My previous article on Banda Sinaloense discussed the introduction of the tuba and sousaphone into the Northwest Mexican state of Sinaloa. This part will journey into the sound concepts which are unique to this genre of music and the different musical styles, both classical and ethnic, that have been incorporated and then evolved throughout Banda Sinaloense’s rich history. It is my hope that these discussions will provide a clear understanding of the traditions and techniques commonly found in this form of Mexican popular music.
Sound Concept of Banda Sinaloense
The sound concepts (tone, timbre, and articulation) and melodic structure used in the popular music of Mexico create a unique listening experience when compared with other Western classical and pop music. The melodic structure, instrumentation, and added percussion in Banda Sinaloense help to separate it from the other genres of Mexican popular music including Mariachi and Norteño. This melodic structure is often created by layering the melody in parallel 3rds and 6ths while providing a strong harmonic support by the tuba and alto horns. Alto horns are replaced by baritone horns in a few ensembles. Often the melody is performed by the trumpets or clarinets and in many cases, combined into both instrumental parts. The tambora’s alternating beat with the hand-held platas (high-hat) provides a strong foundation, but does not overpower the ensemble, while the snare and bongo drums add an additional layer of color.
Another musical aspect of Banda Sinaloense music that completely differs from other Western music is the articulation and the inflection of the melody. These articulation concepts are also commonly heard in the wind and brass parts of many forms of popular Mexican music. In Banda Sinaloense this concept involves short staccato notes alternated with a wide vibrato on longer melodic lines in the brass parts combined with a thick reedy clarinet sound. Dynamics are unique in being very abrupt, not using crescendos or diminuendos. Many people have pondered the reason for these drastic differences in both articulation and dynamics. One possibility is that traditionally, most musicians in Mexico began their musical training on string instruments such as guitars, vihuelas (small four string guitar), or violins. This, combined with the fact that there was no formal music education available in many villages, leads to the conclusion that pioneering brass and wind musicians infused the percussive effect of the strumming guitar and wide vibrato that is commonly used in string playing into their own musicianship.
Tuba performance practice in this style of music also does not conform to what is commonly heard in the classical setting. Often one will hear a Banda tubist perform with the same short staccato articulation and provide a harmonic addition to the tambora. Many times this harmonic addition can be quite harsh due to lack of a focused air stream and un-centered articulation. Throughout the last ten years, recordings of Banda Sinaloense have brought this unique sound concept more into conformity with western pop music through the addition of reverb and by adding length and fullness to the articulation style during post-production. This creates a large difference between the recorded sound and live performances, where Banda Sinaloense ensembles use their traditional sound concepts and shorter articulations.
The Musical Styles of Banda Sinaloense
Banda Sinaloense is a product of cultural blending and it is this fact that helps create a wide repertoire of styles that continues to expand as different cultural influences are introduced to Mexico and other areas where Banda music is performed. Many of these styles, such as the march, waltz, and polka, come from the classical music influence while others, such as the pasodoble, vals creole, and other regional canciónes, are derived from regional influences. These styles were first introduced in their original forms but soon evolved through the instrumentation and interpretation of the traditional Banda Sinaloense ensemble.
The march is one of the few forms of music that has been used for both functional and stylistic purposes. To this day its functional purpose stems from the repetitive rhythms and simplistic arrangement that provides a convenient tool to accompany military troop movements and presentations. In the mid 19th century, specifically during Maximillian’s reign, many functional marches began to appear in wind band repertoire as part of larger compositions. This incorporation greatly influenced the formation of the traditional Banda Sinaloense repertoire. Some of the differences between this march style and the popular marches by American composers such as John Phillip Sousa and Karl King include the repetitive form of the Mexican pieces and largely unison lines in the various strains, while still using parallel thirds and sixths and the characteristic performance practice of popular Mexican music with regard to articulation and dynamic contrast.
The bass parts of these Banda Sinaloense marches often follow the same harmonic and melodic structure of their classical music counterparts. This structure commonly involved the outlining of the root and fifth of the stated key with an occasional flourish or turn into either a recapitulation of the theme or a key modulation. The difference between the two styles, aside from the sound concepts associated with Mexican popular music, was the lack of an organized formal structure in the Banda Sinaloense marches. While they retained the use of the multiple strains and a modulating trio, Banda Sinaloense marches also incorporated multiple tags (a one measure turn-around or a four to eight measure phrase) used to add time to the piece, and codas. Additionally, tubists often added flourishes and other improvisatory turns into these tags. This merging of functional and stylistic concepts in the traditional Banda Sinaloense repertoire is perhaps due to the fact that many Bandas performed while strolling through the streets. To this day, one can visit Mazatlan during Semana Santa or Carnaval and see the different groups performing through the streets and into the early morning hours.
