World Bands 101 - A Primer
Native musicians were attracted to the western instruments for much the same reason they’d been imported . . . . they were shiny and played loud and as such, made for an ideal accompaniment to outdoor festivals, parties, rites, etc. In most cases the use of the instruments for music making outside the european tradition was discouraged, though not unknown. When allowed, the native band musicians would take their instruments home and work those sounds into their own native music. The results were generally full of rhythm, as befits the party music it was, and based on their own unique harmonic realities. When the colonists were finally sent packing, the instruments were part of the detritus left behind, in native hands, finally free to let their vivid imaginations run wild . . . . possibly presenting the only instance of a positive effect the colonials had on their colonies.
The sheer variety of musical styles that have developed as a result of this clash of western technology and native cultures all around the world add to the mystery of why these musics have remained such a well kept secret for so long. The one great success seems to have been with the music that became ‘jazz’ from New Orleans, U.S.A. and that might have more to do with the economic power that that particular colony became and the fascination the rest of the world developed for that colonies culture. Great and inventive styles of wind music have developed in India, Mexico and Surinam as well without attracting the massive attention American jazz has.
This primer is hoped to be a small step toward rectifying the general ignorance of these fascinating musics in western wind music circles in the hope that these might be considered alternatives to the western classical traditions along with american jazz.
Some names to look for in Indian Brass Bands are the Shyam Brass Band of Jabalpur, one of the best examples of this amazing tradition. They record for the Tips label of Bombay and during the summer of 2004 made their 3rd trip to Europe for festivals of World music. Jawa Kaipur Brass Band of Rajastan has a disc out on the Kardum/Iris Musique label. Raj Kemal Brass Band is another band with many cassettes on the Indian market.
More information about the Indian Band tradition can be found in the work of ethnomusicologist, Dr. Greg Booth. An article of his in the Journal of Ethnomusicology circa 1990 provides a wonderful introduction to the realities of this incredible and little known style of music. His book - Brass Baja: Stories from the World of Indian Wedding Bands - published by Oxford University Press (Delhi) will be published in early 2005.
The Indian band tradition also has the distinction of being one of the only world band traditions to have spawned a copy group - Bollywood Brass Band of London has enjoyed 10 or more years of spreading the word about this great voice in world band music including 3 or 4 CD’s.
Click the links below for some MP3 examples of music from India.
Popular bands are a staple of religious and other popular festivals in Andean cultures such as those of Peru and Bolivia. They consist of trumpets, baritone horns, saxophones, tubas and percussion and play adaptations of folk and religious melodies oftentimes accompanying a troupe of folk dancers. Their performances usually include show elements such as choreographed unison movements to add to their market value for the weddings and other celebrations that make for a large part of their work. Many of the musicians are moonlighting military band musicians with a formal musical education and, rare among world band cultures, it is not uncommon to find bandmasters and bandsmen working from written scores. Miranda v.d. Spek is a leading researcher of Andean Band culture, having recently returned from a 3rd extended stay with bands in Peru and Bolivia.
Click the links below for some MP3 examples of music from the Andes
Bands in Suriname are generally smaller ensembles of 6 - 10 musicians playing saxophones, trumpets, trombones, baritones, sousaphones (or course!) and several percussionists one of which will be playing the unique ‘scratchi’ drum, a medium sized tom-tom laid on it’s side with a small thick cymbal mounted on top and holding down the peculiar, broken (but highly danceable) ‘kaseko’ rhythm.
As well as existing in Suriname itself, these bands are highly active in the Suriname communities in Holland. One of the leading figures in Holland is Carlo Jones, who, with his Suriname Troubadours as well as with groups such as De Nazaten van Prins Hendirx continues to record and develop this wonderfully vital music.
Click the links below for some MP3 examples of music from Suriname
Instrumentations include 2 rotary valved trumpets playing melodies in thirds, another 2 or 3 trumpets playing rhythm, 3 or 4 baritones playing rhythm, a bombardon for bass and one or two percussion players. Often a saxophone or clarinet serves as the solo voice playing very intricate melodies full of trills and other illuminations, in a manner not unlike their Indian counterparts. Odd meters in 5, 7 and 9 are common in the repertoires they perform for weddings and other civic functions.
Trompettist Boban Markovic, often the winner of the annual competition and festival in Guca, Serbia [Official Site], is one of the leading figures in the Serbian tradition and increasingly visible in the programs of european and american world music festivals.
In recent years the village band Fanfare Ciocarlia has been discovered by world music programmers all over the world, have released 3 discs and continue to attract young audiences to the force of their music.
Click the links below for some MP3 examples of music from Serbia, Macedonia, and Romania.
Click the links below for some MP3 examples of music from Brazil.
Recorded examples of groups like Los Pueblitos, Vuelta do Rio, Banda Santa Cruz, Banda La Costena and many others, are widely available in Latino records shops across the southwest U.S.A. The recognized granddaddy of the Sinaloan tradition is Senor Cruz Ligarra and his Banda El Recodo. His influence is often compared to that of Duke Ellington in american jazz. The traditional municipal and village bands in Mexico often display some of the same rhythmic characteristics as the bands of the Sinaloan tradition
The leading researcher of the Mexican band traditions is Dr. Helena Simonette of Vanderbilt Univ. and her books, 'Banda: Mexican Musical Life Across Borders Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2001 and 'En Sinaloa Naci: Historia de la musica de banda. Mazatlan, 2004., provide the most extensive exploration to date of this vibrant and exciting world band tradition.
Click the links below for some MP3 examples of music from Mexico.