Reception: April 29, 2020
Acceptance: July 13, 2020
This article explores the practices and meanings surrounding the profession of accordion repairer in the metropolitan area of Monterrey, Mexico, making use of the cultural study of musical instruments and the anthropology and sociology of work. It describes the diversity of services offered under the term "repair" and highlights the amount and variety of knowledge required to maintain or embellish this "sound machine". It also describes the different ways to obtain and update them. In these processes, the skills of a technician can be identified at certain times, or of a craftsman at others; skills conditioned, but not determined, by the global processes of manufacture and circulation of this instrument.
This article explores the practices and meanings surrounding the trade of an accordion repairer in the metropolitan area of Monterrey, Mexico, using the cultural studies of the musical instrument and the anthropology and sociology of the craft. It describes the diversity of services offered under the term "repair" and highlights the amount and variety of knowledge needed to maintain or embellish this "sound machine". Likewise, it describes the different paths towards obtaining and updating them. In these processes, one can, at times, identify the typical abilities of a technician, and other times, of a craftsperson; abilities conditioned, although not determined, by the global manufacturing and marketing processes of this instrument.
Keywords: music anthropology, anthropology of trades, accordion, cultural life of the instrument, craftsperson, Monterrey.
To José Garza Santos, Pepe Charango,
musician and researcher of Northeastern music,
founder of the Tayer group.
The fifth Hohner Accordion Festival, held in Monterrey in September 2019, was an interesting exercise of convocation for the range of artists that use this instrument. Although the protagonism was taken by conjunto norteño music and the diatonic accordions of the European transnational company, as happened in recent editions, in reality a diversity of musicians, music and accordions from all over Mexico and Monterrey in particular participated (see image 1). In the last 20 years, at least six annual music festivals have been held in this metropolis. They are events with international links where the diatonic accordion is the protagonist.1 and illustrate its rise as a leading instrument in popular music, beyond the regional music with which it was regularly identified. This prominence expresses the expansion of its market, both in consumption, with the arrival in Mexico of new brands and models, and in circulation, with strong formal and second-hand markets. As a result, the demand for maintenance, repair and tuning services increased, far exceeding the efforts of the manufacturing companies that wanted to meet it. Thus, a number of repairers emerge with this growth, driven by their own needs and using their technical and creative skills, who have joined those who already had more time. Unfortunately, as happens with other instruments of popular music, the study of the diatonic accordion from the academy is not equivalent to its social relevance; we refer in particular to the works that address the repairers/tuners, so its relevance and social functions are little known and valued.
Monterrey and the northeast2 are of crucial importance for the accordion market and culture, as three musical traditions converge here: that of the Mexican conjunto norteño, that of the Texan conjunto and that of the popular music of the Colombian Atlantic coast.3 Each one has particular sonorities -and their respective cultural references- that the technician must know in order to attend to specific tuning, repair or restoration needs. Thus, playing Norteño music on an accordion tuned for Colombian music may disturb or annoy the musician, although the difference may go unnoticed by the common people.
This article explores the practices and meanings surrounding the profession of accordion repairer in the metropolitan area of Monterrey, Mexico, as well as its different social functions. It describes the diversity of services offered under the term "repair" and highlights the amount and variety of knowledge required to maintain or embellish this complex and costly "sound machine".4 It also describes the different paths that repairers follow to obtain and update them. In these processes, the skills of a technician can be identified at certain times, or those of a craftsman at others.
The word "repairer", the main word used to refer to each other in this region, as opposed to "tuner", for example, tells us that its most relevant social function is to extend the life of this expensive and complex apparatus in the context of an economically very unequal society such as the Mexican one. In doing so, it contributes to the cultural reproduction of broad social groups by facilitating the execution of their rituals and materializing their beliefs and traditions, thus participating in a phenomenon where economy, technology and art intersect in emerging countries.
The questions that guide this article are: what does the accordion repairer's trade consist of? How is this trade inserted in the musical and symbolic dynamics of the northeastern region of Mexico? How are their trajectories linked to the knowledge obtained for the performance of their work? Is their work an organic part of the cycle of the musical instrument industry or an impediment to its expansion, by extending the useful life of the accordion? What has been the role played here by the internet and social networks?
We situate this work in the convergence of the anthropology of work and crafts, by authors such as Luis Reygadas (2002, 2012) and Novelo (2006), with the cultural study of instruments (Dawe, 2012; Kies, 2013; Bates, 2012; Libin, 2009). The subsequent exposition of the text will follow this order: a conceptual framework will be developed based on the cultural study of musical instruments that articulates three axes: the study of the instrument, its technical aspects and its social functions, beyond the traditional approaches of organology; the repair as part of the social life of the accordion and, finally, its insertion as an economic practice conditioned by the workplace, the relations of production as micro-enterprises with logics that go beyond profit. All of which generates a particular "work culture", with characteristics of the technician and the artisan. The methodology used to obtain the empirical evidence will be presented in two parts. In the first part, with the support of documentary research on the Internet, a general panorama of repairers in northeastern Mexico and south Texas will be presented. Next, findings from interviews with five repairers will be presented, divided into three sections: a) their artistic and technical-professional trajectory; b) the material way of life, including the combination with other jobs and their links with other industries; and c) services they offer and markets they serve, as well as the technologies and knowledge they use to provide service. The article closes with some reflections on the accordion repairer's trade.
Organology is a discipline in charge of studying musical instruments. According to the Music Dictionaryhas the task of developing "the classification of instruments, the scientific bases behind them, their evolution and their musical and cultural uses" (Latham, 2008: 1129). Several authors call to complement the contributions of this discipline in the sense of overcoming, in its hegemonic vision, a mono-cultural and ahistorical orientation, in the sense that it ignores the socio-historical context surrounding the instrument in each social period (Bates, 2012: 365). This overcoming includes recovering the users' own characterization (Dawe, 2012: 198) or the social function of the instrument (Bates, 2012: 195).
