For our current issue, FADER #60, we visited Beirut's Zach Condon in Brooklyn and talked to him at length about his experience recording his new March of the Zapotec EP with Banda Jimenez in Oaxaca, Mexico. Never satisfied to just hear about these things secondhand, we sent our very own John Francis Peters down to Teotitlan del Valle to photograph the members of Banda Jimenez in their hometown. Above, watch the slideshow of Peters' images set to Beirut's "La Llorna," and after the jump, read Julianne Shepherd's essay which accompanied the photos in the magazine.
Banda Jimenez of Teotitlan del Valle make music and master textiles
In the southern plains of central Mexico, just southeast of Oaxaca City, sits the small, storied village of Teotitlan del Valle. One of the oldest settlements in the region populated by the indigenous Zapotec, its local economy is based on farming and, more prominently, the tradition of dyeing and weaving textiles for rugs. Equally important are the bandas, a musical legacy of large-scale bands that predates the conquistadors who supplanted many indigenous customs with their own as they began settling in Mexico in the sixteenth century. The tradition continues with Banda Jimenez, the seventeen-piece marching band that recently collaborated with Beirut’s Zach Condon for the March of the Zapotec EP.
“Before, we had flutes and other kinds of instruments, but when the Spaniards came they brought [brass] instruments,” says Tomàs Mendoza, a guide from Teotitlan who helped Condon coordinate the collaboration. According to Mendoza, currently “ninety-nine percent” of Teotitlan’s population earn their living as weavers, and among them there are “ten or eleven,” generally unpaid music ensembles, that are present and jamming for every fiesta, baptism, wedding, birthday and funeral. “These bands were raging through town, just playing really loud and really fast, and people were screaming and running after them,” says Condon. “From tuba all the way up to clarinet, and everything in between. I think that they wanted to sound like Spanish classical orchestras, whereas everywhere else in Mexico, the music is from their own culture.”
Mendoza is the rare Teotitlan native who speaks Spanish and English, in addition to Zapotec—languages he learned in a private school in Oaxaca so he could translate, as he did for Condon. “Zach was very interested in what the Zapotec musicians thought about him,” says Mendoza, “and my people were very impressed with Zach. At the same time he was very interested in the Zapotec musicians too. People in Teotitlan were asking, ‘When is gonna be the day to hear the music with Jimenez Band and Beirut?’” At press time, Banda Jimenez’s next performance was scheduled for Mendoza’s 50th birthday party.