Figure 1.1 illustrates a popular march in the Banda Sinaloense repertoire. “De Torreon A Lerdo,” which translates as “From Torreon to Lerdo,” is named for two cities in Mexico. This excerpt adds the alto horn and percussion to the tuba or sousaphone part to illustrate the harmonic and rhythmic relationship that provides the foundation for much of the Banda Sinaloense repertoire. It is clear from the score that percussion provides an alternating beat between the tambora and platas (hand-held high hat) which is commonly called contra-time. This musical device helps to reinforce the harmonic and rhythmic structure provided by the tuba or sousaphone, which is offset by the alto horn line. The occasional turns, illustrated in measure thirteen and seventeen, help ground the piece and keep the rhythm from rushing. These turns are similar to the earlier mentioned tags but are much smaller in scale and occasionally provide an improvisatory aspect, and serve to allow the performer to make lines more virtuosic. It is easy to audibly identify the tonal center of the piece through the bass part’s function of outlining the key.
Figure 1.1, Transcription of Alto Horn, Sousaphone, and Percussion parts for “De Torreon A Lerdo.” Transcription by J.D. Salas
While military influences introduced the march to the Banda Sinaloense repertoire, the introduction of the polka arrived as a contribution by the many European immigrants who ventured to Mexico in search of new life and adventure. The importation of village bands was mentioned previously and with those ensembles came the repertoire associated with the European groups. The bass parts of the march and polka are very similar in harmonic structure as they both share the concept of outlining the root and fifths of the chord. Phrasing and rhythmic inflection are differences between the two styles, along with the different use of the percussion instruments to identify either the march or polka. Due to the functional use of the march, it is reasonable to conclude that there was a greater need for a strong rhythmic pulse. The polka still incorporated either a 2/4 or 4/4 time signature, but allowed for the tuba or sousaphone to provide the rhythmic pulse, creating a lighter musical atmosphere.
Figure 1.2 is a musical excerpt of “El Guango,” which translates as “The Drunkard.” It illustrates some of the similar harmonic and rhythmic functions of the tuba or sousaphone. While not displayed in the excerpt, the alto horn part is very similar to what was demonstrated in Figure 1.1, playing mainly off-beats. The difference from the march is substantial, due in part to the percussion’s use in this piece. Traditionally, the percussion is used in a very light fashion in polka, with very little snare drum or cymbal. The bass drum and high-hat still keep the contra-time, occasionally dropping out to provide the tuba or sousaphone the opportunity to keep the pulse steady and controlled.
Figure 1.2, Transcribed Sousaphone part for “El Guango.” Transcription by J.D. Salas
The introduction of the waltz into Mexico is a well-recorded but often debated event in many music histories. In the Archivo General de la Nación there is a manuscript of a piece of music clearly in the waltz style dated to 1815 that was written in San Agustin de las Cuevas. It is speculated that this is a reason much of the popular music of Mexico is composed in waltz form. Unfortunately, this influence was not favored by most of the ecclesiastical establishment and many considered it a vulgar form of music.
Figure 1.3 is an excerpt from a traditional waltz titled “Chayo La Vieja” that translates as “Chayo the Old One.” It is clear to see that the tuba or sousaphone part portrays the typical bass function of the waltz by outlining the initial key of the piece, D Major, then modulating into Bb Major in measure twenty-three. As was illustrated in the previous figures, the tuba or sousaphone part does add occasional turns or obbligato parts to keep the pulse moving forward.
Figure 1.3, Transcribed Tuba Part for “Chayo La Vieja.” Transcription by J.D. Salas
Regional Styles of Mexico
Along with the western styles that influenced the repertoire of Banda Sinaloense, there are many regional styles that found their origins in Mexico. As mentioned before, the extreme isolation of the Mexican region allowed for many of these local styles to appear similar in rhythmic and melodic structure, but to have different names. These rhythmic and melodic structures are taken from many of the earliest influences into Mexico such as the indigenous people, the Africans via Cuba, and the conquering Spaniards. The Spanish influence involves many genres, including literary, such as the copla and decimal. The rhythms in the syllabic contexts of these poems quickly found their way into the instrumental phrasing and lyrics of Mexican popular music that included Banda Sinaloense. Since its inception, the traditional Banda Sinaloense repertoire had primarily been comprised of instrumental works. But once the instrumentation solidified and the popularity of the ensemble grew in the region, vocalists began to appear with many Banda Sinaloense groups.
