El Tubador: Part I
by J.D. Salas
“El Tubador: Part I: The Tuba’s Introduction into Northwest Mexico”
As tubists, we are well aware of our basic responsibilities in a musical ensemble. Our instrument is often relegated to the rear of the ensemble providing a strong tonal foundation, and while the part is vitally important, it is not one often showcased as a feature instrument in most ensembles. This fact can be stated for much of the Classical music repertoire and most popular music ensembles that have included the tuba. Over the past year, I have begun a research project into the Mexican popular music ensemble labeled Banda Sinaloense and over the next few issues I plan on introducing the tuba’s introduction into Mexico and its important role in this form of music that has begun to reach far past its home borders. The Banda Sinaloense ensemble, which originated in the Northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa, provides the tuba with a much different role and, in recent years, this role has increased in exposure due to the virtuosic playing by these Banda tubists. These musicians are often regarded as the superstars of the ensemble and sometimes serve as the front men of the group.
Gregorio “Goyito” Cruz, original tubist for Banda El Recodo.
Mexico has become one of the driving forces in the formation of the Banda Sinaloense ensemble. In addition to the tuba or sousaphone the ensemble is comprised of nine to fourteen musicians performing on trumpets, clarinets, valve-trombones, tenor horns and a percussion section which includes the tambora (bass drum performed in contra-time with a hand held high hat cymbal), snare drum, suspended cymbal, timbales, and conga drums. While there were many ensembles in the popular music of Mexico that included the tambora and other percussion instruments, Banda Sinaloense is the first group to incorporate the tuba, and, later, the sousaphone into the fold when many of the other groups used stringed instruments, such as the bajo sexton (a twelve-string guitar that is performed by an alternating thumb-plucked bass string and strumming the upper voiced strings), a guitarron (a six-string large-bodied bass with nylon strings performed by plucking two strings in octaves), or the tololoche (double bass). Many different instruments were experimented with during the formation of the Banda Sinaloense ensemble, but the tuba and tambora remained static through each transition. During my research, the phrase, “No puede ser Banda Sinaloense si no tienes la tuba (There can’t be a Banda if you don’t have the tuba) was often uttered.
There are many historical factors that are directly responsible for the origin of the Banda Sinaloense ensemble. The most important element is the migration of many Central-European settlers who came to Mexico as merchants and brought with them musical traditions and customs, which were quickly assimilated and altered by the Mexican people. These European settlers represented a middle-class population searching for greater wealth, unlike those who chose to immigrate to the United States searching for work and land.2 While it is clear that there were more foreign immigrants to the United States during the same time, Mexico did offer some tempting incentives to European immigrants during the late 1800s. These policies aided the ruling dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz to diversify the Mexican population. Some incentives included allowing foreign immigrants to retain their native citizenship and to pass that on to their children while, at the same time, granting many if not all of the rights given to indigenous Mexican citizens.3 These incentives helped bring many foreign immigrants to Mexico, but they did not have the expected effect. Instead of assimilating, many of these immigrants brought their own traditions and customs and segregated themselves from the native Mexicans. One of the customs was the European practice of village brass bands that were common throughout much of Britain, France, and Germany. 4 While the imported practice involved mainly brass instruments, the instrumentation of these ensembles varied throughout the region and sometimes included woodwind instruments.
Figure 1.1, Tuba used by Gregorio “Goyito” Cruz ca. 1940.Anonymous photograph in the personal collection of Juanita Cruz. Used with permission.
Another factor that contributed to the origin of Banda Sinaloense was the constant presence of military bands in the state of Sinaloa. Military bands began arriving in the state of Sinaloa as early as 1844 when Mazatlan became a garrison town and later during the French-Austrian occupation of Mexico. 5 It is a certainty that many of these earlier military bands used either some form of keyed bugle to fulfill the bass requirements of the larger military ensemble or some of the tuba’s predecessors. The serpent and ophicliede, also of French origin, which were created to provide a strong bass presence in an ensemble, could have made their way to Mexico via the French and Spanish presence. The lack of either photographic or written evidence prior to the late-1800s leaves that question unanswered. The creation of the Banda Sinaloense ensemble is the unique combination of both a military band presence and the foreign tradition of village bands, along with the inherent Mexican pride of the people expressed through music. This mixture created a perfect formula for the creation of this form of popular Mexican music.
