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History: Bardas de Baile

History: Bardas de Baile

I'd like to think I'm an "artsy" person; I've always been attracted to visuals and bold colors, murals and such. Maybe that's why painted baile (dance/concert) walls have always caught my attention. I grew up going on family Christmas road trips to Mexico. I remember the first time these caught my eye. My grandparents from my mom's side were living in Compostela, Nayarit at the time so that's where we would be spending one week and then three weeks with my dad's side in Northern Jalisco. I remember one day while walking to el centro (downtown) with my sister and cousins I saw a huge painted mural promoting Banda Pequeños Musical's baile. It was imposing, colorful, and I was mesmerized by it. I would go on to see more painted baile walls throughout that trip and throughout the various pueblos and ranchos that we'd drive through. It was the mid 90's and quebradita was in full swing; those walls were all promoting Pequeños Musical, Banda Machos, Banda Maguey, Banda el Mexicano, Banda Movil, and Banda Los Lagos, and Banda Arkangel R-15. Every time we would drive by one of these works of art my eyes would light up with admiration, I couldn't get enough of them. Fast forward to present time, my face still lights up when I see these murals while I'm on vacation throughout Mexico.

Bardas (fences/walls) are used mainly for advertising local concerts and dances, as well as political and social campaigns for health and education, all aimed at the lowest income population. These walls first appeared in the late 1960's in response to the increased popularity of Mexican folk music. However, it wasn't until the 1980's that their use really picked up steam with the new found popularity of emerging genres; norteño, banda, ranchera, grupero, y sonidero. These improvised advertising walls are so common in rural Mexico (and the city now) that they have become part of the country's physical and cultural landscape. They're everywhere; on cemetery walls, bridges, abandoned houses, roadside buildings, small businesses, and empty lots. But mostly, they grace public and private walls along the street. These hand made murals are fully integrated into the landscape, amid the sprawling vegetation, nopales, pitayos, mesquite branches, bus shelters, and vacant warehouses. The painted walls, with their vivid colors breathe life and energy into the green and brown landscapes. 

Bardas de baile are a sustainable way of advertising in several ways. Instead of the high overbearing billboards that loom above city streets, these walls are painted over existing surfaces. Unlike billboards, these walls aren't created solely for the purpose of advertising; they are repainted, whitewashed, and then repainted, in a sustainable cycle of use and reuse. Bardas constitute a cheap and immediate form of marketing ($2 per foot as compared to $42 for a billboard) in the poor towns and ranchos of central and southern Mexico, thus ensuring the continued popularity and success of the bailes.

Due to passive law enforcement in Mexico, rotulistas (the artists) are able to claim as part of their territory public spaces such as underpasses, roadsides, and cemetery walls. In spite of the existing rules against the use of government property for advertising of any kind, the need for affordable and effective venues of advertising for popular events trumps the rule of law. Scattered throughout Mexico are self standing walls and structures that have no obvious owner. These might be private projects that ran out of money, or political party initiatives that were abandoned once that party left office. These surfaces are favored for being completely free and up for grabs.

Private property such as walls around homes, empty homes, empty plots of land, and factory facades are also possible venues for painting. However, in these cases rotulistas strike deals such as the giving of event tickets to property owners in exchange for permission to paint. Some owners give permission simply because they prefer the baile advertising over graffiti or simple decay.

Rotulistas have traditionally worked as sign painters for commercial, political, or entertainment purposes. Before the rise of digital technology and vinyl lettering, these hand painted signs were the only viable wall advertising option leading to  the birth of a tradition, one that is now practiced throughout Mexico. These have always been a charismatic yet cheap and durable option. Rotulistas are considered artisans and thus are practitioners of a craft that has been handed down from fathers to sons and sometimes daughters. These children are sometimes studying related fields such as commercial art, graphic design, and advertising as a way of continuing the family's business on a professional level.

This craft has its own rules, methods, and culture. This isn't revolutionary street art, its work, and its all completely commissioned. Business happens quick; sealed by a street corner handshake, over a quick lunch, our outside an Oxxo convenience store. They're not licensed or certified, there are no written contracts. They're out to make money and the more walls they paint in a day, the more they get paid. Speed and accuracy are essential. They rely on word of mouth and whatever reputation they've established to attract business. 

As well as announcing dances and concerts these walls advertise electoral candidates. In keeping with traditions, rotulistas often work as commercial sign painters for small businesses including restaurants, barbershops, and hardware stores.

Painting government or political party propaganda calls for specific skills and greater refinement. These gigs often pay better and the artists require a high degree of precision and consistency since the institutional logos need to be reproduced accurately. Doing government or political campaign work also gives the artists prestige. Links with a major, legitimate client also gives them welcome protection from possible police harassment.

Two or three weeks before each baile, the event's promoter will hire rotulistas to paint all the bardas in the host town. They will then go out and cover a 10 mile radius from the event's location, painting as many walls as they can. Each mural must include the main headlining group, filler and opening acts, as well as the time, date, and location of the baile. A basic mural could take as little as 30 minutes to an hour and the simple designs range from $250 pesos while the more complex murals will cost around $500 pesos. They have to work fast, the more murals they finish the more they get paid.

It used to be that this was a popular medium of advertising in poor rural Mexican towns, now however you see these murals all throughout major cities as well. Large corporations and promoters took the idea and started competing with small independent rotulistas; however, with the help of social media these independent rotulistas and their small family operated businesses could promote and showcase their work, thus keeping the tradition alive.

Sources:

Cue, Patricia. Mexican Wall Painitng, Bardas de Baile. New York: Ghost and Company, 2013.

Heller, Steven. (2013, August 1). The Writing on Mexican Walls Isn't Graffiti - It's Vernacular Branding. Retrieved From: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/08/the-writing-on-mexican-walls-isnt-graffiti-its-vernacular-branding/278116/

Revista Lechuga. (2018, March 21). Los Rotulos en Bardas. Retrieved From: https://revistalechuga.wordpress.com/2018/03/21/los-rotulos-en-bardas/

CoolHunterMX. La Grafica del Sonidero. Retrieved From: https://coolhuntermx.com/la-grafica-del-sonidero-rotulismo-diseno-popular-mexicano/

Medel Sanchez, Leticia. (2019, September 9). Grupo Milenio Rescata el Arte del Rotulo. Retrieved From: https://www.milenio.com/cultura/grupo-milenio-rescata-el-arte-de-rotular


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