Thus, we start from an approach focused on the cultural study of musical instruments, which considers them as generators and repositories of a large number of meanings. Thanks to musical instruments we humans create sounds and music with which we unleash a complex series of physical and social processes, so that, for Kevin Dawe (2012: 195), they can be considered "sites of meaning construction" and embodiments of culture-based value and belief systems.
Instruments are made and signified in very different dimensions, beyond their properly musical function; for example, they incorporate the advancement of technology or the change of aesthetic criteria (Nettl, 2015 368). On the other hand, authors such as Libin (2009) highlight the role of musical instruments as amplifiers of feelings and as tools that expand human perception beyond the normal sensory range, and thus, together with Bates (2012), underline the change of their meaning and functions according to the sociocultural context. In this way, Simonett (2012b: 24) highlights the dual character that the accordion had during the century. xix in Europe, first as an expression of progress and modernity, and later as a negative expression of mass culture, and thus gives an overview of the social significance of the instrument through different epochs.
The current regional landscape of the diatonic accordion, following the concept of the instrumenscapes (Dawe, 2012: 197), is constituted by a large formal market, mainly of Chinese and European accordions; it is also linked to a set of multinational and regional cultural industries: entertainment companies, artistic forums, music festivals, record labels, instrument industries, radio, television and internet. In short, the panorama of this instrument is one that goes from a wide social presence to an ever greater acceptance or national legitimization, without yet appearing in a serious way in the study programs of the faculties of music or the school of Fine Arts. A minimal description of the accordion's functioning will help to understand the aspects of its repair, which will be addressed later.
According to the Hornbostel-Sachs classification (Deborah, 2020), the accordion is a free-reed aerophone (Latham, 2008: 27), since the sound is produced by vibrating the reed through a thin column of air, the same mechanism as the harmonica.
According to Gabriel Pareyón, the accordion is
a portable musical instrument consisting of two rectangular boards connected by a bellows. Inside the boards are tuned metal reeds that vibrate with the passage of air driven by the bellows. The modern accordion has a keyboard [or buttons] on the right side to play the melody, and buttons on the left to sound the precomposed bass and tonal chords (Peyron, 2006: 21).
The instrument that has the twelve different notes of the chromatic scale and, therefore, can play melodies in any key, is called chromatic accordion and is usually keyed, although there are also button accordions. The diatonic accordion, which is the subject of this article, offers limited scales and therefore reduces the possibility of playing in different keys. Generally it is a button accordion and the buttons activate different sounds when opening or closing the bellows. The number of tonal scales depends on the rows of buttons on the instrument. The most common contemporary diatonic accordion in the region today has three rows. The mechanisms of sound generation and its mechanical activation for the 31-button diatonic accordion are now described.
The smallest unit of the sound generation mechanism is called "voice". It is a rectangular metal plate or structure, which has two elongated slits of the same size (see image 4). At the front and back of these slits there is a metal tongue, which is the one that generates the sound when air passes through it. On each side, the other slit is covered with a kind of sheet of paper, leather or other material, which are valves to prevent the passage of air (see image 5). Now, the sound we hear when we press a button and extend the bellows outward is actually the union of two simultaneous voices with slightly different pitches. Another pair of different voices is heard when closing the bellows. There are accordions that activate three voices per button. Both are used for Norteño, Tejano and Colombian music, although performers of the latter musical culture use the three-voice accordion more.
The voices are placed on wooden blocks or structures, also called "burros", which are arranged in up to three rows or rows for the 31-button diatonic accordion (see images 7, 8 and 9), and up to six in other types of accordions (Simonett, 2012a: 3). The arrangement follows the pitch or sharpness of the voices and is sealed with wax, between voice and voice. The sealing procedure allows that when the air enters the mechanism nothing sounds, unless one of the buttons is pressed and this, by means of a metallic arm similar to that of the typewriter keys, raises one or several valves that allow the air to have access to the voices and make them vibrate. Thus, while the bellows generates the air, the buttons indicate which sounds to activate. Finally, certain accordions have mechanisms to activate only one of the voices, generating a higher or lower sound, or to make combinations of sounds. Such mechanisms appear above the rows of buttons (see image 2). These mechanisms are called registers and allow variations of sounds within the same accordion structure. Thus, both the internal set of voices and the peripheral mechanisms that activate or vary them generate, in essence, the sound of this instrument. This explains why repairing the voice system or the mechanisms that generate them requires a trained technician.
We must pay attention to the fact that the accordion has never been produced in Mexico; it is an imported good since it was invented, almost 200 years ago. This is different from the case of lute making, where groups of builders maintain and develop knowledge in Mexico about the functioning of the instrument, the materials it is made of and the ways to build and repair it (Hernández-Vaca, 2008: 226). Such knowledge, in the case of the accordion, serves to repair, but not to manufacture the entire unit. Although the big accordion brands offer repair services in general, the repairer is not always the one who builds and is not necessarily endorsed by him. In fact, most of the time it is not. It is endorsed by the network of consumers of that service, some of them great artists, and also by repairers who recommend each other when they are too busy or unable to offer the service, as already noted by Ragland in South Texas (2019: 17).
In his historical and anthropological study of the social life of things, Arjun Appadurai (1991) proposes a totalizing perspective that encompasses their various transformations, including their commodity status or their candidacy for commodity status. Culture, he argues, establishes a certain system of meanings depending on the deeper or shallower context that makes things commodities or not, or function or not as commodities. He calls this context or framework Appadurai's regime of value. Accompanying the regime of value are the culturally established routes that things must take for their use and mobility, including their eventual convertibility into commodities, as well as the deviations from those routes, which are effected or driven by certain social sectors. According to the author, the tension between routes and deviations would give life to much of the economic activity of a society, to innovation and cultural change. We propose here that the repair of the accordion is part of its social life, of its trajectory or biography (Appadurai, 1991; Kopytoff, 1991); and in fact it will be a requirement for the continuation of such trajectory. We also propose that the arrival of Chinese accordions in Mexico (cheaper, of lower quality and shorter life), has altered the traditional routes of use and mobility of this good. Until about 20 years ago, the prevailing accordion has been of European origin, generally of Hohner brand, of good quality and made to last ten years or more. For this reason, it is generally expensive and is repaired and embellished for economic or sentimental reasons, because in its long life it manages to sediment the experiences and affections of those who have owned it. Thus, in contexts such as the Mexican one, the repair of an accordion could constitute a deviation, since it lengthens the period of obsolescence of the good, especially if it is manufactured to last a few years. This point will be developed further below.
