UNESCO Universal Forum of Cultures, 2007 Monterrey, Neuvo Leon, Mexico
On Tuesday 18th September, 29 members of the Stockbridge Pipe Band, including five dancers from the Jane Knox School of Highland Dance, Dunbar, travelled to Monterrey, Mexico to participate in the 2nd Universal Forum of Cultures. The Forum is an 80-day event supported by UNESCO and divided into four main themes: Cultural Diversity, Peace, Sustainable Development and Knowledge. Originally contracted to participate at the 5th International Folk Festival of San Luis Potosi, we were then asked by the CIOFF México Vice President, Arturo H. Cueto Juárez, to perform at this event as part of a program of International Music and Dance.
Monterrey is the capital city of the northeastern Mexican state of Nuevo León. Also known as the “City of the Mountains” and “Sultana del Norte” (Sultan of the North), the city is a modern industrial and business center with a total population of 3.6 million.The city lies lies at 1,740 ft above sea level at the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range, which start abruptly south of the city.
Tuesday 18th September
The Band travelled out on the first leg of our journey to Paris over two flights, the first group leaving at 6:00am followed by the second group at 9:00am. The early birds were rewarded with a few hours in Paris, enough time to visit Notre dame Cathedral and have a quick alfresco café lunch, before heading back to the airport to join the other group. Then we all boarded the 11-hour flight to Mexico City, descending into the twinkling metropolis at about 10pm local time. The next leg of our journey was a 14-hour overnight coach drive north over the high desert plateau and up towards the US border-state of Nuevo León.
Wednesday 19th September
Travel weary but fuelled with anticipation we arrived at our 5-star Holiday Inn around 1:30 in the afternoon, where we were met by our young guides Deborah and Claudia. Our hotel was located in the Fundidora Park, a large urban industrial park containing refurbished foundry buildings, 120 hectares of landscape gardens, artificial lakes, and various exhibition halls and museums.
After lunch and a short siesta, we met to tune-up in the cool evening climate before a brief rehearsal in the Fundidora Park where we were informed that we would be performing for the Mexican President the following day. Our performance was to be brief as the President moved through the park on his way to officially open one of the museums recently completed, and the entire performance underwent several checks from the President’s security staff and officials. Once we received the thumbs up from security it was back to the Hotel for a few beers, after which a few members headed into town to see what Monterrey’s nightlife had to offer.
Thursday 20th September
After a delightful long lie, we pulled back the curtains to gaze at the spectacular view from the hotel of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range that surrounds the southern half of the city before heading down to the Forum’s main stage for a brief practice and sound check. Our main show was to be the following evening so we spent some time getting the mics and lighting set up for each set within our one hour show.
After a restful afternoon we kitted up ready for our debut for the President, and after a three-hour wait we were rewarded with a five-minute audience with him and his entourage of officials, dignitaries and security guards. Weary but not worn out, we played our way back through the park and exhibition halls to the hotel before changing and heading down to a local restaurant to experience the local speciality of cabrito al pastor; kid goat cooked on embers; a recipie based upon the cuisine of the Jewish founders of the city. This excellent meal was washed down with copious amounts of beer and umpteen different types of Tequila after which we took to the floor with our guides and companions and birled our way through a few ceilidh dances.
Friday 21st September
For the early part of the day, we explored the city and enjoyed the soaring temperatures before heading back to the hotel for lunch. After another wee siesta, we met to rehearse some of the more complex sets and the recently compiled drum fanfare. A quick shower and then we were kitted up for a 20-minute parade through the Fundidora Park, in part to advertise our show that evening.
Our main concert was held downtown on a purpose-built fully rigged stage with seating for about 5000 spectators. Prior to coming to Mexico we had spent a lot of time rehearsing
a one hour show, complimenting traditional and typical pipe band sets with our highland dancers, adding backing guitars and congas and also choreographing specific sets around more contemporary dances. The show began at 8:30 just as the evening was beginning to cool, the pipes held their sound for the duration of the performance, the sound and lighting guys did an excellent job, despite the language difficulties and never having worked with a pipe band before, and the whole show went exactly as planned. Colourful, vibrant, with the dancers changing costumes throughout and the varied mix of sets; we really pulled the stops out for this show and it was great to see it all come together.