The first Mexican regional style incorporated into the Banda Sinaloense repertoire was the son. The son illustrates an interesting method in which Spanish songs, influenced by both the indigenous people and African rhythmic structure, were combined to form an original form of folk music. One of the interesting features of this style is the incorporation of a rhythmic structure that was widely used but limited to many forms of string mestizo music due to its highly technical nature. This rhythmic structure is formed by alternating 6/8 and 3/4 measures to create an energetic dancing feel. While the trumpets, trombones, and clarinets are primarily responsible for the melodic and harmonic structure, in the Banda Sinaloense ensemble, it is the tuba, alto horns, and percussion that create the rhythmic structure in much of the repertoire.
Figure 1.4 illustrates the opening to the popular Banda Sinaloense piece titled “El Palomito,” or the “The Pigeon.” This excerpt shows the alternation between the 6/8 and 3/4 time signatures and the tuba or sousaphone’s use in outlining the rhythm. It is important to note that, while this excerpt only shows the bass part of the piece, many of the other instruments, including the alto horns and percussion, use different time signature alternations. This adds another layer of rhythmic complexity with an intense syncopated fell, similar to that found in figure 1.1.
Figure 1.4, Transcribed Sousaphone for “El Palomito.” Transcription by J.D. Salas
The pasodoble is another regional dance form that has evolved into one of the most common styles of Banda Sinaloense music. After the march and waltz, the pasodoble comprises the majority of the instrumental Banda Sinaloense repertoire. Literally translated as “Two-Step,” the pasodoble is essentially an uneven one-step. Composed in either 6/8 or 2/4 time, this style resembles the march in rhythmic and melodic structure and was commonly heard in the bullfighting rings of Mexico. Originating from some of the earliest brass bands in Mexico, it is no surprise that this style of music found its way into the Banda Sinaloense repertoire.
Figure 1.5 is an illustration of a pasodoble titled “Cielo Andaluz,” which translates into “Andalucian Sky” for the Spanish region of Andalucia. The piece contains some of the basic characteristics of the typical pasodoble. The use of the sixteenth note pickups, along with the addition of the syncopated rhythm and trills, easily produces the lop-sided musical effect of the introduction. The triplet pickup notes into both measures four and six, which leads into a strict eighth note pattern, help ground the piece into a march-like feel. At measure nine, the harmonic and rhythmic function of the tuba or sousaphone part in the pasodoble is introduced and alternates the steady downbeat pattern with the rhythm in measure eleven, which is a strong downbeat followed by a pickup into the next measure. Harmonically, the piece is centered mainly in c minor. This is clearly stated by the introductory section, which outlines the c harmonic minor scale. The first strain opens up strongly favoring the dominant with measure twenty-one clearly stating the c minor key, which is played by the entire ensemble in a repeated eight-measure phrase.
Figure 1.5, Transcribed Tuba Part for “Cielo Andaluz.” Transcription by J.D. Salas
The Technobanda Factor
During the 1980s, electronic instruments created an incredible change in almost every genre of music from classical to popular. Some musicians believe that this introduction degraded the style of most music due to the use of synthesized horn sounds instead of live instrument sounds. During this period, Banda ensembles sometimes completely replaced the brass and woodwind instruments or mixed live horn sounds with synthesized tones. This change altered the sound concept of the traditional Banda Sinaloense and provided a catalyst for one of the biggest changes in the function of the sousaphone part. While this new sound did retain some of the mestizo forms of the polka and waltz, the music featured was more commercialized. It focused heavily on the technical abilities of the horns that were easily matched by the keyboard and electric bass instruments. This form of Banda reached its peak in the United States around 1990, when for the first time ever, a Spanish-language radio station was ranked “number one” in the Southern California area, superseding many mainstream stations.
In addition to the different sound of technobanda, a culture of Mexican music including new dance steps that complimented the Banda style of music, such as the quebradita and the caballito, was inspired by technobanda and instilled a renewed pride in the heritage of Mexican-Americans. Unfortunately, technobanda would decline in popularity throughout the next decade due to its continued increasing commercialization of sound. A resurgence of traditional Banda Sinaloense began to fill the void that technobanda left behind. Many of the original Bandas mentioned earlier, including El Recodo and Banda Limon, began to tour the United States, Central America, and in some cases, Europe. The music performed by these Banda Sinaloense groups still featured the original sound, but the bass line was forever changed as sousaphone players began to emulate the highly technical lines that were featured so prominently in technobanda. Large intervallic leaps, multiple tonguing, glissandos, flutter tonguing, and lines featuring fast chromatic and diatonic scale passages in place of the once simple turns, became commonplace in the music. This new practice placed very high demands on the sousaphone player. It is not known whether the practice of aural study helped ease the trepidation that would undoubtedly be caused by reading a transcription of these advanced bass lines that are commonly used in current Banda Sinaloense performances, but witnessing these musicians perform is truly impressive.
