Notes 59.2 (2002) 326-327
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Banda: Mexican Musical Life Across Borders. By Helena Simonett. (Music/ Culture.) Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2001. [xii, 372 p. ISBN 0-8195-6429-X. $65 (hbk.); ISBN 0-8195-6430-3. $19.95 (pbk.).] Illustrations, selected bibliography, index.
This intriguing volume explores technobanda as a transnational sociocultural phenomenon rooted in Mexican-descended and Latino communities north of the United States-Mexican border. Technobanda, as associated with Southern California, spread quickly to parts of the Southwest and selected urban areas, reaching its peakpopularityby themid-1990s (pp.33-36). Helena Simonett argues that technobanda exists as a contemporary border dance/music tied to historical and contemporary banda sinaloense (Sinaloan banda), a regional mestizo genre emanating from nineteenth-century rural musics (p. 57). Simonett further contextualizes technobanda as a cultural affirmation for young Latinos in response to increasingly hostile, anti-immigrant California politics in the early 1990s. Combining archival and library resources with ethnographic work in the United States and Mexico, the author examines technobanda's contemporary practice, historical roots, development, and transnational aspects as a lasting musical influence.
The volume divides into three sections: part 1, "The Technobanda Craze in Los Angeles: Popular Music and the Politics of Identity"; part 2, "A Social History of Banda Music: From Rural/Local/Traditional/ Transregional/Commercial"; and part 3, "The Transnational Dimension of Banda Music: Narco Subculture and Contemporary Influences." Part 1 illuminates technobanda's unexpected rise in popularity in greater Los Angeles and its relationship to Mexican-descent/Latino identity politics (pp. 25-26; 37-42). Part 2 presents banda's history as a sociohistorical force infused by class distinctions, ideologies of tradition, urbanization, and periphery/core relationships among music movements. The approach articulates banda as a music steeped in both nationalistic postrevolutionary culture with historical roots as well as a folk expression of the elite classes. Part 3 approaches narco corridos (drug culture Mexican ballad narratives) as a transnational, subcultural influence in shaping contemporary banda.
These sections collectively articulate a nuanced interpretation of technobanda as a popular, emergent dance/music. Interviews conducted with banda sinaloense musicians and aficionados mark this as the most informative published work to date (in English) concerning banda's early development. Simonett meticulously details how musicians and their audiences view technobanda and banda as distinct, though related, musics. This approach demystifies and critically addresses romanticized versions of musical life for rural and urban musicians of Mexican descent in historical and contemporary contexts on both sides of the border (pp. 159-78). The author skillfully weaves the wide variety of primary and secondary resources to create a banda narrative that engages the thicket of historicity, technology, tradition, and innovation. This insightful narrative introduces new inquiries into technobanda and banda through excellent research and rigorous scholarship.
Historical research in Mexican popular traditions is well-known for its lack of extant materials. In addition, historical works by early-twentieth-century Mexican scholars rarely include banda sinaloense, while contemporary scholarship remains distant with few sources going beyond cursory examination (p. 8). Banda, as primarily an oral tradition, poses a particular challenge in that it did not enter the recording industry's [End Page 326] sustained purview until the mid-twentieth century. Simonett ably surmounts these challenges by drawing from descriptive accounts given by outside visitors, local newspapers, and social elites to reconstruct nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Sinaloan musical life. Though the author readily admits that such materials necessarily reflect the writers' class and cultural biases, her analysis provides an exceptionally astute view of everyday Sinaloan musical life. Simonett's subtle analysis of lyrical texts deftly articulates the symbolic portrayal of Sinaloan identities (often based in double entendre). Questions as to how the lyrics themselves become symbolic of multiethnic identities in actual musical practice come into clearer focus. Notably, the concepts of lo ranchero and stereotypical male Sinaloan identities invite further inquiry into how this highly symbolic language influences technobanda's continuing development as a living tradition (pp. 99, 155, 159, 208-19).
Citing a personal intellectual history that spans both sides of the Atlantic, Simonett describes her own theoretical...