The last important aspect that assisted the creation of Banda Sinaloense is the strong emphasis that music played in the daily lives of the Mexican people. To this day music plays a huge part in many Mexican and Mexican-American households. Whether it is through singing in church or strumming on a guitar to the standards of the Mariachi repertoire, many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans learn some form of music throughout the experiences of their daily lives. Another example of the importance of music in Mexican life is seen in the many fiestas and carnivals that are abundant throughout Mexico. In Mazatlan, Sinaloa, the annual carnival and Semana Santa [holy week] celebrations are weeklong events that are full of live music blaring throughout all hours of the night. This emphasis on music combined with the influence of the military bands and the foreign tradition of organized village bands paved the way for the changes that resulted in the traditional Banda Sinaloense repertoire.
These three factors converged and Banda Sinaloense was created. The external influences of the lifestyle changes in Mexico and its musicians helped form its popularity in Sinaloa and expand this genre of music throughout Mexico and the rest of the world. However, some of the influences involve the social and political changes in Sinaloa and Mexico; other important influences involve the changes and advancements in musical instrument development, music education, and the public’s outlook on making a living as a professional musician. Over time, the musical styles of Banda Sinaloense have expanded to include progressive forms of music that were not typically included in the traditional Mexican repertoire such as swing, jazz, mambo, salsa, and rock. Throughout all of these changes, the instrument that had to adjust the most in both melodic and technical abilities was the tuba or sousaphone. It is for that reason that the sousaphone is the most recognizable instrument in the ensemble, not to mention one of the most peculiar to find in a popular music ensemble today.
The Introduction of the Tuba into Mexico
The first patent for the tuba dates back to 1835 when Prussian inventors Wilhelm Wieprecht and Johann Moritz patented the first bass-tuba, but it would be implausible that this very make of instrument would make its way to Mexico.6 The Wieprecht-Moritz tuba was in the key of F and not very effective in the outdoor military band setting that originally brought the tuba and other brass instruments to Mexico. In fact, the few pictures available of the original military ensembles often show instruments with upright piston valves and large bells. These instruments resemble concert tubas that were prevalent in France, Britain, and Belgium, while tubas in Germany, Austria, and Eastern European countries used side-facing rotary valves to accommodate the larger bore.7 Though many of the photos reviewed were dated as late as 1911, it would not be improbable that the instruments photographed would be at least ten years old or more. According to the Mexican census reports going back to 1895, there were at least four thousand or more French nationals counted as opposed to two or three thousand German and British nationals during the same year.8 While the tuba is primarily known as a German instrument, the French may have been responsible for its introduction into Mexico. Of the few concrete details that reinforce this fact, the first is that, during a few of the personal interviews taken for this project, many subjects mentioned a few brands of tuba commonly used match some French instrument makers. Isidoro “Chilolo” Ramirez-Sanchez mentioned that the brand of concert tuba that his father performed on in the Banda Del Bajio was labeled Ancora.9 Through internet searches of used and historical instruments there are some resources that list this brand name. Photographs of instruments for sale on Mexican resale sites list the brands full name as Ancora Gran Prix Paris. 10 Another brand of instrument popular in the French military bands is Couesnon. There are no specific models mentioned in any Mexican musicology sources, but after reviewing certain archival and family photographs such as the photo in Figure 1.1 and comparing the instrument displayed, one can clearly discern the similarities with a 1922 Couesnon tuba which is displayed on many historical instrument trade lists and archives (See Figure 1.2).
