Whenever I go to the H-E-B in San Juan, I usually go take a look at their Entertainment section. They have a small area dedicated to regional music releases. In there, one will find DVD's of Flaco Jimenez, Selena, Little Joe y La Famlia, Elida y Avante and many other Tejano and conjunto artists. A new DVD titled "Valerio Longoria — Legacy of a Maestro" caught my eye.
I first learned about Longoria when I was reading everything I could about Esteban Jordan years ago. While spending time in the fields, Longoria became a big influence on Jordan as a youth. I became a fan of Longoria after watching a "Rhythms of the World" episode on YouTube that featured Longoria and Jordan performances in San Antonio.
The documentary consists of interviews with Longoria, Dr. Catherine Ragland and Juan Tejeda. Ragland's expertise into these border genres cannot be overstated. While others make vague or basic talking points, Ragland takes her time to explain the subtleties of the subjects at hand. When discussing Longoria's work, it's been said by many that he was one of the first border-accordionists to add songs to his repertoire. Ragland elaborates on that point, saying that there were other accordionists before and during Longoria's time that were already singing in cantinas (bars). She states that what set Longoria apart from his peers was that he wasn't doing the singing at cantinas; he was performing at respectable dances and in the recording studio. Also, while those other musicians were singing rancheras, Longoria would be singing romantic pieces in the form of boleros.
Ragland also brings up the close relationship that is shared by migrant farm-workers and conjunto music. She points out how these musicians were bringing this music and culture to the farm-workers up north when they traveled there to work. I think there should be a rule where Ragland makes an appearance in every Tejano, conjunto and norteño documentary.
In the Longoria interview, he discusses various turning points in his life in music. He goes over his first accordion, playing in Harlingen, going to Germany during World War II, living in different parts of the U.S., the different labels he recorded for and teaching young people how to play the accordion. Longoria passed away in 2000 at the age of 75, twelve days before his birthday.
The biggest selling point for this film is being able to have a clear look at Longoria performing. Unlike other accordion players in conjunto and norteño music, Longoria keeps playing the accordion as he's singing. The DVD features six complete performances that showcase his signature style and beautiful vocals. The scene that resonated with me the most was of Longoria, in his living room couch, performing the polka "El Barrilito" (Beer Barrel). Professionally shot footage of conjunto musicians is rare, so footage like this has some genuine value to it.
Unfortunately, I came away being a bit disappointed with Hector Galán’s film. At a couple of points, some footage felt unnecessary and like it was just there to pad the running time to 45 minutes. The footage from various sources felt like it was just thrown together half-heartedly. It resembled something you would see done by someone new to local-public-television, as opposed to an actual, genuine documentary by an experienced filmmaker. The DVD itself is barebones — no menus, no scene-selection and no access to skipping chapters. If you want to see a scene towards the end of the film, you will have to fast-forward to the end.
Prior to this release, Galán had worked on several conjunto-documentary projects. He's most known for his "Accordion Dreams" documentary, which aired nationally on PBS in 2001. That sharp documentary remains in the upper-echelon of conjunto films, remaining accessible to anyone with any interest in regional music. Whereas this documentary feels like it would only be of interest to fans of Longoria, who just want to have some footage of him performing for their own personal collection.
You can purchase "Valerio Longoria — Legacy of a Maestro (2012)" at select H-E-B stores and http://www.tejanoclassics.com/