Return of the Noise Brigades


It’s that time of year again, but unless you’ve been living in bomb shelter we’re sure you don’t reminding of that. But in case you’re a new arrival to Xela, fear not, the inordinate amount of noise you’ve been hearing is not a bunch of wild animals that have been let loose in a cymbal shop. It’s marching band season – the time of year when local schools start their endless rehearsals for their marching band routines in preparation for the big show in September for Independence Day. So if you like your peace and quiet, now would be a good time to explore other options. Perhaps a camping trip is in order. If not, then it’s worth getting to know what it’s all about.

The tradition began during the years when Guatemala was ruled by a string of military governments. Public schools became highly militarized and the students were made to prepare military parades for Independence Day – with military uniforms, rifles and all, and strictly military songs being performed in a strictly serious fashion in praise of their country’s glorious Independence. However, when the Peace Accords were signed in 1996 it was agreed that there was to be no activities that could be seen as provoking internal conflict. So the Minister of Education banned school military marching bands. But this made Independence Day rather dull, so it wasn’t long until they returned – only this time the military bands became plain old marching bands and Guatemala got its Independence Day celebrations back again.

So these days things aren’t so solemn, as the dreary military music has been replaced by better known pop songs, from Gautemala and around the world – Lily Allen was even heard last year! But that’s not to say the bands themselves don’t take this opportunity very, very seriously. For them it’s a chance to show off their school with pride. The schools invest huge amounts of money in their glamorous uniforms which are churned out in their hundreds especially for the occasion. But then the most important thing is to be seen as the band that looks and performs better than all the other schools. Not surprisingly therefore, competitive spirits between the schools is rife – so much so that certain schools have a reputation of having brawls between them and have consequently been banned from playing together.

The marching band season in Guatemala is a little bit like the run up to Christmas. Yes, by the time it gets to the 20th of December you are just about ready to take a sledge hammer to the next set of speakers you hear blasting out Mariah Carey’s All I want for Christmas is yooooooouuuu.  But once the day finally arrives all past prejudices are forgotten, the Christmas hat is thrown on and the Christmas spirit flows through every vein. So, even if the sounds of thumping drum beats, crashing symbols and wailing trumpets may seem like too much to endure this month – fear not, once the bands emerge on the big day and the party starts you’ll love them as much as Mariah Carey on Christmas morning.


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