Figure 1.2, 1922 Couesnon Tuba.Photo by Peter H. Adams used with permission 1
Photographs of many European brass band tuba sections in the early 1900s also show a clear resemblance to the tubas used in Mexico during this same time period, as opposed to the instruments used in Germany. A 1904 article in El Correo De La Tarde lists the exportation of musical instruments belonging to one of the Mexican artillery bands to Paris, France, for repairs. 11 Another detail to help solidify this French influence on the tuba’s introduction is the large number of brass musicians in Mexico who currently perform on B-flat or E-flat piston-valve instruments, as opposed to the F and B-flat rotary-valve instruments, which were more commonly used in Germany during the late 1800s and early 1900s. During my visits to Mazatlan, all of the Banda tubists marveled at the F tuba that I traveled with and many of the older musicians had never before seen a rotary-valve instrument. While the B-flat tuba would later serve as the ideal instrument for the German orchestra, this horn was commonly a rotary-valve instrument.12 Lastly, is the use of the E-flat alto horn which is still commonly used in almost every Banda Sinaloense. This instrument is often called a “saxore”by most Banda Sinaloense musicians, and when asked the reason for the name, many reply that it is in the same key as the saxophone, but that original instrument may have been an E-flat alto saxhorn first created by Adolfe Sax in 1843. 13 This use of the E-flat alto saxhorn helps provide a clear link to the French influence regarding the tubas introduction into Mexico. This French influence may go as far back to the French-Austrian occupation of Emperor Maximillian I, which took place from 1864 to 1867.14 It was during this time, that military bands presented public concerts featuring a repertoire of marches and classical music. This repertoire later expanded to include popular Mexican songs. It was this practice of arranging traditional Mexican music for a military band that formed the repertoire for the traditional Banda Sinaloense ensemble. 15 This supposition leads into the next question of how this instrument arrived in Mexico via French influence but through merchants that were primarily of German descent. This could be because the instruments that were first imported into Mexico came through the French-Austrian occupation, and, in order to maintain consistency in instrument models, the German merchants continued to provide the same model of instruments until United States manufactured instruments became available. Another possibility could be that by the 1920s, the United States had some trade with Mexico and merchants were able to provide piston-valve tubas manufactured by United States instrument makers such as Conn and Holton, negating the need for rotary-valve instruments in Mexico. There are some historical sources which indicate that many prominent businessmen in the United States, such as Nelson Rockefeller, encouraged colleagues to advertise in Mexico to offset the German ideals set during the Cold War as early as the 1920s. 16
After reviewing sources such as the El Correo De La Tarde, it is clear that some of the more prolific merchants of the late 1800s (See Figure 1.3) who dealt with European imports sold everything from household goods to musical instruments of every type. String instruments such as the violin and those belonging to the guitar family were widely available for decades, but brass and woodwind instruments like the clarinet were not easily obtained by the general public. Among these merchants, a few family names of German descent consistently appear in the history of Mazatlan, Sinaloa. They are Los Señores Melchers, Heymann Succsores, and Wohler. After reviewing archives of El Correo De La Tarde, one can not only study the advertisements for many of these companies, but also the import and export details listing shipments of musical instruments and sheet music, which came from Europe into Mazatlan and dispersed throughout Mexico. Of these families, the Melchers and the Heymanns appear to be the most active with regards to musical instruments. Many of the older musicians interviewed for this project recall the Melchers brothers store in Mazatlan, commonly known as “La Casa Colorada” or the “red house” for its exterior paint color. Today, the building that housed the Melchers brothers store is a pharmacy, but it still maintains the red exterior paint color that the musicians remember. While the Melchers brothers were one of the more important figures in the importation of musical instruments and other goods, there are also records of them taking part in illegal imports. One example is a case in 1854 where the Melchers brothers were accused of shipping contraband into Mazatlan with the cooperation of the local government administrators.17
The Introduction of the Sousaphone Into Mexico
