I have an autographed copy of Danny Vasquez’s book in which he writes of his life in San Pedro. An avid musician himself, guitarist and later saxophonist, he deals with the art that cuts across language, religion, race and social barriers- and that is music.
The first band Danny remembers in San Pedro was directed by the grandfather of a former Prime Minister of Belize, Modesto Esquivel known as Maestro Modie. It was the year 1910 when Danny saw some wooden crates in the Alamilla Store and they contained bright shinny musical instruments coming from France. It was at the time when the Wrigley Company from Chicago was buying chicle in Belize. He learned they were for Maestro Modie’s Band. The members of the band were The Guerrero brothers, one of whom was Severo Guerrero who lived at La Ensenada (San Telmo) for 90 years. Other musicians were Juan and Victor, Thomas Paz, Isabel Reyes, Secundino Gonzalez and Eriberto Gutierrez. The Esquivel Band played for fiestas, weddings, funerals, and carnaval.
Ironically it was the same Wrigley Company which helped build the band that also destroyed it. By 1910, it employed all the men and manpower in San Pedro to go to the “chicle bush” on the mainland of Belize and the jungles of Quintana Roo and by 1916, there was no band in San Pedro and the grand Mestizadas were over. Why? Because all the band members absented themselves in the chicle industry.
When the band broke up, a one-eyed man, Pablo Tolosa, played the accordion accompanied by Adriano Ramirez on a guitar and they did some small fiestas. By 1918, Danny who played a guitar recruited his brother Nestor with a violin and Emilio Guerrero with a mandolin and formed a small trio that played for Carnival and small fiestas. Still there were no Mestizadas in San Pedro for St. Peter’s Fiesta. To complicate matters The Spanish Flu Epidemic hit Belize heavily and killed half of the population in San Pedro.
And then another spark of hope for music in San Pedro. It was not until 1924 when Luis Aguilar, a trader businessman brought Ismael G. Amaton, a Mexican Army Major on the run from political problems to San Pedro. One night he asked permission to play with a band from San Roman that was playing in San Pedro. That night Danny and all Sanpedranos heard the most beautiful cornet music ever. Everyone was impressed and the village top men, Luis P Ayuso, Papa Blake and Anastacio Alamilla made Amaton an offer of a house to live in, plus 50 cents a week per student that he taught music to and also allow him to do private tutoring. In a year’s time Amaton was earning $200 a month, not bad in a place where the average wage was $15.00 per month. That was the revival of music in San Pedro, but we’ll look at that in detail next week as we look at La Gran Banda de San Pedro a bit more than 25 years ago.
- by Angel Nuñez, Columnist