We return to the term emic The term "repair", used by most of the technicians interviewed, to define a series of processes subsequent to its manufacture, which turn the musical instrument into a more functional good and with a higher value for having been intervened in at least one of these four types of services: (a) those related to the central mechanisms of sound generation which, as we saw above, are called "voices", either through their repair or through what we can call generation of "sound aesthetics"; (b) those that attend to peripheral mechanisms that allow the activation of these voices; (c) those that are linked to the restoration and to the visual aesthetics of the accordion and, finally, (d) a series of extra services, such as the sale of spare parts and accessories.5
Thus, under the generic term "repairer" we also have the actions of tuner, restorer and customizer or decorator. Their work has to do with technique as craftsmanship, but also with the technique of the technician (Ortega y Gasset, 2000); that is to say, of those who live in a time when not only instruments but machines are created. The accordion repairer repairs, in fact, a machine. In this trance, the repairer is more on the side of the worker than of the genuine technician; more on the side of the one who applies, following plans and ways of doing already established by designers and engineers, knowledge to which he does not have easy access. He executes many of the workman's things: for example, when changing old buttons for new ones, according to a pre-established design. But he is also capable, like the designer or inventor, of solving problems to put three new buttons (that is, six new sounds) where there were none. It is true that he follows the technical guidelines to keep the same mechanisms, but he thinks, plans and executes the solution to the problem of how to break the shell, where to place the new holes and how to accommodate the mechanisms following the specifications already pointed out in the previous section. By merging both knowledge, he is more like the craftsman, not to mention the working conditions and his domestic unit, which we will discuss later.
Following Morten Riis (2013: 259-260), the repairer is in the middle of the functioning and the various states of malfunction, hence his relevant role. As we will see in the findings section, through the development of what Riis calls the "ontology of accident" the repairer gains a deeper understanding of the technology itself by finding new possibilities for the understanding of each thing, part or mechanism and the reason why they are broken or not working, whether the accordion has a more accelerated programmed obsolescence or not.
On the other hand, Howard Becker's (2008) sociological proposal on art worlds opens another useful perspective for this work. His analysis is focused on the social and organizational processes related to art worlds. He separates arts and crafts; the latter are for him synonymous with craftsmanship. A craft product would comprise the aspects of being functional or useful, demonstrating "extraordinary control over materials and techniques" through knowledge and skill, which he calls virtuosity, and, finally, the development of an aesthetic (Becker, 2008: 312-314). When the emphasis is placed on the latter aspect, craftsmen can become "artist craftsmen". The work of repairers engaged in craft aesthetics can fall into the category of art when they restore, personalize or decorate. This "minor art", according to Becker, would work as long as it is accepted as such by its peers and there are institutions that validate it. In this sense, we can speak, in addition to the accordion festivals, of an endless number of museums dedicated to the instrument that exhibit pieces for their historical value as well as for their aesthetic value, as well as of a legitimization from the plastic arts, in South Texas, that has lasted at least 25 years.6
Even though the player of the instrument -and not the repairer- is traditionally considered "the true artist", the former requires the skills of the latter for his or her artistic performance. In this sense, Cathy Ragland (2019) proposes to visualize South Texas accordion tuners as cultural mediators who, thanks to their technical skills and their deep knowledge of the musical culture in which they are inserted (that of the Texan ensemble or the northern ensemble), are able to modify the sound of an accordion to evoke with it the sound of a legendary musician, living or dead. Ragland argues that in this way they preserve and enrich what Josh Khun calls sonic imaginary or audiotopia, whether of Mexican American communities or Mexican communities of recent migration (Kuhn, cited in Ragland, 2019: 3-4).
The context where the repair is carried out is usually the technical/craft workshop, which conditions part of the socioeconomic processes of value generation (see image 10). These workshops would be micro-enterprises organized by self-employed people (Rodríguez, 2001), but which are gradually transformed into micro-enterprises that serve the music and entertainment industry.
These microenterprises, although they operate with the logic of profit and seek to valorize capital, share patterns of other economies, proposed by Polanyi (1976: 6-7), such as those of reciprocity, which includes exchanges without the mediation of money, or loans and services offered without payment on account of some future favor, etc. Victoria Novelo (2003) points out characteristics of Mexican artisan culture, which coincide to a large extent with what was found in this study, and which are:
Individualism, the secrecy of the trade, the defense of personal control of rhythms and workloads, the use of rudimentary accounting, the preference for face-to-face relationships with the consumer and therefore, the difficulty to plan regular production for an anonymous market, the work process as a part of the domestic economy and other practices that continue to operate among artisans. (Novelo, 2003: 15)
All these social interactions make up a "work culture" (Reygadas, 2002: 106) where, according to the author, the way in which the labor process has an impact on the production of meanings, the influences of culture on productive activity and the specific socio-historical context in which such practices and meanings are developed, amidst conflicts and negotiations, are articulated (Reygadas, 2002: 119).
In short, the repair of an accordion contributes to recover or modify its meaning, expand its social functions and extend its social life. The social function of the repairer consists, then, in extending the life of the instrument, recovering the regional musical memory, developing visual or sonorous aesthetics and making useless instruments functional, but of value for different reasons.
The ethnographic approach for this work included in-depth interviews with five repairmen of different ages and living in different parts of the Monterrey metropolitan area. The interviews lasted an average of an hour and a half and were conducted between January 2016 and December 2019. The initial approaches to the interviewees were carried out thanks to musicians and researchers such as José Garza (Pepe Charango), from the Tayer group, which spreads traditional music from the northeast and has extensive knowledge in the world of instruments and repairers. These meetings were held in their workshops, at least twice in most cases. There we were also allowed to take photos and video. When we finished the drafts corresponding to each one, we took them with them to compare them and to honor an initial agreement to eliminate or at least not to make explicit certain procedures, tools or materials that they wanted to keep for themselves. Several of the observations and conversations took place while the repairer was evaluating or arranging accordions, foreign or brought by us. For a better understanding, the authors took performance courses at the beginner and intermediate levels with one of the repairers who is also a performer and teacher.
