The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas 2013 conference is taking place at the University of Texas-Pan American. The event is a three day event that lasts from February 21st and ends on February 23rd. To conjunto fans, the biggest news of the conference is that legendary accordionist Eva Ybarra will be performing live at the "Noche De Cultura". That scheduled event is taking place at the UTPA Ballroom on February 22nd (5:30-9:30 PM). Then the following day on February 23rd (10:30 AM), Ybarra will have a conjunto workshop at the ITT Ballroom. The conjunto workshop will be facilitated by Dr. Catherine Ragland, who previously taught at UTPA but now teaches at the University of North Texas.
In the world of conjunto music, Eva Ybarra is considered one of the genres most iconic figures. While the conjunto world is dominated by male accordionists, Eva Ybarra has broken ground as the leading female Tex-Mex accordionist. In Louisiana they have Queen Ida. In Texas we have Eva Ybarra.
"[Eva Ybarra] is one of those unusual women that just dedicated her life to making music, to playing the accordion and to leading her own group," said Dr. Catherine Ragland. "That meant that she sacrificed other things in her personal life."
When asked why there wasn’t more female accordionists from Eva Ybarra's generation, Dr. Catherine Ragland felt it had to do with the conservative nature of San Antonio and South Texas. That typically, a young boy will be encouraged by his parents, family and peers if he decides to pick up the accordion. On the other hand, women of past years faced a lot of criticism and were actively discouraged from going down that same path. In that era, society set different expectations for men and woman. Ybarra faced a lot of obstacles and she overcame them to become someone that current, young female accordionists look up to.
"When I see Eva play, and the brief conversation that I've had with Eva, in her 'being' she encourages me to reach into my soul and express whatever is going on in there," said Susan Torres, a great accordionist from Austin. "Whether joy, sorrow, melancholy or just having a good time. In her 'being' she also encourages me to be tough."
Along with breaking gender barriers and being a strong role model for young women, she's also created her own squeezebox style. Many conjunto musicians play a lot of the same standards but Ybarra prefers playing her own original material. Ybarra has a certain jazzy flair that sets her apart from her contemporaries.
"One of the arguments I make is that part of the reason that I think she is so unique is that she really stays within the tradition of conjunto," said Dr. Catherine Ragland. "She can play the traditional polkas, huapangos, and even the schottisches, mazurkas, and the older style. But she does it in a sort of very interesting, very creative way. She brings elements of jazz, rock, and other Latin popular music into it that make her really stand out."
If you want to get a taste of what you're going to be in store for at the "Noche De Cultura", look up “Eva Ybarra” on YouTube. Check out how energetic her music is and just how intricate her accordion passages are. Seeing the way she handles her squeezebox, you'll come to the obvious conclusion that Ybarra is filled with passion.
"When Eva plays, she's got fire in her eyes," said Susan. "She's not playing around when she's playing."