With the show over, and the next act onstage, we enjoyed the attention from the audience and posed for photos before packing everything up and heading back to the hotel. Most of us were pretty shattered and only managed a few beers before packing for tomorrow’s journey south but a few hardcore members took off into the night for a livelier end to this section of the trip!
Many thanks to Arturo H. Cueto Juárez for inviting us, organising our stay and ensuring we had the best time possible in Monterrey. We were the first group to perform at the beginning of this 80-day event but everything went exceptionally well and, despite being a small part of a massive event, we were made exceedingly welcome by everyone we met.
Many thanks as well to our guides, Deborah and Claudia who, through their faultless command of English, ensured we had everything we needed and took excellent care of us throughout our stay in Monterrey.
5th International Folk Festival City of San Luis Potosi, San Luis Potosi, Mexico
This annual Festival runs for about seven days and consists of performances from eight foreign countries with a craft and culture exhibition from over 20 different nations. Know also as SLP or simply San Luis, San Luis Potosi is the capital of and the most populous city in the Mexican State of San Luis Potosi. The city is located in the central-western part of the state at an elevation of 1850 meters (6,070 feet) above sealevel.
Saturday 22nd September
As previously mentioned, we were originally asked to participate at this event before being invited to attend the Forum so, after a few great days in Monterrey, we found ourselves travelling south for seven hours through Mexico to the colonial city of San Luis Potosi.
Travelling down the desert highways we managed to see some stunning Mexican landscapes before climbing onto the central plateau and arriving at the centre of San Luis. Our accommodation was the Hotel Concordia, located a stone’s through from the main plaza and set deep within the old city. After lugging our cases about a quarter of a mile from the nearest drop-off point we checked in and settled down. Not nearly as salubrious as our accommodation in Monterrey it took a while for us to get ourselves accustomed to this hotel but we all managed to take thing in our stride – most of the time!
After our one and only lunch in the delightful hotel restaurant, we got ready and searched for a suitable location to tune-up prior to our performance at the opening ceremony. With no open space available and no suitable facilities at the hotel, we made the best use we could of the multi-storey carpark across the road from the hotel.
And after assembling all the groups together, and a lot of hanging about, we finally marched off at the head of the parade through the old town to the central plaza and main stage. Upon arrival, we were confronted with steep steps up onto a catwalk, set diagonally across the plaza. So in files of two, we merrily played along the catwalk as firecrackers exploded, fireworks blazed overhead and the Festival opened in style!
Sunday 23rd September
After a relatively quiet night, we were up early to explore the city and enjoyed several hours wandering around the picturesque plazas and narrow streets in glorious sunshine. During the afternoon we met for a sound check on the main stage in preparation for our 1hr show in the evening but already we started to notice the change in the pipes. Both the altitude and the blazing heat were making the reeds rather unstable; we just hoped they’d hold in the evening!
After dinner, we tuned up before heading round to the main plaza and onto the stage. Again, with full lighting and mics, sound system and colonial backdrop, we played to a packed audience running through our full concert repertoire. The dancers worked hard, performing in almost every other set we played and the audience loved it!
And after we’d played our final set and packed everything up it was back to the hotel and then out to a local bar for a few Coronas.
Monday 24th September
From now on, we knew we’d be playing at least twice a day at various locations around the city, often travelling out to these venues in well-worn, dusty old buses with no air conditioning.
Our first gig of the day was at the University Orient Psychology campus, outdoors in the baking midday heat. A short performance, we played for 15 minutes before groups from Italy, Bulgaria and Guinea also took to the stage to entertain the students and younger children who were assembled.
Performances over, we were all treated to a lunch of traditional fare before heading back into the city centre for an official photo of all the groups on steps of the main civic building. Again this took place under the hot afternoon sun so everyone was ready for a wee siesta before the evening performance.
Six o’clock found us undergoing security checks and searches as we entered the local State Correction Facility for a 30-minute performance infront of about 200 prisoners. Definitely one of our most unusual gigs, we performed again outdoors in still blazing heat, with most of us gently humming Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. Our female dancers received most of the applause but we felt particularly sorry for the all-male Italian Flag Waving troupe clad in revealingly tight tights who received more wolf-whistles than they knew what to do with!!