On the other hand, we made extensive use of documentary research for the Mexican northeast, mainly in the Internet area, in order to contextualize what is happening in Monterrey. The registry included accordion repairers, approximate number, location and main services offered. Thanks to these records it was easier to locate the workshops operating in the region and in Monterrey, the center of our study. We reinforced the registry with data from other researchers (Ragland, 2019; Ramos, 2016). The research yielded at least 42 repairers or repair shops in the northeast region, comprising the states of Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Coahuila, and southern Texas. Of these, approximately 19 workshops are located in Monterrey and its metropolitan area, including the five repairers in this study, as can be seen in Map 1.
Source: Own elaboration based on internet pages and digital social networks. For the case of Texas, the names from 10 to 18 were taken from the article by Regland (2019). The names from 3 to 8, in the case of Tamaulipas, were provided by historian Francisco Ramos Aguirre.
We compiled and systematized in a table the services offered by the repairers on their web pages and contrasted it with the matrix resulting from the interviews, observing that it includes everything "nominally" mentioned by the largest group on their web pages (see Table 1). In other words, we did not find a service that was not offered by these five interviewees, corroborating the accuracy of our sample. These materials have been complemented by two interviews with musical instrument dealers in Monterrey and San Antonio, Texas, and two other repairers, in Reynosa and San Antonio, which are not included extensively here, but which helped us to contrast and delimit the data to be presented.
The following section presents the educational and occupational, technical or artistic trajectories that outline the profile of the repairers, as they help to understand the accent on some of their services or the presence of some material or administrative aspect of their business. We present them up to the moment when they take accordion repair as an important or central part of their way of life. From there, we describe the services offered and show the links with other activities and industries related to music, with the market they serve and, finally, with the diversity of knowledge that allows them to maintain their business.
Ricardo and René Aguillón López (Monterrey, 1973 and 1970) are sons of the renowned repairman Santos Aguillón (Monterrey, 1939), who dedicated himself to this activity from the mid-1950s until the year he died (2016). René attended high school while Ricardo finished technical high school. Although they worked partially as repairers, both had work experience in manufacturing contexts and antique stores. Finally -thanks to their father's work, who was able to bring them together little by little- they decided to dedicate themselves to the already established business and today they try to teach their children about the art and business of repairs. The Aguillón brothers also have musical lineage, as their father and grandfather were accordion musicians and played at different stages of their lives. However, although they know how to play a little on the bajo sexto and drums, neither of them dedicated themselves to music, and instead they have maintained an interest in specializing their skills in the repair trade. They recognize Rogelio Rodríguez, originally from Allende, as one of the pioneers in this activity in the region and who gave important clues to his father about repairs (De la Fuente, 2015). His workshop has been located in the Moderna neighborhood in the city of Monterrey since 2009, although his father was in charge of repairs for almost 50 years in the market of the municipality of San Pedro, Nuevo León.
Herbey López Morin (Monterrey, 1983) was born into a family of sonidero musicians.7 and performers of Colombian music. He learned to play the accordion in a self-taught way at the age of 12 and opened it to learn its mechanism. At the age of 15 he joined his family's ensemble, learning from the accordionists who passed through the group. The group disintegrated and from then on he led a new group. His interest in instruments went from guitar to percussions and from there to the accordion, but without formal musical education. His artistic career was always combined with work in mechanics, carpentry, masonry and electronics, of which he has incomplete technical studies. Before dedicating himself to repairs, he was a client of Santos Aguillón's workshop. He began repairing successfully at his home in the Independencia neighborhood. A member of Ronda Bogotá, a group of the renowned singer and accordionist Celso Piña, noticed him and asked him to repair one of his accordions. The positive result allowed him to take on the repair and maintenance of the artist's instruments. He finally abandoned the other jobs that gave him a living and moved his workshop to a busier place, where he has been working full time for the past seven years.
Daniel Martínez Valdés (Monterrey, 1976) is a musician and son of a "tropical" musician. He started in this activity at the age of 7, learning guitar chords and playing the güiro in his father's ensemble. As a teenager he joined a rondalla and organized trios and rondallas with friends and neighbors, which is why he was hired to teach music classes at the Social Security. Between 1991 and 2014 he dedicated himself to music as a teacher and performer in groups and trios. He bought his first accordion at the age of 16. It was a used German Hohner Corona 2, which was on sale. With the need to fix it and the curiosity to know how it worked -something common in most of the interviewees-, he began to look for people who specialized in accordion repair. He met a person who, although he never wanted to teach him how to play, managed to get him to teach him how to repair. From 1998 onwards he started earning from that job while he was a warehouse logistics employee. Since 2014 he has been entirely dedicated to his accordion workshop. It is the most reputable one in Guadalupe, Nuevo Leon. The Italian brand Boppola wanted him to become one of their official technicians, without repairing other brands. He has traveled to Italy and observed their workshops. He is currently negotiating an agreement to obtain specialized machinery and tooling in exchange for his services. He does not see his trade as competition with respect to the work of others; on the contrary, he guides them and sometimes also passes material to them, confirming economic practices of reciprocity (Polanyi, 1976) already mentioned in the theoretical section. Through the Internet he has taught interested people in other parts of the country. On teacher's day he always receives congratulations from people he has taught. He says he feels very proud to be already a reference in accordion repair.