The introduction of the sousaphone into Mexico does not have an elaborate history when compared with that of the concert tuba. It should be noted that even to this day Mexican musicians do not distinguish the difference between the concert tuba and sousaphone, calling both the tuba. Occasionally, they will call the concert tuba bajo de pecho and sousaphone tuba, but rarely recognize the sousaphone as a separate instrument. Through review of photographic evidence of different bands in Mexico, it is clear that the original upright-bell sousaphone or “rain catcher,” created by Ted Pounder of C. G. Conn in 1898 did not make it to Sinaloa.18 It is not known if this is due to the lack of resources or the fact that the supposed fuller round sound created by these upright bell instruments did not properly serve the stylistic needs of the Banda Sinaloense ensemble. While it has been recorded that the first bell-forward sousaphones were created as early as 1908, photographic resources have shown Banda Sinaloense ensembles using concert tubas through the mid-1920s, and in some cases, much later. 19 Many tubists did not fully embrace the introduction of the sousaphone, due to its weight and cumbersome playing position, but the large bell-front instrument created such an interesting spectacle that many of the band leaders insisted that their tubists switch to the new instrument. Rigoberto Zamudio-Velarde states that the tubist for the now infamous Banda El Recodo, Gregorio “Goyito” Cruz, refused to play the sousaphone because he thought the tone quality of the instrument was not smooth enough. 20 There are published photographs of this Banda Sinaloense as late as the early 1950s that show Cruz still performing on a three-valve concert tuba. His replacement, Armando “El Sebrucho” Batista, was not given a choice and by the 1960s, a sousaphone was used in Banda El Recodo, according to photographic evidence.
There have been many different brands of sousaphone that have been created since the instrument’s inception, but there is very little information regarding the first brand of sousaphone introduced into Mexico. Historical pictures do not help provide conclusive evidence due to the body of the instrument being concealed in the pictures of traditional Banda Sinaloense ensembles. It can be safely assumed that by the mid 1900s, there was a solid import and export business between Mexico and the United States (where the sousaphone was invented) that would have facilitated its use in Mexico. As with the invention of the tuba, there were many different copies of the bell-front sousaphone, often with different names such as the Holtonphone or Soubassophone.21 Interesting as the names sound, it does not appear that these early incarnations were ever used in a Banda Sinaloense or that they even made it into Mexico. Sousaphones manufactured by Conn, Besson, and King seem to remain some of the more popular horns used to this day. There are some photographs of antique horns that show that many of the sousaphones manufactured during the early 1900s were four-valve models that closely resemble the Conn 40K and 20K, both of which were available in the key of E-flat and B-flat and commonly used in early Banda Sinaloense ensembles.
Figure 1.3,Advertisement for Musical Instruments in El Correo De La Tarde (1897). Photo by J.D. Salas from scanned archive. Used with permission.
The introduction of the tuba into
The ownership of these expensive instruments has also been an intriguing detail throughout this project. Many of the musicians previously mentioned, such as Goyito and El Sebrucho, did not officially own the instruments on which they performed. It was common practice that the band leader would retain the ownership rights to the larger instruments such as the tambora and bajo de pecho. As musicians left the group either through dismissal or death, the instrument would be passed on to a new member. On occasion, a generous patron would provide a new instrument, such as the tuba or tambora, to show appreciation for a performance, and ownership rights would be disputed once the musician left the group. Juanita Cruz, daughter of Gregorio “Goyito” Cruz, stated that the tuba her father performed on was gifted to him by a politician who enjoyed his performance, but once Goyito was dismissed from Banda El Recodo, the band leader did not allow him to keep the instrument, believing it to be the property of the ensemble.22
This practice of ensemble ownership is no longer an issue as modern-day musicians are responsible for purchasing their own instruments and equipment. While there are currently some music stores in Mexico that sell sousaphones, many Banda Sinaloense tubists usually travel to California to purchase new instruments due to the high price markup in Mexico.
This brief overview of the tuba’s introduction into Mexico is a very small part of discussing the genre of Banda Sinaloense. Other factors to be covered in future issues include its use in the many different styles of music performed by traditional and modern Banda Sinaloenses and the development of virtuosic playing that these tubists demonstrate often with very little formal training. And finally, it is my hope to introduce many of the pioneers who have performed in some of the most notable Banda Sinaloense groups and their successors.
