The Inevitable Bandstand: The State Band of Oaxaca and the Politics of Sound

The Inevitable Bandstand: The State Band of Oaxaca and the Politics of Sound

The Inevitable Bandstand: The State Band of Oaxaca and the Politics of Sound

The Inevitable Bandstand: The State Band of Oaxaca and the Politics of Sound


In the hands of the state, music is a political tool. The Banda de Musica del Estado de Oaxaca (State Band of Oaxaca, BME), a civil organization nearly as old as the modern state of Oaxaca itself, offers unique insights into the history of a modern political state.

In The Inevitable Bandstand, Charles V. Heath examines the BME's role as a part of popular political culture that the state of Oaxaca has deployed in an attempt to bring unity and order to its domain. The BME has always served multiple functions: it arose from musical groups that accompanied military forces as they trained and fought; today it performs at village patron saint days and at Mexico's patriotic celebrations, propagating religions both sacred and civic; it offers education in the ways of liberal democracy to its population, once largely illiterate; and finally, it provides respite from the burdens of life by performing at strictly diversionary functions such as serenades and Sunday matinees.

In each of these government-sanctioned roles, the BME serves to unify, educate, and entertain the diverse and fragmented elements within the state of Oaxaca, thereby mirroring the historical trajectory of the state of Oaxaca and the nation of Mexico from the pre-Hispanic and Spanish colonial eras to the nascent Mexican republic, from a militarized and fractured young nation to a consolidated postrevolutionary socialist state, and from a predominantly Catholic entity to an ostensibly secular one.


But of Oaxaca I shall say no more, but conclude that it is of
so temperate an air, so abounding in fruits, and all provision
requisite for man’s life … that no place I so much desired to
live in whilst I was in those parts as in Oaxaca.

Thomas Gage, The English-American

Accordingtober 2005 was a “historic” one for the Banda de Música del Estado de Oaxaca (Music Band of the State of Oaxaca, BME). For the first time in its 137-year history, the bme would be accompanying a world-renowned, classically trained baritone. the audience filled the beautifully restored Teatro Macedonio Alcalá, a late nineteenth-century theater built during that period’s Liberal state-building architectural project, influenced by a distinct gaze toward belle époque France. (See fig. 1.) the musicians took the stage in their vaguely bureaucratic-looking uniforms— blue suits, white shirts, and blue ties— and bowed deferentially as their director, Eliseo Martínez García, dressed in a tuxedo, ascended the podium. the program began with the overture from Gioachino Rossini’s opera La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie).

The performance acquired a distinctly Oaxacan flavor when Carlos Sánchez, a native of the Mexican state of Querétaro . . .

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