Essay Excerpts: A Man and His Tuba

A Man and His Tuba

A Man and His Tuba
By José Luis Bobadilla, Mixcoac, 2012

Picture a man walking with a tuba. He moves along with other men, also carrying instruments. The men have been paid handsomely. They walk behind a hearse and a group of dignified individuals that, unlike other such processions, is composed of women and children who, rather than black, are wearing their usual street clothes. Let's try to listen to the music. The traditional tambora from Sinaloa, a sound of fluctuating volumes, not entirely related to conventional Western tuning. That is one moment when one can hear the music. But there is another. That same music no longer accompanies mourning or crying. Now the sound blasts from a small radio. Someone is listening. He is amused, he can kill some time, he's happy and entertained. If there was a woman, they would dance. The music would bring them together, it would please them. The two moments make us wonder why that music can happen in two very different circumstances: leisure and death.

...Maybe for us Mexicans the brass band music heard [in Sinaloa]... seems more or less familiar. But let's think of what this music may... mean to others less familiar with the sounds of our country. Without the resounding blast of firecrackers, local festivities would not create the same disorienting lack of inhibition that they produce, along with food, alcohol, music and dance. However, to other cultures the sound of exploding gunpowder is not directly associated with celebration, but often with situations linked with the desire to instill, for example, fear.

Paul Westheim, the German art historian that lived for several years in Mexico, recognized with great clarity in his extraordinary essay "La calavera" that, while the fear of death produced an irrepressible anguish in Europeans, for Mexicans, for pre-Hispanic cultures, it was life and its uncertainty that seemed unsettling: "Old Mexico was not stirred by Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death; it shuddered before the uncertainty that is man's life. They called her Tezcatlipoca." These matters, among others, explain our country's familial relationship with death. It is a relationship that seems incomprehensible to other cultures... Europeans seem convinced that death will snatch life away from us, and therefore is to be feared. Something quite different from the pre-Hispanic idea that the life-force is indestructible and carries on after death.

But, going back to Bourdieu, music -- in this case band music, the music that one listens to at the party and at the burial ground, the music that one dances to and that accompanies mourning... that thundering music that acts as counterpoint before the silent images of death, embodies a view in which life and death, as in the pre-Hispanic world, are more or less the same. The jocular and the melancholic coexist delicately within the architecture of that music, allowing the deceased to cross from one shore to the other, that is, from life to death or vice-versa, with the utmost indifference. The flamboyant mausoleums in Jardines del Humaya play more or less the same role. They are the houses where the meeting of the living and the dead is made possible.