Tuesday 25th September
After a restful morning spent exploring and shopping, we headed out for a lunchtime performance at another University establishment, Tec de Monterrey. This massive modern building, perched a hillside overlooking the city, had an amphitheatre built into the hill behind it where we performed a 20 minute show before our Italian Flag Wavers, suitable composed after yesterday’s event, performed as well.
Once fed and watered, again with excellent traditional grub, we returned to the hotel for a siesta before jumping back onto our bus and travelling for about half an hour to Tangamanga University. Despite it being late afternoon, it was still blazing hot but we knuckled down and did a 20-minute performance for the students before receiving more local food in return.
As a treat, the Festival organiser had organised a disco for all the groups in the evening. We were again bussed across town to a nightclub which it appears had been hired for all the groups and Festival organisers where an all-night free bar had been laid on. Everyone had excellent fun late into the night as the DJ kept the tunes coming and the bar staff obliged likewise with the beer.
Wednesday 26th September
One could be forgiven for thinking that the organisers had a bit of a sadistic streak; expecting us to perform at 9:00am, after five hours of free beer and a few hours sleep. Amazingly, everybody was up and on the bus for 8:00am and we managed to give a solid half hour outdoor performance in the cool morning atmosphere at the University Interamerican.
Afterwards we were shown into the University where students had been studying Scottish Culture prior to our visit and were keen to chat with us. Split into groups and led to various classes, we sampled local food, spoke with the students and answered their questions; and a couple of chirpy band members even took part in an interview for campus radio.
Thankfully, it was back to the hotel for the rest of the day with most people choosing to siesta before our evening show. This took place indoors at a Country Club and was billed as a fundraising gig for a local orphan’s charity. After all our outdoor gigs, it was a pleasant change to do a stage show, but with nothing set up for us despite our requests our options were pretty limited. However, we still managed a varied half hour show to a packed hall before meeting more students from a local English Language School who were keen to chat with us and try out their language skills.
Thursday 27th September
This was our last full day in San Luis and, getting into our stride now, we were up early and bussed out to a local village to play for several hundred school kids. The venue was an old ranch farmhouse complete with traditional colonial courtyard. Several hundred school children crammed into the performance area and watched open mouthed as we played and danced for them, several covering their ears at the sound of the pipes! 30 minutes later and we were offstage and treated to a mid-morning feast of local delicacies and beer before jumping back on the bus.
Having just had a snack, we were now heading to Tangamanga park for a friendly lunch courtesy of the local folk group, ‘Grupo De Danza Folklorica Xochipilli’. A huge home-cooked spread had been laid on under marquees in the park for all the foreign groups and we spent a pleasant couple of hours mingling and relaxing.
Our final performance was at the request of the State Governor who was holding an official banquet for a few hundred dignitaries. The Festival organiser were keen for everything to go smoothly and we were primed to be ready from 8pm. Typically, things began to run later and later and we eventually were granted an audience to perform for the Governor of the State just after 10pm. Gifts exchanges, handshakes shook and photo opportunities taken, it was back to the Hotel to pack for our departure the next day. And of course a few beers to round off the trip.
Friday 28th September
An early start saw us up and ready for 8am but inevitably we never left San Luis until 10:30! Our driver had hit something on the way in to collect us and had to order a new wing mirror before we could head off. In fact, the poor guy didn’t really have a good day as we succeeded in getting lost no fewer than three times on the way to the airport. However, we arrived just in time for the first group to check in and head through to the departure lounge. The second group weren’t due to fly out for another four hours, so we took time for a last supper in Mexico and a few beers before boarding our flight. And on Saturday 29th September, both groups returned to Edinburgh, via Paris, and without incident. Tired and weary, but everyone agreeing that the trip had been a success.
Performing at the Forum and staying in the ultra-modern city of Monterrey was fantastic whilst staying and performing in the colonial city of San Luis provided a more realistic experience of what Mexico has to offer. Thankfully, the Tequila and Corona remained the same throughout!
Many thanks again to Arturo H. Cueto Juárez for inviting us to perform at this event and to his daughter Natalia for helping out during our stay. Thanks also to our guide Yolia Itzel Hernandez who, despite a few language barriers, ensured that we were in the right place at the right time and patiently looked after us during our stay.
Well done and many thanks to the dancers from the Jane Know School of Highland Dance, who did an excellent job, and finally thanks to Calvin MacFarlane who joined us to play Bass from the Clan Gregor Society Pipe Band.