Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Marimba

The gazebo
The Marimba, I've heard, was invented in Chiapas. Chiapa de Corzo appears to be the Marimba capital with a school and workshop where marimba building is taught. It is the music of Chiapas, with many compositions over the years created specifically for the marimba, though just about any lively piece of music can played on the instrument. The bars of this type of xylophone are arranged just like a piano. The bars are made with hardwoods (rosewood from Honduras is the best, or mahogany is another expensive alternative, or padouk which grows locally.) Beneath each bar there's a resonator. The most authentic marimbas have boxes built from wood that hang down, varying in size depending on the bar's size. Commercial instruments often have aluminum tubes, and in the folk instruments made in the jungle, empty gourds are used.

In San Cristóbal de las Casas, there are marimba concerts almost every night. A large white gazebo-like structure in the Zócalo is the center for Marimba music. It's a two story building with a restaurant on the bottom floor and a large covered performance space above. Last night the door to the upper part was open and a 5-man band, 3 guys on the Marimba, were playing. A few people were standing around so I went up to listen. It's odd that after almost 9 months of living in this town, I'd never gone upstairs in the gazebo!

Always lots of activity in the Zócalo area
A few people my age and some twenty-somethings were standing around listening while a whole lot of dance floor was going to waste. The music was not overbearing and very joyous, like a fiesta! The band was clever and played several styles including a fast waltz and big band numbers.  A young, slender, nice-looking man was trying to get his girlfriend to dance with him. She was a bit embarrassed, quite a bit overweight, and not a good dancer. He was doing his best to show her the moves, but she seemed more interested in checking the messages on her cel phone. I was sorely tempted to go over and give her a good shake! "Chica! You have a handsome man here who wants to dance with you! He wants you, not some other woman. Wake up and pay attention! Twenty years from now you will remember this night, but you won't remember the stupid text messages."

As I watched them, I was unconsciously jiving to the music myself, and got noticed by a different handsome man, closer to my own age, who asked me to dance. He was good and once I figured out his signals we made a good couple. We were swinging and swaying, having a great time. Pretty soon more people came up the stairs and started dancing. "Me encanta" he told me. I headed for home after promising to come again tomorrow night. And I will, it's been awfully hard to find men who are free to dance. Those who can, bring their wives. Those who can't stand around wishing they could.