Jhoniván Sáenz (Monterrey, 1989). He was born in the Independencia neighborhood. This could be called the most important area of popular neighborhoods in northeastern Mexico because of the number of cultural expressions that coexist there, such as Colombian music, which was born there and generated tradition before expanding to other places. Thus, Saenz was surrounded by the culture of the northern accordion, the so-called "Colombia de Monterrey" and other fashionable groups that, in the mid-1990s, incorporated the accordion tradition with a variety of urban genres in the key of rock, within what was called "Avanzada Regia".8 He learned the accordion at the age of six and learned it "by ear". He soon became known as an accordionist with groups in and out of his town in various events, particularly in international accordion festivals such as those of New York or Valledupar (Colombia). There he lived for six months learning in workshops and accordion schools. He began the academic study of the accordion at the Faculty of Music in Monterrey at the age of 18, with the Belarusian accordionist Sergei Tibets. This allowed him to expand his playing ability to chromatic accordions and other types of diatonic accordions, such as the bandoneon. Over time, he merged the empirical things he learned from festivals with his academic training and gradually transferred them to his teaching project in an accordion academy. The repair shop emerged four years ago to attend to his own needs as a musician, those of his students and those related to the sale of accordions. He observed that, in the case of the Colombian accordion, its particular tuning was not well known in Monterrey and he was not satisfied with the requested repairs. After taking some of them to a well-known workshop, he began to learn thanks to the advice of the repairers themselves. On the other hand, the students of his academy continually presented him with very diverse repair and tuning problems, which he had to solve so that his classes could continue. Finally, the sale of accordions ordered by him to China, as will be seen later, includes a previous revision of their functioning and a particular tuning according to the sound where the accordion, tentatively, will perform: northern or Colombian.
Jesús (Chuy) Tamez (Santiago, N.L., 1978) has his workshop in El Álamo, near Monterrey. As a musical background, he mentioned that his great-uncle was a founding member of the group Los Montañeses del Álamo, and his grandfather played the harmonica. He has a high school education. From there he worked as a chauffeur and later as a painter for a local coffin manufacturer, an activity that helped him to gain knowledge that he would later apply to his trade with accordions. He has been working as an accordion restorer for the past eight years, having
has had several branches of instrument shops during that time. At present he concentrates his economic-labor activity in his restoration workshop, from where he obtains the total income to support his family.
For this description we will follow the established typology of services.
a) Those referring to the central mechanism of generation of sounds or "voices". This would be the work of a tuner, which in this research is always linked to the other activities. They can be divided into repairs and alterations. The first ones take care, for example, of a broken voice due to natural wear, the poor quality of its metals or the bad use of the accordion bellows, among other reasons. The voice is replaced by removing the rivet that holds it and re-riveting a new reed to finally tune it as the previous one was (see image 16 and video 10). It also happens that the seal next to the reed, in the other slit, may have expired or deteriorated, altering the sound. Daily placing the accordion in an incorrect position causes gravity to overcome this mechanism that prevents the passage of air (made of leather, cardboard or plastic and also placed by means of a rivet). It will have to be replaced by another one. The general tuning of the instrument is also required (see image 6) and/or the change of tones, services that can be considered as "sonorous aesthetics". The change of tones refers to the conversion of a preset tonality or the one that leaves the factory to another one that is of the client's preference, because it resembles the sound of a certain musical genre or of a particular musician. We enter the field of alterations. This is the case of Herbey López when he is asked to make the intervened accordion sound "like Cadetes de Linares, like Invasores de Nuevo León, like Alegres de Terán... I call it the old norteño". Here you can ask for an accordion with a norteño sound to sound more "tejano" or "atejanado". This repairer is also sent audios or videos of Colombian music songs to tune the accordion to exactly that sound. In this sense, we find services similar to those found by Ragland (2019) in Texas, but they are not systematized for each specific artist, as the Texan tuners have them and, in that sense, they are not as sophisticated. Thus, the job of equalization is to imitate exactly the combination of sounds generated by stepping on the button; remember that, depending on the type of accordion, for each button, two or three reeds are sounded. For example, for the classic northern sound, Jhoniván speaks of tuning one reed to 440 hertz, let's say, the exact number of vibrations, and the other to 443, 444. The difference between the two sounds or between three, if it is the case, that are heard in unison, is what gives the specific touch to the accordion sound. This type of work includes octavation, which is the tuning of two equal notes on certain buttons, but one or two octaves above or below the pitch.9 In this case, the intervention alters the sound of the voices by filing them slightly from the top or bottom, if you want to raise or lower the pitch. When checking a failed voicing, the repairer can diagnose other types of problems in the voicing mechanism. For example, the wax placed to seal between voicings may be unusable and need to be replaced, or there may be more damaged voicings or other malfunctions. In this case, the repairmen interviewed say that it is always preferable to tell the customer the truth and offer a series of alternative solutions and different budgets for him to decide.
b) Those that serve peripheral mechanisms that allow the activation of these voices and, therefore, the functionality of the instrument.. In this case, leaks in the bellows are fixed, which cause air to escape or let air in, diminishing the intensity of the note and making it difficult to play. The bellows can be repaired partially or in its entirety, by replacing more resistant material in each of its parts. Other demanded services are to replace or unscrew buttons, which get stuck under the fingerboard, or to add new ones, as well as to replace or repair the arms that open the valves, which can break for different reasons (see image 22). It is common that during the initial stages the repairers build pieces from the material they have at hand (arms, reeds, buttons, etc.), making use of their ingenuity and technique, and they are here, again, technicians and artisans. Let's remember that Monterrey is an industrial city with deep-rooted traditions of technical work and recycling of materials from its factories and workshops for different uses, including music.
c) Restoration and decoration and personalization. Restoration aims to put a very old or used accordion back in working order. It may or may not include repairs of all kinds, but an accordion is also restored with new and/or better quality materials: replacing woods, waxes, cleaning the mechanism. In the process several activities are performed to improve its esthetics, such as changing buttons or the material that wraps many accordions, made of celluloid, which many call "mother-of-pearl". The intervened instruments are often of good quality or with great sentimental value for the owner. Decoration and personalization emphasize more on the aesthetics of the instrument, not so much on its functionality, such as asking for a change of the ribbons that adorn a bellows that works well, but the customer wants to see it with another appearance. It is also possible to place signs of identity (names, logos) on the front of the instrument, put more attractive grills, among other aspects. In these processes, painting is a fundamental tool due to its capacity for customization, drawing landscapes, portraits or templates pre-made by the decorator. For this reason, it is an increasingly demanded service. Chuy Tamez, who is mainly dedicated to offering these services, admits that "there is a lot of art in them; I myself have made my own designs and it has turned out that people like them a lot" (see images 20 and 21). The work of Chuy and other repairers like him would put the emphasis. According to Becker, "on beauty as represented in the tradition of a specific art, on the traditions and interests of the art world as a source of value, on the expression of someone's thought and feeling, as well as on the artist's relative freedom from outside interference in the work" (Becker, 2008: 315).
