The Origins and Popularity of Banda Music in Mexico and Worldwide

When Did Banda Music Start?

Banda is one of those genres that people love it or hate it. When performed well, it is a sight to behold: 18 musicians in matching cowboy outfits swirling and pumping their instruments.

Banda El Recodo’s Cruz Lizarraga seemed to see this potential for popularity when he started making his band wear uniforms. He wanted to get them in front of swanky Mazatlan audiences.


Known as Banda Sinaloense, the genre was born in the late 1930s in the state of Sinaloa in northwestern Mexico. It incorporates elements of European folk music, primarily from German polka bands that immigrated to the region in the 1800s. These groups brought with them their instruments, including piston-powered metal wind instruments, which were adapted by the local musicians.

The resulting sound is a fusion of these two distinct musical traditions. Banda music also features a rhythmic pulsation that is unique to the genre and a grito mexicano, a yell done at musical interludes by both the singer and the audience.

The instrumentation of a typical banda includes clarinets, trumpets, valve trombones and Eb horns with percussionists. Though the genre is male-dominated, female soloists have gained prominence. Graciela Beltran, Diana Reyes, Beatriz Adriana and Yolanda Perez are notable banda singers. Jenni Rivera, the highest-earning solo banda singer of all time, is credited with bringing a female perspective to the genre.


Banda music is composed of brass and woodwind instruments and percussion. Typically, a banda has between 10 and 20 members. They usually have a lead singer and a second voice. The voice often consists of a duet, but solo singers and trios are also common. The most notable percussion instrument is the tambora, a drum that resembles a cowbell and is topped with cymbals.

Other percussion instruments include the maracas, bongos, timbales, and cowbells. Some bandas may add a cajon, a small box-like percussion instrument.

Many of the traditional banda songs tell melodramatic tales of spurned love and found love. The highly syncopated music is meant for dancing and draws crowds at weddings, rodeos, parties, and celebrations. Some bands, such as Banda el Recodo, wear uniforms to distinguish themselves from other groups. The name of the band includes the founder’s first name and a town or state of origin to show hometown pride. Other bandas have adopted jazz-like musical arrangements to attract new audiences.


A banda’s music can vary widely from traditional polkas and marches, to rock ballads or rancheras. Its musicians have also incorporated rhythms from other European dances such as the Czechoslovakian waltz, the Polish mazurka and redowa, or English square dancing.

The percussion section is essential to the sound of a banda. Traditionally, they played a basic rhythm on the timbales, maracas, cowbell and congas. Nowadays, they can also incorporate drums and bongos. Many bands now use a synthesizer to create the bass line, creating a technobanda.

The new generation of banda singers are increasingly using their instruments to make social commentary. The popular Mexican band X él de los Panchos, for example, has used its music to promote awareness of domestic violence among women in rural Mexico. Other young banda singers have used their music to support drug traffickers, creating a genre called narcocorridos. The new style of banda carries risks for its artists, and not all want to sing about drug traffickers.


The sound of snare drums, trombones, trumpets, clarinets and tubas piercing the air can be heard at weddings, parties, rodeos and parades. It’s a dance music that draws large crowds to public events. Banda is popular worldwide. Some of the bands have been around for decades and have a strong following in Latin communities.

The genre has gained popularity as more and more people are drawn to the sounds of their ancestors and their homeland. In fact, a number of the bands have become household names and are recognizable to millions of listeners in Mexico and across the world.

In 1989, Banda el Recodo made history as the first brass band to record a song with its own official vocalist. Since then, most bands have followed suit. Although the genre is male-dominated, a few women have recorded as soloists. The most famous is Jenni Rivera, aka “La Diva de la Banda.” She has been credited with bringing a female perspective to the genre.

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