Latin America. Since stuff on Facebook has the shelf life of an icecube in Oaxaca, I asked his permission to repost it on FotM. Not only is this a fascinating overview in its own right, but now might be a good time to familiarize yourself with what will inevitably be a major current in American culture as the demographic shift away from the US being a majority white country continues.]

As a joke, comrade Koba suggested I give a breakdown of different styles of music from Latin America considering how much I've been posting lately.

DISCLAIMER: These are simply my opinions and understandings of the genres, not anything official. If you want to learn more, look it up.

Vol. 1: Banda [Mexico]

by Sebastián Luis Chávez

You've probably heard it before, likely blasting out of a pickup with 10 Mexicans in it (and by IT, I mean the front seat), all wearing cowboy hats with the word "Michoacan" emblazoned on the side. When this happened, you probably rolled up your window and implored the gods to destroy every accordion to ever grace the earth with its presence. Very understandable, of course. Every culture has a type of music that everybody outside of it finds incredibly obnoxious, despite how badass we think it is. Like wine, perhaps we could learn to appreciate it if we understood its nuances, undertones, and proverbial aftertaste. But probably not.

Banda is a subgenre of traditional music native to northwest and central Mexico (most prominently in the states of Sinaloa and Michoacan), and is especially popular in the countryside and in the United States among immigrant communities. It will generally feature an accordion or horns on melody, with drums providing percussion (though sometimes in a very limited way) and a bass or tuba holding down the rhythm. Guitars sometimes play a supportive role in the rhythm section. Banda usually has a 2/4 meter, meaning that the rhythm goes 1-2, instead of 1-2-3-4 (typical of Salsa) or 1-2-3 (typical of Norteña). This gives it a very "oom-pa, oom-pa" sort of feel, but one cannot assume that a song is in double meter simply because it is Banda (see "Que Va" by Graciela Beltran). Also, Banda ensembles will ALMOST ALWAYS wear matching suits, typical of traditional Mexican music in general.

Let's keep in mind that genres of Mexican music have significant amounts of crossover, and genre identifiers are noticeably fuzzy. The differences between Banda and Pasito Duranguense (which I hope to touch on later in the week), for example, are near undetectable to the untrained ear. Sometimes a genre is defined by the type of ensemble playing the music (Banda), and sometimes by the lyrical content and style (Ranchera). A Banda Sinaloense (Sinaloan band), for example, can play a Ranchera, since Ranchera refers to a type of song and less to a type of music. A mariachi ensemble (typical of Ranchera), however, would have a much tougher time playing a song composed for a Banda Sinaloense.

Lyrical content generally focuses on typical motifs of love and partying, though often in a context of poverty (see "Beso a Beso" by Ezequiel Peña). Banda groups often cover traditional Ranchera and pop songs, in which the lyrics conform to the norms of those genres.

Let's look at a couple examples:

"Comparame" (Compare Me) by La Arrolladora Banda el Limon

This is a noticeably slower song, but we can notice that the tuba is holding down rhythm and that the 2nd beat always sounds very final (the oom-pa). The role of percussion is notably limited as well, to the point that the drummer could probably go to the restroom mid-song and nobody would notice. Singing is emotive and passionate, and the rest of the band obviously notices based on their emotive dancing .

"La Suegra" (The Mother-in-Law) by Banda Machos

This is technically known as a Quebradita, which is a variation of Banda that, ultimately, just adds a cowbell. Quebraditas are usually a little more light-hearted (this song makes fun of the singer's mother in law who, apparently, has gone missing but is easy to identify because she has the body of a whale and the mouth of a hippopotamus), but otherwise are basically the same. It still has very limited percussion, features horns on melody with a tuba and cowbell holding down rhythm.

"Flor de Capomo" (Capomo Flower) by Los Cadetes de Linares

Our last example here features an accordion on melody, with a tuba still holding down the rhythm section (the percussion, once again, noticeably limited to an occasional snare hit). The singing is reminiscent of corridos, which are often somewhat monotone. We should still be noticing the 2/4 meter by listening for the "oom-pa" feel in the tuba.

Well, thanks for your time kids, I hope you all learned something new. You now know a little bit more about Banda music, and probably feel like you have a little bit Mexican in you (probably not in that way)! So please, go to your nearest taqueria and on the way, if a truck pulls up next to you blasting Banda, yell out a loud ORALE!!!!! before rolling up your window.

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