Returning to the case of the construction of handmade guitars in Paracho, Michoacán, Kies (2013) proposes that such goods are susceptible to being customized according to customer specifications or needs, something that was not usually done in a factory. This particular valorization process contrasted with the uniformity of mass production. However, lately the big accordion companies (like cellular phones, computers and many other goods) offer the customer the opportunity to choose color, design and some other aspects of the instrument. Therefore, customization from the factory may have been established as a way to get closer to the customer and differentiate from other manufacturing offers that ignore this niche of aesthetic-affective need. In this case, we could say that accordion factories and repairers compete in this aspect to customize the instrument, some competing with original materials, of their own brand, and the others with creativity and originality, in addition to low prices.10 Restoration, decoration and personalization are more linked to nostalgia, aesthetic pleasure and a sense of transcendence, and less to the practicality of extending the accordion's functional life.
Sale of spare parts and accordions. A fourth niche that contributes to the increase in the income of accordion repairers is to offer other products and services related to the instrument, such as the sale of accordions or instruments in general and the construction, sale and installation of accessories and spare parts such as straps, clasps, cases and backpacks. In the words of Herbey Lopez, "the accordion is a lot of work in terms of what the person asks for, it is a very complete instrument. The accessories are also a good source of profit, because if there is not much repair work, they can still come to buy spare parts.
What characterizes the material livelihood of the repairmen? A growing demand for their various services, to the extent that they and their families can sustain themselves from this business. Apparently, one of the causes of this increase in demand is the growing supply of Chinese accordions - between 40 and 60% on the market, according to the repairers - which are generally cheaper than their European rivals, but also of lower quality and in quicker need of repair. This would explain why several repairers are now working full time in their workshops, when they used to share their time with other activities. The relative youth of these interviewees is also striking. None is over 50 years old and the average age is 35. This contrasts with what Ragland found in his study of South Texas repairers, where few are under 60 years of age (2019: 14).
Although they all work in a range of activities around the accordion, some seek to perfect the offer of certain services, when they see them more profitable or when they have greater skill and knowledge in them. Those like Herbey and Jhoniván, who are also musicians, have an even wider range of work, but also suffer the natural pressures of two extremely demanding and zealous activities. Finally, although they all know and tune accordions for their respective music, Tejano, Colombian and Norteño, their deep knowledge of them is very unequal. All of them started in the accordion performing several parallel work activities, formal or informal, which they abandoned to dedicate themselves entirely to the repair. A particular case is that of Jhoniván Sáenz. In his case, repair is secondary, more recent than his other activities, and is part of a feedback process in which, according to the interviewee, there is not necessarily a hierarchical order of income between playing, repairing, selling or teaching. As he explains, if no student comes to his academy, he can charge for a performance; if he has no party, he can sell an accordion; if there are no sales of the instrument, he can still sell accessories, or someone comes to ask for a tuning or a repair, etcetera. This process feeds back in each of the phases. For example, when he plays somewhere, someone knows him and looks for him to learn to play. Linked to this are the seasonal cycles under which the repairers work: for example, after the end of the year, when musicians have had a lot of work, they buy or repair instruments; another example is the festival season, or the end or beginning of school years in the United States or in Mexico, where schools include music classes.11 Knowledge of these seasonal cycles is key to economic survival in terms of income stability.
The repairmen carry out their work in workshops that have between one and three rooms and one or more employees (see image 14). Most of the premises are separate from their homes. The repairers' work areas can be divided by function. Generally, one room serves as a repair center (where work tables, tools and spare parts are kept), and others may function either as a storage room or as a painting and drying center. The formalization of their businesses is always a work in progress. Not all of them are registered with the different economic, tax, name registration and social security authorities for their employees. Except for two of the cases already formalized, most of them are at different levels with respect to the formalization of their activities.
We could say that the work culture of the repairer, recovering the notion of Reygadas (2012), is constituted by an individuality that develops the various repair/refining/restoration projects through a combination of technical and artistic knowledge applied to a specific case. On other occasions, such as those reported in this article, a collective work is headed by other workers (some of them relatives) who work under subordinate relationships and participate in various phases or parts of the service project, under the guidelines of the technician/artisan.
They also use digital platforms to carry out a variety of activities, among them to promote themselves, get clients, establish the first contacts for negotiating the repair, buy and sell accordions and their spare parts. Most of them have as clients certain famous artists who serve as "anchors" or attraction for the offer of their services to those who do not know them.
Once the instrument reaches the repairer with the specific need or problem described by the client, there is a gap between the needs to intervene the instrument and the knowledge and resources that the repairer possesses. Between the two, the technical or aesthetic challenge can generate a tension from which new knowledge emerges (new sounds or ways of generating them and new knowledge about materials, parts, mechanisms, aesthetics of the instrument), including the certainty of what one is not capable of doing. We present a list of knowledge and resources that the accordion repairer usually uses to face the challenges of his business.
Specific technical knowledge. This knowledge refers to the four areas of accordion intervention described above, on which we will make several notes. Knowledge of the central mechanisms of sound generation, that is to say, understanding the specific nature of sound in these instruments, allows the realization of tunings or pitch changes. It must be complemented with the knowledge of the tonal scales, an educated ear and some kind of mechanical, electric or digital tuning instrument. Thanks to this, the repairman can know each of the combinations of voices that result in the "Colombian", "Tejano" or "Norteño" sound (listen to audio 1). In this regard, René Aguillón maintains that it is not necessary to be a musician to develop a good ear, because although he and his brother learned from a musician (who was their father), all the knowledge they acquired was from their father's side as a repairman; as in several of the cases, a comprehensive musical training was not necessary to understand how the accordion works and to become a repairman. Although the principle is the same, this knowledge about the mechanisms of sound generation is resolved differently among the diversity of diatonic and chromatic accordions.
