I experienced two extremes – I guess that is the right word – of Mexican party music this past weekend. One was a very talented rock and roll band that put aside their star-studded history and played party covers dedicated o 70’s and 80’s American rock music, and the other one was a local Mexican party band playing at a friend’s birthday party near my house.
The rock and roll band, Mr. Que, played in a relatively large outdoor venue known at 4toSentido, actually a restaurant on top of what used to be an elevated driving range looking out over the Lake. The band consists of brothers Fernando, Carlos, Hector and Germán Quintana who have played separately for years to develop their own styles and skills and then reunited in one very together and enthusiastic four-piece rock band in Guadalajara.
Each of the brothers is multi-instrumental and can and does compose as well as play. The band’s founder, brother Fernando, has postgraduate training in keyboards from the LA. Musicians Institute, has been a session artist for Maná, and arranged, produced and directed music for Marin Valverde Rojas, Sheila Rios, and the Jalisco Philharmonic Orchestra. The other brothers each have similar star-studded careers, including gigs at Madison Square Garden and the White House with Barack Obama. And opening for or playing with many top Latin bands.
The audience for this gig was mostly retired Expats and a few Mexican families looking for fun and dancing, so the music was distinctly American and distinctly 70’s and 80’s (with a few Beatle songs thrown in). They nailed it; the audience loved it, filled the dance floor for the high tempo pieces and yelled “otra!” when it was time for the band to leave – which they did finally after a few “otras”. I know they could have played their own songs in Spanish, but that is not what the audience wanted, and the mark of a good band is to understand the audience
I will have to catch their original in Guadalajara.
The local party band was called La Misma Banda – “The Same Band” in English; ( I guess if you ask someone what band played for you they would answer “the same band”). La Misma Banda played what I have learned is the party music of our area of Mexico – maybe in other places too, but I have no comparison. The band consists of a singer, drummer – usually with a pair of floor toms bracketed by a marching bass drum and one or two snare drums, trombones, tuba, trumpets including a Dizzy Gillespie-style jazz trumpet, and a percussionist.
The music is generally led by the tuba backed by very loud snare drumming and the horns providing a brass melody that is anything but melodious. To an American ear, it is chaos, with nothing in key, little coordination, and very, very loud. But, once you understand what is going on, it is fun. The point is not to produce beautiful, harmonious music that swings and sways your heart, but to generate an atmosphere of fun – no seriousness allowed, just fun.
La Misma Banda is 14 men and women who know how to turn any event into a party. Since this was a birthday party to begin with, that was no problem. The party took place at the birthday girl’s two-level home. On the lower level is a carport which was cleared out for a portable taco kitchen and cooks, plus tables and chairs. The carport opened to a dirt side street, so the kids (there were about 30 of them) could run in and out and play, and more important, the band could pull up to the source of tacos and unload their equipment.
The carried everything around through the front door on the upper level, organized themselves and, with a downbeat from the tuba, marched in, winding their way through the guest tables, the marching drum booming, the tuba booming, the trumpets blaring, the trombone sliding, and the lead singer belting a popular Mexican song on a radio mic.
The band continued, with speeches and happy birthdays interspersed between songs. And of course moms and kids danced.
Mr. Q. and La Banda Misma came from similar roots and had the same the mission – make a party and the people in it happy. Their audiences were different, and the music was very different, but they both succeeded. While I could – and did – dance to Mr. Q, and not to La Banda Misma, I enjoyed them both realizing that to understand the broad range of Mexican party music, you need an open mind as well as open ears
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