Throughout the last 3 weeks the low bass rumble of drums and timbre of xylophones could be heard in the streets of Leon. Sometimes I would turn down a street corner and catch the rhythm, growing louder until I passed a colegio where the students were practicing in a marching band. Other days the bands came from the streets, marching through the city in full sun, often accompanied by an ambulance that cleared the way, sirens blaring. They were all practicing for the fiestas of the month: the practically week-long celebration of Nicaragua’s independence from Spain, officially on September 15th but with school holidays stretching the week, and three days of desfiles, parades.
Nearly every high school in Leon (and in many other cities) has a banda militar featuring mostly drums and xylophones, no horns, and dancers and baton-twirlers.
On Wednesday, the streets were empty except for those thronged with marching bands and bystanders. The students were often expressionless as they banged on drums or danced down the street, faces shiny with sweat. Each band wore the dress uniform of their school. One school wore white polo shirts tucked into navy pants or skirts; in another school the girls were in starched white dresses with pleated skirts and pale blue sashes, and the boys in white collared shirts with pale blue tie and matching blue pants.
On Tuesday the primary school students marched, and on Wednesday the high school bands filled the street in an hours-long procession. I got a spot on a corner near my house, surrounded by families in their best clothes cheering for their children’s schools. The street was lined with bright umbrellas to ward off the intense sun, and vendors flowed through the crowd selling water and ice cream and tamales. Soon I climbed onto a balcony above the street, squeezed in between a wall and a five year-old boy whose mom warmly offered me a spot with a better angle for photos.