The peripheral mechanisms of sound generation - the buttons, arms, valves and bellows - open in an important way the range of necessary knowledge about mechanics and material science, as well as their respective wear and tear or degeneration. The repairer then knows about different woods, waxes, metals and their alloys, fabrics and tapes, covering materials, welds and rivets. An illustrative case is the wax applied between the voices. According to Daniel Martínez Valdés, there is a variety of waxes that can be used depending on the case. It is important, because most repairers use wax from Campeche, but it is not functional for the repair. It is very necessary to use a local product that is suitable for the climatic conditions of each place. He says that when accordions arrive from Italy with wax from there (which is the one they use due to the temperate climate), it is no longer useful here, because it falls apart. In his workshop he uses beeswax. For the workshops there are two types: resin wax and beeswax. The resin wax is known as winter wax, and the beeswax, as heat wax. And since the climate in Nuevo Leon is either very cold or very hot depending on the season, what is needed is a wax that is appropriate for the region.
Both knowledge, about the voices and the mechanisms that make them sound, require the use of certain tools. The tools used in these workshops are mostly generic: screwdrivers, soldering iron, magnifying glasses, a variety of hammers, screwdrivers, tweezers and punches, in addition to the tuner, mainly digital, but also analog or manual. But there are also adaptations of tools and supplies to carry out their work, which denote ingenuity and capacity for improvisation, as in the case of the air generators or bellows to make the voices sound, which are built on various principles of operation (see images 18 and 10). On the work table or underneath it there are always these bellows that "blow the music". Blowing them with the mouth, besides being tiring, impregnates the metals with bacteria that will end up being corroded. Then, the voices are placed on that box, the bellows are stepped on, the sound will be generated and the tuner will mark the tones. Recovering the concept of "ontology of the accident", we will say that the different interventions of the tuner-repairer-craftsman can have an accidental character that, at the same time, favors innovation, technological development and a greater power of the technician over the machine.
Finally, work related to visual aesthetics requires extending knowledge to plastic mother-of-pearl, specialized paints, painting and drying techniques, drawings and molds. Focused on improving the image of the accordion from his own designs, Chuy Tamez is a case of someone who specializes in knowledge of materials for both restoration and aesthetics. It was necessary to experiment with different materials and techniques to achieve the designs he imagined. Beyond the knowledge he had to do his tasks, the important thing has always been the practice, where the workmanship shows that it is the determining factor for a job to be well done. An example is painting, which requires a certain degree of specialization, knowledge that he began to learn painting coffins and has now deepened with his workshop. Curiously, Chuy offers the service of repairing and tuning voices, but he does not do it himself, he subcontracts it to another specialist.
In short, all this knowledge makes it possible to identify the quality of the instrument to be repaired, as well as the feasibility and possible cost of its repair. The avalanche of Chinese products in recent years has transformed the market, expanding it by types of quality/price or "ranges" - as they are called by repairers, sellers and performers - and diversifying it in brands and models, so that, to stay in the market, the repairer must also be aware of this diversity.
Knowledge of the market they serve. This knowledge covers both brands and models and their evolution over time as well as the main types and needs of their customers. Regarding the former, Daniel Martinez identifies three ranges in terms of accordion quality and price: low, medium and high. The low range is made up of accordions of lower quality and price, mostly of Chinese origin. They are mass-produced and not handmade. They have an average life of about three years and, before that, they require several and expensive repairs, since their materials and parts are of low quality. In the market he knows, Chinese accordions are the majority, due to the low price. Their main brands are Yingjie, Melody, Farinelli, Rossetti and Solaris. Repairs on these can be more constant, but at a lower cost. Towards the mid-range are Gabrielloni and Parrot, also Chinese. There would be a mid-range made up of Hohner accordions made in China, "because the brand sold its patent to a Chinese manufacturer", explains the repairer.12 He says that they use the Chinese Hohner Phanter (9,000 pesos) in an accordion academy in Monterrey. He also identifies Italian, Chinese and German accordions, manufactured in Brazil, circulating in the Monterrey market. The high end would be constituted by accordions of two leading brands in this type: Hohner and Gabanelli. From Hohner, there would be models such as the Anacleto, Corona iii or several models of the Gabanelli brand. There are also other Italian brands (Brilingtton, Dino Baffetti). Their market is small, as prices range between 30 thousand and 120 thousand pesos. The consumers of the medium and high ranges are people who have been playing the instrument for several years and are looking to improve their performance, increase the sound quality and empower their image, in a synergy between instrument and performer.
Another set of knowledge relates to the operation of information and communication technologies (ICTs).tic). We refer to the different functions of the cell phone, tuning applications, social networking platforms. Herbey López considers that social networks are very necessary and uses them to promote himself. Thanks to this, many people are already contacting him, even from outside the state. Chuy confirms this importance and recognizes that they represented a key point to achieve the reach that his business now has. His case could be considered a true phenomenon, as he has more followers than other repairers, achieved in record time, which has allowed him to expand his business on a regional scale. This brings us to the issue of networks and the circulation of knowledge.
In his learning process, Daniel Martinez began to upload videos to YouTube of what he was doing. When he least expected it, he received a notification from Spain from someone looking to learn more about the diatonic accordion in Mexico, so they were able to have exchanges of knowledge about the accordion cultures in Mexico and Europe. At the same time, this relationship allowed him to meet a Panamanian academic, who offered him specifications on the tuning of the Colombian accordion. For his part, Herbey López has established connections in Colombia that allow him to import pieces manufactured in that country, which are cheaper than the originals sold here and whose sale leaves very little profit margin. On the other hand, Martínez and the Aguillón brothers constantly receive orders from Texas, a market once served by Santos Aguillón, their father, and Rogelio Rodríguez, the latter's teacher. Finally, in line with what was said in the previous section, the skills that cost the repairers the most work, because they have a kind of attraction-rejection with them, are all those related to administrative tasks.
