|Cande Aguilar Jr, Ruben Vela and Gilberto Perez.|
You can trace back the start of his journey to when he was 12 years old. The incredibly shy kid asked his padrino (godfather) — conjunto icon Gilberto Perez — if he could play the accordion at one of his shows.
“When I asked my padrino, he said, ‘Go ahead’,” remembers Cande, 40 years old, in the dining room of his home in Brownsville. “I’m so grateful that he was open for me (to play), without any hesitation at all.”
At the age of ten, Cande started mimicking what he heard on the record player and at the dance halls. He honed his craft at home with his dad, Cande Sr. (Perez’s longtime bass player). Cande said that he was inspired by the sounds of his padrino, Ruben Vela and Tony De La Rosa.
Gilberto Perez stepped aside, allowing his 12-year-old godson on stage to rattle off a few polkitas.
“I wouldn’t even finish [the polkas] right,” said Cande with a smile on his face. “I had never really squared off a piece to where I would finish appropriately. So after a couple of tries, I finally got the endings right.”
The following year, Cande recorded his first album. Titled Mis Primeras Polkas, the young accordionist joined his father on the bass, Gilberto Perez Jr. on the bajo-sexto and Javier Perez on the drums to record at his padrino’s studio.
“At that time I recorded, I included four original pieces,” Cande said. “At that age, I was already composing my own tunes.”
The young prodigy was living a unique life in the 1980′s. During the weekdays, he would be attending Porter High School like an ordinary teenager living in Brownsville. Outside of school he was living the life of a conjunto musician, accompanying Gilberto Perez y su conjunto at live shows.
Thanks to the exposure he gained though those gigs, Cande was invited to perform with La Mafia for a tour in the Summer of 1988. He credits this early, teenage success to his two main inspirations — his father and padrino.
“My padrino threw me in the front, gave me the opportunity to invade his time and spotlight,” Cande said. “Nombre I just can’t be more grateful, I keep going back to it. He (gave) me the opportunity to come out in the shows when he was there. That counts for a lot.”
After he graduated from high school, Cande turned his attention to starting his own band.
“I have to give (Javier Perez) credit for Elida y Avante,” Cande said. “Because I think he is the one that got us all together.”
Cande, Javier and Noel Hernandez got together to start their own group. Eventually it was Noel that found the person that would become the lead-singer of the ensemble.
“Noel met Elida (Reyna) at the mariachi (program at UTPA),” Cande said.”So Noel came to me and Javier (saying), ‘There is this young lady that has a great voice.’”
Once they heard her singing at his padrino’s studio, Cande said that they immediately started rehearing. Elida y Avante really established themselves with the release of Atrevete in 1994.
“('Luna Llena') was really the song that broke through,” Cande said. “It got us our own spot.”
Rock N Roll James — local DJ and former host of Puro Tejano — remembers that era very well.
“(Cande) is awesome, he really added a very unique sound to the early Elida songs,” said Rock N Roll James. “It was signature-esque as to where you knew it was Elida y Avante as soon as you heard the accordion.”
Another song that played a major role in their success was “Duele”.
“(When their) mariachi song 'Duele' was released, that song made her a household name and a staple of Tejano and Regional Mexican Radio airplay,” said James.
After eight years together, the band split up in 2001. Eight months before the break-up, Cande was already sketching and drawing.
“It was sort of a smooth transition for me,” said Cande, as he moved on to the next phase of his life. “I felt like we went out on a good note, we won four awards at the Tejano Awards (2000).”
Cande tells me that at that point in his life, he wasn’t interested in pursuing music. With art, he had found a new way to express himself.
“As I did with the music, (I had) the same commitment, the same energy towards it,” Cande said. “By the time you knew it, I was stretching my own canvases and participating in art shows.”
Cande — happily married with three children — works out of his home in his garage studio. As you enter the studio, you will see his first paint palette to your right; on your left, you might catch a glimpse of a Chewbacca action figure. Several three-row button diatonic accordions are on display. Cande's latest work is hanging off a wall; multimedia art with image transfers on horizontal panels.
“Cande’s work is outstanding,” said Manuel Miranda, a local artist in the Valley. “He incorporates elements from various sources yet he’s been able to produce a body of work that represents the Rio Grande Valley. He has greatly contributed to raising the level of painting right here in the Rio Grande Valley.”
Although he’s identified as an artist now, the urge to record music has come back for him in recent years. One of his main goals is to establish a catalog of original material.
Some familiar names joined Cande for his new Dulce Sueños album — Javier Perez, Noel Hernandez, Epifanio Martinez, Gilberto Perez Jr., Felix Aleman, Jaime Gonzalez and Cande Sr.
Along with his parents being a big motivating factor, it was also Lupe Saenz that influenced Cande to return to the recording studio.
“I really appreciate his effort in trying to keep conjunto music alive,” Cande said of the president of the South Texas Conjunto Association. “I told him I was going to start recording (and that he was) one of the reasons why.”
Cande said that he had to get these musical compositions out of his system. With art and music, it’s a constant stream of creative energy for him. He feels that by releasing this album, he could move on to the next stage of his life.
While at his home, Cande sampled some of the songs for me off his laptop. It’s a pure conjunto sound, straight from the roots of the genre. Polkas, redovas, schottisches, waltzes and huapangos. If you’re a fan of classic conjunto music, this is an album worth getting excited about. He’s breathing new life into these traditional forms of music.
“I feel like I’ve challenged myself to play more refined,” Cande said. “I feel like I’ve gotten better interpreting and achieving what I want to play.”
The album is set to have ten original compositions and three tribute tracks – Ruben Vela’s “El Pajuelazo”; Narciso Martinez’s “La Cuquita” and “Dulce Sueños”.
“I am very interested in making up my own music and trying to get as close to being original as possible,” Cande said. “I feel more comfortable playing my own stuff.”
What does the name of the title track mean to Cande? What has conjunto meant to him?
“'Dulce Sueños' being that it’s been a great dream and that I’m happy to be able to participate again in contributing to the conjunto genre,” Cande said. “Through conjunto music, I’ve managed to been able to release my creative energy in a way where it’s not stagnant.”
You can find Dulce Sueños at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cande-Music/222940861094284?id=222940861094284&sk=app_470868196288052, http://www.candemusic.com, Amazon.com and iTunes.