I stumbled on to banda in 2005, when I got digital cable and the mun2 channel. Mun2, near as I could tell, was a television channel aimed entirely at bilingual Hispanic or Latino teenagers. As a white male age 18-34, nearly everything is designed for my consumption, and so this thing that distinctly wasn't was super interesting to me. And mun2 ran a show called Banda Max, and Banda Max played banda music. Banda music about, say, how we're gonna party until we die:
(Banda el Recodo has been in existence since 1938 and is putting out records that sell in 2015.)
The quickest way I've found to explain banda to people is "Mexican country music." This does it the disservice of summary, but it also leads people to think it's Nashville, except in Spanish. It's not; it's music steeped in the history and traditions of Mexico. Literally Mexican country music. Also there's a huge polka influence because a bunch of Germans immigrated to Mexico in the 19th century, and so banda songs tend to have someone jamming on a tuba, an accordion, or both. It's great! If you can listen to someone jam on a tuba and not get pumped up you have more restraint than I. If you read no further, take that with you. Banda is fun. I don't know how to explain why. It's got a good beat and you can dance to it.
I want to pause to note that I am not a banda expert. I am an enthusiast. Many people have written good things about banda, and I urge you to read them if you so desire. I am a white dude with an admittedly-not-great grasp of Spanish, I'm just trying to celebrate this thing I enjoy. If I misstep, culturally, politically, any which way, I beg your pardon. Talk to me.
A lot of banda songs seem to tell one of two types of story. The first is love stories; I can't believe I have your love, I can't believe I don't have your love, I'll die without your love, I'll love you until I die, our love is the greatest love to ever exist in the history of love, etc etc. I like these songs. They're sweet and many banda singers can fit 15 pounds of longing into a 10 pound voice.
(In which Valentin Elizalde pledges that so long as he has your love, he is the victor.)
The songs that aren't about love, well, they're less sweet. They're stories about drugs. Banda comes from rural Mexico, and rural Mexico has long been a major player in the drug trade. There are countless narcocorridos, songs about drugs and cartels and bosses and the glory and the futility of it all. Several of the top banda groups have been spotted playing at the parties of several of the top cartel bosses. (I do not wish to exoticize this, let us not forget Beyonce, among others, performing for the son of Gaddafi.)
I am in no way qualified to comment on the politics of banda. I am making no attempt to do so. I only want to note that they are worthy of our attention. In many of the songs I hear narratives of a "My father was born in the sierras. [Noted cartel boss] was born in the sierras. This is what we do, and we will not apologize for surviving" sort. Some are more specific. When Valentin Elizalde wasn't singing about your love he, at times, sang about how [a particular cartel] wasn't [very nice]. [The enforcement arm of said cartel, having broken off from the Mexican army] caught up with him after a 2006 show and left 70 shells in the street, and slightly fewer than 70 rounds in Valentin, his driver, and his manager. He is far from the only banda star to lose his life to the subject of his music. At times this strikes me as heartbreakingly significant link between art and the world at large; at other times it just seems dumb.
(This is a song by a band that has existed since 1968 and has put out several dozen successful records. It is about a man who, escaping the grasp of authorities shortly before his death, left behind $280,000 in cash and 1,700 rounds of ammunition.)
Lastly, I want to talk about Banda Week. It is the third in a series, following Lil' Kim Week (July 2014) and Mariah Carey Week (Feb. 2015). These are unofficial celebrations; I just decide it's that week and that's that. The point of these weeks is just to celebrate something that brings me joy, to take it in more than I usually do, and crucially, to talk at length about it. I do this on Twitter and in real life. I spend hours wanting to talk to someone about this thing that I love but not having anyone around. I worry about how many tweets I can get away with. I do all of this, and I am telling you about it now, because it is awesome.
I have discovered that life is more fun if you can get people talking about things they enjoy, and I have found Weeks bring people who enjoy things out of the woodwork (I didn't know you loved Mariah!) and turns out a few converts (I didn't know I loved Mariah!) I hope that you'll join me for Banda Week; I'm in whole hog but you should listen to exactly as much banda as you want to. More than that, I hope that you'll take something you love and have your own week with it, or day with it, or year with it. It doesn't matter what it is. Bo Jackson highlights, Michael Bay films, Leadbelly, particle physics, The Cremaster Cycle, I really don't care. A long, long time ago, p-boink founder Brandon Stroud, in our forums, said something like "I guess I'm just getting older, and I wish people spent as much time talking about what they love instead of what they hate." I've been getting older too, and I'm trying. It's a process. Happy Banda Week, friends.