As we have seen so far, this network among repairers to bring instruments to life through their work is conditioned, but not determined, by different degrees of power and resources, such as specialized university education, membership in musical dynasties or family tradition for repair.
In terms of value, the product that the accordion repairer can offer would be reflected, among other things, in the knowledge about the structure and functioning of the accordion; the diversity and quality of these instruments and, therefore, the common problems and how to fix them. His knowledge includes the different audiotopias that coexist in a megalopolis like Monterrey, that is, those sounds linked to a system of meanings that a community revives in its traditions, beliefs and rituals. His experience performing these tasks gives him prestige for the work previously done. He possesses and handles specialized tools that allow him to perform this task. Finally, it not only has parts or spare parts to replace damaged ones, knowledge of where they can be obtained, but also the capacity to manufacture them from various elements. With the evidence presented, Monterrey could be considered a regional or national repair center.
The repairer is a technician/craftsman who performs vital social functions around the accordion in the city of Monterrey. Extending the social life of the instrument is perhaps the main one. Each time the repairers apply their knowledge to make the machinery work again, achieve the emergence of sound again or deliberately alter it through the services of a sonorous aesthetic, they revive an object that is a symbolic expression of a socio-regional identity, which is actualized through the dialogue between the present and the past and strengthens cultural memory (Ragland, 2019). Simultaneously, under the sensibility of late capitalism, their work can be oriented to personalize the accordion to such a degree that it will be able to speak for its owner and performer through the art of its finish and appearance, with which it ceases to be an instrument made in series, indifferent, indistinct, although new.
The work of the accordion repairers puts the value system in constant tension, as Appadurai (1991) has suggested. On the one hand, it is an important link in the global chain of large manufacturing firms. Repairing can be seen as a typical result of the intensive consumption of capitalist economies. But, at the same time, as an act of resistance that prevents that same intensive consumption. Repairers are characterized by self-taught learning and the construction of knowledge networks; they seek knowledge incessantly through constant experimentation and practice, as well as through the use of portals, blogs and social networks. This contrasts with the absence of specialized accordion schools, such as the one that exists in the city of Querétaro for the construction, repair and restoration of stringed instruments.13 The absence of national production of this instrument is surely one of the main reasons for the existence of the reparadores. As Victoria Novelo says, part of the explanation for the survival of these characters "lies in the capacity for flexibility and adaptation and in the strategies that have had to be developed by domestic units that specialize their members in different tasks in order to obtain income" (Novelo, 2003: 14-15).
The wide availability of accordions, a phenomenon that began to occur twenty years ago when Chinese instruments began to arrive in the Monterrey market, is another factor that has driven the increase in repair services. Several of our interviewees have said that, if it were not for the existence of this type of accordion, they would not have had the opportunity to get one until much later.
In this sense, while some dream and work for the manufacture of a Mexican accordion, others try to adapt to the global reality by bringing in Chinese accordions of higher and higher quality, selling a customized brand. Finally, they live in the game of global economic forces, where the central economies are paying the price for producing cheaply in China, at the risk of losing control of their technology. Today, the Chinese have not only flooded the accordion market, but their availability of mid and upper mid-range accordions is starting to worry the big companies, who are now increasingly present at the festivals discussed at the beginning of this article (see image 23). One of the repairers comments on this phenomenon: "the Chinese are just reclaiming what was their idea".
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Daniel Martínez, reparador y afinador de acordeones. Entrevistado por José Juan Olvera (trabajo de campo), Monterrey, Nuevo León, 27 de enero del 2016.
Feliciano Rodríguez Montes (Chanito Rodríguez), reparador de acordeones. Entrevistado por Alfonso Ayala Duarte (trabajo de campo), Reynosa, Tamaulipas, 12 de agosto del 2016.
Héctor Castillo, vendedor de acordeones. Entrevistado por José Juan Olvera (trabajo de campo), Monterrey, Nuevo León, 27 de enero del 2014.
Herbey López, reparador y afinador de acordeones. Entrevistado por José Juan Olvera (trabajo de campo), Monterrey, Nuevo León, 5 de mayo del 2016.
Jesús Tamez (Chuy Tamez Accordions), reparador/restaurador de acordeones. Entrevistado por Jacqueline Peña Benítez (trabajo de campo), Villa de Santiago, Nuevo León, 2 de diciembre del 2019.
Jhoniván Sáenz, músico, maestro y reparador de acordeones. Entrevistado por Jacqueline Peña Benítez y José Juan Olvera (trabajo de campo), Monterrey, Nuevo León, 4 de febrero del 2019 y 14 de abril de 2020
Ricardo y René Aguillón (hijos del reparador Santos Aguillón, reparadores de acordeones. Entrevistados por José Juan Olvera (trabajo de campo), Monterrey, Nuevo León, 5 de diciembre del 2019.
José Juan Olvera Gudiño is a professor-researcher at ciesas-Northeast. Sociologist, Master in Communication, PhD in Humanities with a specialization in Communication and Cultural Studies from the Tecnológico de Monterrey. Member of the National System of Researchers, level 1. He has directed the project: "Regional processes of construction of culture in northeastern Mexico and south Texas: the cases of hip hop and norteño music", financed by the conacyt. Your recent publications: 2018. Economies of rap in northeastern Mexico. Entrepreneurship and resistance around popular music. Mexico, Casa Chata, and coordinated the collective book Economies of northern music. Mexico, Casa Chata, currently in press.
Jacqueline Peña Benitez is a research associate at ciesas in the modality of training fellowship in research techniques and methodologies. She is part of the research project Muerte y resurrección en la Frontera. Procesos de construcción de la cultura en el noreste de México y Texas (Death and resurrection on the border. conacyt. She is a graduate of Sociology from the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León.