The 15th Annual Conjunto of the Year Awards, the biggest conjunto event of the Summer, will be hosted at the KC Hall in Mercedes, on July 14. Every year, this event honors the very best in the past year of conjunto music.
"Fifteen years I've been doing this, es quinceañera," laughs Guadalupe "Lupe" Saenz, a retired educator and Vietnam vet, who serves as the president of the South Texas Conjunto Association (STCA).
Saenz describes his work and dedication as a battle. His mission is simple: to preserve conjunto music. He is not fond of norteño music, feeling that it's overtaken the airwaves in the Valley. He's not shy about it either, he wears his heart on his sleeve, proudly espousing his thoughts on the subject.
"Our Texas music is being replaced, and it's our goal to keep it going for future generations."
In the late 1990's, Saenz was disappointed with the lack of conjunto music in the Valley. With the genre out of the airwaves, Saenz felt like the music he was raised on was disappearing. In 1998, he realized it was time for him to step up.
"The only ones that were playing were the old groups that were still around like Gilberto Perez, Ruben Vela, Los Dos Gilbertos. So we got into a group and we approached KMBH Radio. They opened a slot for us and we started broadcasting."
Eventually, Saenz started producing his own weekly television program. "Acordeones De Tejas" was born six years ago, and Saenz does it all — finances it, hosts the program, shoots the footage, and edits it. It was not his original intention to host the program, but he said it was hard to find someone who was reliable. He soon realized that it was up to him. The TV program airs weekly on Sunday, at 5:30 PM on KMBH (Public Television).
Along with his radio and TV broadcasts, Saenz works hard every year on his annual award show. In the past fifteen years, it's grown to become one of the most anticipated conjunto events of the year. The awards include drummer, bass player, bajo-sexto player, accordion player, album, single, male vocalist, female vocalist and conjunto of the year. Last years conjunto of the year honor went to "Los Badd Boyz Del Valle" (Edcouch-Elsa).
"This is the only place and time when every aspect of (conjunto music) is recognized," Saenz said.
The voting, which is open to the public, ended on June 28; Saenz is very pleased with the turnout.
To those who plan on attending, the entrance fee is $10 per person. Once inside the KC Hall, a raffle will be held to anyone interested in a Cantabella accordion. Confirmed bands that will be performing that night include Gilberto Lopez y Sus Hijos, Conteño, Ruben Vela Jr, Leti y El Conjunto Central, Los Delta Boys and many more acts.
"(You can) expect to see a lot of conjunto, in one place, in one night. Like (you) haven't seen in a long time, anywhere else. Nobody else has 18 groups in one place and one night. Can you imagine that? It's like a world record."
A taped version of the award show is tentatively scheduled to be airing on KMBH in August.
One of Saenz' hopes is that people who share his love for conjunto, will go out and continue to support their local events. It's more than just music for Saenz, it's his culture and life. The fear that it might go away one day is what drives him.
"To us, it's not about money, it's about maintaining this culture. Es cultura, cultura doesn't go away, does it? Conjunto es cultura. That's why it's been around for years. It's going to be around for a few more years but if the young people don't pick it up and carry it, it might disappear."