1 Horn-U-Copia Historical Instruments, http://www.horncopia.net/picture.php?show=./instruments/Couesnon/Couesnon1922 tuba-Eb.jpg, (accessed on January 21, 2011).
2 Buchenau, Jürgen. “Small Numbers, Great Impact: Mexico and Its Immigrants, 1821-1973”. Journal of American Ethnic History, Spring 2001, 27.
3 Ibid., 34.
4 Simonett, Helena. Banda: Mexican Musical Life Across Borders. (Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2001), 139.
5 Simonett, “Strike Up The Tambora,” 62.
6 Bevan, Clifford. The Tuba Family. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1978), 76.
8 Buchenau, 33.
9 Ramirez, Isidoro. 2010. Interview by author. Mazatlan, Sinaloa, MX. September 30.
10 Mercado Libre. 2010. Trombone Ancora Grand Prix Paris. http://articulo.mercadolibre.com.mx/MLM-49721642-trombone-ancora-grand-prixparis-_JM, (accessed on January 16, 2011).
11 Telegramas-Mexico, El Correo De La Tarde, March 8, 1904. (N.P.).
12 Bevan, 135.
13 Ibid., 101.
14 Calvert, Peter. Mexico. (New York-Washington: Praeger Publishers, 1973), 37-8.
15 Simonett, ”Strike Up The Tambora,” 63.
16 Moreno, Julio. Yankee Don’t Go Home! Mexican Nationalism, American Business Culture, and the Shaping of Modern Mexico, 1920–1950 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 230–31.
17 Voss, Stuart. On The Periphery Of Nineteenth-Century Mexico: Sonora and Sinaloa 1810-1877, (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1982), 128.
18 Bevan, 192.
20 Zamudio-Velarde, Rigoberto. 2011. Interview by author. Mazatlan, Sinaloa. January 10.
21 Bevan, 192.
22 Cruz, Juanita. 2011. Interview by author. Mazatlan, Sinaloa, MX. January 11.
Bevan, Clifford. The Tuba Family. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1978.
Buchenau, Jürgen. Small Numbers, Great Impact: Mexico and It’s Immigrants, 1821- 1973. Journal of American Ethnic History, Spring 2001: 23-49.
Calvert, Peter. Mexico. New York-Washington: Praeger Publishers. 1973.
Moreno, Julio. Yankee Don’t Go Home! Mexican Nationalism, American Business Culture, and the Shaping of Modern Mexico, 1920-1950. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
Simonett, Helena. Banda: Mexican Musical Life Across Borders. Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
——————. Strike Up the Tambora: A Social History of Sinaloan Band Music. Latin American Music Review Volume 20, No. 1 (Spring-Summer, 1999): 59-104.
Voss, Stuart. On The Periphery Of Nineteenth-Century Mexico: Sonora and Sinaloa 1810-1877. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. 1982.
Zamudio-Velarde, Rigobert. 2010. Interview by author. Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico. September 30.
Jorge Davi “J.D.” Salas, a native of Alamo, Texas (Rio Grande Valley), serves as Artist/Instructor of Tuba-Euphonium Studies at Stephen F. Austin State University. Prior to his appointment at SFA, J.D. served as Artist/Instructor of Tuba & Euphonium Studies at Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand where he served as the country’s first full-time tuba-euphonium professor. Mr. Salas has performed regularly with the Louisville Orchestra and the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra and will perform as the Principal Tubist for the Orchestra of the Pines in Nacogdoches, TX. An accomplished string bass player in both the jazz and classical idioms, J.D. has performed with the Temple Symphony Orchestra, Disneyland All-American College Band in Anaheim, California, and the Disneyland Paris International Show Band in Paris, France where he performed with many musical legends as Bobby Shew, Jiggs Wigham, and Ricky Ford.