The example in Figure 1.6 is a sousaphone cadenza that has been added to the traditional Banda Sinaloense piece “El Sinaloense.” In the original version, the melody is performed by the clarinets and trumpets or by a vocalist. The original cadenza section was added on after the 1990s by Banda El Recodo to give the vocalist an opportunity to talk with the audience and welcome them to the performance. It is easy to see the resemblance to the style illustrated in Figure 3.4 for the piece “Arriba Pichitaro.” The difference between the two works involves the advanced multiple articulations such as double and triple tonguing that must be utilized in “El Sinaloense.” The piece is usually considered to be in 6/8 time, but the alternation between the 6/8 and 3/4 metric feel requires that the performers play to the quarter note pulse. It should be noted that this transcription is only one example of cadenzas added to traditional Banda Sinaloense music. Some musicians include slurs and octave leaps along with additional rhythmic variations, all while keeping the basic pulse of the work constant. It is incredible to realize that many of these sousaphone players are easily incorporating musical techniques that many western musicians struggle with and practice on a daily basis. It is more impressive when one considers that, until the late 1990s, there has been virtually no instrumental music education focusing on Banda Sinaloense in Mexico.
Figure 1.6, Transcribed Sousaphone Cadenza for “El Sinaloense.” Transcription by J.D. Salas
The following albums should provide the casual listener with a concise example of the various forms of Banda Sinaloense music and the available music of the different ensembles. This list is ever-growing, with new groups appearing every month and a plethora of instrumentations and musical styles.
Bandas Sinaloense: Musica Tambora, Various Artists, Arhoolie Records, B00005Q6HU
This diverse program of early Banda is presented by different ensembles that pioneered this form of music. In addition to various artists, the program notes written by Dr. Helena Simonett provide an informative history of the origins of Banda Sinaloense. Much of the music on this album is still standard fare performed by Banda Sinaloense ensembles.
Esencial Banda Sinaloense El Recodo De Cruz Lizarraga, Sony U.S. Latin, B00079ZA7M
This is a recent compilation of different recordings of the original Banda El Recodo. While there have been many incarnations of Banda El Recodo, this album represents some of the original musicians in the group.
Mas Adelante, La Arrolladora Band El Limón, Disa / Umgd, B001TD1XJY
This is a representation of one of the more popular Banda Sinaloense ensembles next to Banda El Recodo.
Banda Sinaloense, Los Recoditos, Import, B001CL3KW6
Los Recoditos is a traditional Banda Sinaloense ensemble that was formed by the children of the original members of Banda El Recodo. Many of these original members often rotated into Banda El Recodo as positions opened and new siblings were introduced into the ensemble.
20 Grandes Exitos: Segunda Edicion, Banda Machos, Warner Music Latina, B000C1VARO
Banda Vallarta Show: Nuestra Historia (box set), Banda Vallarta Show, I.M. Records, B0013FMBN0
Tu Inspiracion, Alacranes Musical, Fonovisa Inc., B001D5F3FI
Capaz De Todo Por Ti, K-Paz De La Sierra, Disa / Umgd, B000WS4O70
Nosotros Somos, Grupo Montéz De Durango, Disa / Umgd, B001G9LVCK
These five albums represent some of the technobandas that influenced the advancement in the technical abilities of the traditional Banda Sinaloense ensemble.
If the evolution of Western classical and popular music served as a model for the progression of other forms of music, one can truly understand how Banda Sinaloense is still a relatively new form of music. After only one hundred and seventy five years, this style of music has incorporated many different influences into its repertoire. These inspirations include everything from African rhythms to the influences of the Jazz and Swing era. Recently some forms of Mexican popular music such as Reggaeton and Bachata have incorporated influences from reggae music, rap, and hip-hop. These styles have yet to be introduced to the Banda Sinaloense ensemble, but one would imagine that these genres will find their way into Banda in the near future. One example of evolution in Banda Sinaloense is the advent of music videos on several Mexican television stations which in the past few years have focused solely on Banda music.
While Banda Sinaloense is not the only form of popular music in Mexico, its progression could be compared with that of Mariachi music. The origins of Mariachi music date back as far as the early 1500s when the Spanish arrived in Mexico. Today one can find Mariachi ensembles in almost every public school music program in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. In many programs, the ensembles have a higher level of musicianship than is present in their equivalent orchestras and wind ensembles. At present, there are no music programs in the United States dedicated to teaching Banda Sinaloense in the same way as they have in Mexico. It could be envisioned that, in the next ten years, there will be evidence of Banda Sinaloense music performed in parts of the southern United States where there are large Hispanic populations