Eduardo “Lalo” Tellez speaks on Xalapa Steel Band of Mexico - UpClose!

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Global: Eduardo “Lalo” Tellez is a music Bachelor and a Percussion Professor in the Superior Institute of Music in Veracruz, Mexico.  He first encountered the steelpan instrument four years ago in 2009, and began to educate himself in the art of playing the instrument.  In January 2012 Téllez founded a small steel orchestra - the first one in Mexico.  The orchestra is called “Xalapa Steel Band,” so named because it is the city where Téllez and the other musicians live in Mexico.

Xalapa Steel Band is growing quickly, and will be attending the 2014 National Panorama in Trinidad & Tobago, to play with Valley Harps Steel Orchestra.  Presently, their repertoire includes music works from Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Edwin Pouchet and Ray Holman, along with traditional music from Caribbean countries, as well as Eduardo Téllez’s own compositions. Most of Xalapa’s steelpan musicians are percussion students in the University of Veracruz.

Xalapa Steel Band of Mexico
Xalapa Steel Band of Mexico

WST - How and where did you encounter the steelband in 2009?  Which band or performer?

Eduardo T. - “The first time I saw the Steel pan playing was in Trinidad when I went to a summer concert dedicated to Clive Bradley in Laventille. I heard first the rhythm section playing, then a performance with African drums and after that I heard Desperadoes playing calypso and a few pieces of jazz and classical music. Of course I was wowed by the sound of the instruments and that’s how I decided to start this movement in Mexico.”

WST - How did you then yourself go about learning the steelpan art form?

Eduardo T. - “The only contact I could have with the steelpan once I arrived back in Mexico was by the internet, watching videos and listening to the CDs I brought from Trinidad, and as I was a percussion student, I started to make transcriptions of songs and try to make them sound in the Pan. When I was getting better, I tried transcriptions for the whole steel band, and now I’m making arrangements of Mexican music into calypso style. I hope to have something to show during this year.”

WST - The band you founded one year ago in January 2012 – where are the instruments from – who made them and how did you get them to Mexico?

Eduardo T. - “Some instruments are from Trinidad, from the tuner of the Valley Harps Steel Band, and it took me two trips to bring them to Mexico, but the rest are bought from the US from Carl Chase.. They were from an American lady who came to live in Mexico. She owned a band in the US but when she moved it was not possible to her to keep the band going. As her apartment was smaller, she had to sell the pans. I contacted her by Facebook and anyway we had to travel a long way because she’s living like 20 hours away from Xalapa [where we live].”

Xalapa Steel Band of Mexico
Xalapa Steel Band of Mexico

WST - How do you keep the steel pans tuned - who is the tuner?

Eduardo T. - “We don’t have one, I’ll send two pans to be fixed in Trinidad soon; we must be very careful with beating the pans too hard, but as the instruments are not common here, nobody has learnt how to make them and fix them. I think it’s just a matter of time, Pan is becoming very popular.”

WST -- How many members does Xalapa Steel Band currently have? How old are the players in general?

Eduardo T. - “We are still growing up, but the band has 12 members at the moment and I expect more people this year. We are 22-27 years old in general.”

WST - What do the percussion students think of the steelpan instrument?

Eduardo T. - “They think it’s beautiful! They love it, and most of them want to join us! They always come to us to see the instrument closer – it’s hard to believe how is it different to the other melodic-percussion instruments. And not only the students but every person who listens to the band love it.”

WST - What are the principal instruments (areas of study) of the percussion students at the University of Veracruz?

Eduardo T. - “Principally we study classical percussion; I mean the symphonic orchestra percussion section, but as well we learn concert marimba, multiple-percussion pieces, classical and contemporary percussion ensembles, and a little of Latin percussion.”

WST - Did any of the students know about the steelpan before Xalapa Steel Band?

Eduardo T. - “Not at all; in the whole country there are just a few guys who know the steelpan, and even less who own a pan. In Xalapa I was the first and it was like a surprise, because of course they have heard the sound before, but everyone thought it came from a synthesizer or somewhere else, and I must tell this: everyone mentioned Jamaica instead of Trinidad when listening to the sound.”

Xalapa Steel Band of Mexico
Xalapa Steel Band of Mexico

WST - You expect the band to play with Valley Harps in Trinidad in 2014 for Panorama; how did that arrangement come about? And exactly which “Valley Harps” Steel Orchestra are you referring to?  There is “Valley Harps” led by Michelle Huggins-Watts and there is also another band called “Trinidad Valley Harps.”

Eduardo T. - “I’m referring to Michelle Huggins’s Valley Harps. We feel very motivated about going to Panorama 2014. This came about because the second time I went to Trinidad, it was for carnival season and I saw Panorama; it was when I bought the tenor pan and I met Michelle Huggins at the Valley Harps Panyard. I was invited by Michelle to play with them but it was a little late to learn the whole piece - “Battle Zone” from Anslem Douglas - even more when that was my first approach to the tenor pan, and it was like 12 days left to the competition! But I didn’t want to miss Panorama again, so I called her and told her about the band, sent some videos and she said she liked what I’m doing. We’ll work hard to be ready and make a good play!”

Contact Eduardo @ 

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Steel Band de Xalapa

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