Saturday, November 23, 2013

Donna High School (Early 1970’s)

I was recently talking to someone that attended Donna High School, in the early 1970’s. He was a friend of my dad’s family, who also went to that school during that era.

I was asking him about racism in the school system. He told me a story about how when he was in high school, he overheard all the white kids talking about going to college.

So he went to go talk to Mrs. Young, the school counselor, to ask what he needed to do to attend college as well.

"I would like to go to college but I don’t know anything about it or how to do it," [x] remembers telling her.

She responded by scaring him off by asking how much money his parents made, and suggesting that he simply couldn’t afford it.

"You might consider joining the military," is what [x] said Mrs. Young told him.

He ended up going to Pan American University (as it was known then), after he received some assistance from the honors program at that institution.

"As the years have gone by, I have run into all these other people that I went to school with, who said, ‘Yeah, the lady told me the same thing: Go in the service, don’t go to college, you can’t afford it.’ Then we found out that all the white kids, the teachers were writing letters of reference for them, helping them with their applications; doing this, doing that. They were helping them into the school system, and they were shutting us out. We didn’t know that (then). I didn’t understand that for a long time."

A few years ago, when he visited the Valley, he ran into some old classmates that lived in the north-side of Donna, as opposed to the area that was known then as “East Donna”. The north-side area was populated by white people and/or folks with money; the east-side area was where lower-income Mexican and Mexican-American’s resided in. My dad, when we were growing up, would always say that he was from “East Donna”. I didn’t understand until much later why he would say that and not just say “Donna”. [x] was surprised when he heard that even his middle-to-upper-class, more-Americanized-but-still-of-Mexican-descent classmates from the north-side suffered from the same type of racial discrimination.

"I thought it was just us, on the East Donna-side," [x] remembers. "[But my classmate] told me she said, ‘No, I’m not going to give you an application. If you go to school, you’re setting yourself up for failure.’"

After this conversation, I called my dad up on the phone. I was like, “I have a question for you,” or algo asi. Then right after I mentioned, “Do you remember a counselor…”, he busts out with the same story, about how she wanted him and all the students of Mexican-descent to join the military, to go fight in Vietnam. Only difference in my dad’s story was that he told it in Spanglish.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Jesse Flores Jr. y Eskandalo‏

Jesse Flores Jr.
 When he wants to bring the audience up on their feet, Jesse Flores Jr. busts out Ini Kamoze's "Here Comes The Hotstepper".

To keep the evening moving, he has plenty of cumbias up his sleeve. He likes to keep a consistent energy throughout his set. His love for singing started at a very young age.

"I started singing when I was two-years old, my dad had me singing," Flores, 39, said. "I would sing simple songs like 'You Are My Sunshine', 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' and all those."

Jesse as a young mariachi.
By the time Flores was six, he was already singing popular mariachi tunes in Spanish. At the age of twelve, he added keyboard playing to his repertoire.

His first exposure came from performing with his father, Jesse Flores Sr. When he turned fourteen, he secured his first professional gig with Wally Garza y Su Sangre Tejana. Shortly thereafter, Flores joined Carlos Miranda's band.

"I was the youngest keyboard player that he's ever had," said Flores of the late Tejano legend Carlos Miranda. "I was still going to (PSJA) high school when I was performing with him."

After high school, Flores became a part of Fandango USA in 1993. During that Tejano era, Fandango USA's "La Charanga" grew into a monster regional hit. It ended up winning "Song of the Year" (1994) honors at the Tejano Music Awards. Flores felt honored being a part of something huge. But according to him, the best was yet to come.

In 1996, Tejano superstar Emilio Navaira had an opening for a keyboard player. Flores filled that spot and was soon on the road.

Flores considers this the peak of his career. At the time, Navaira was attempting to branch out of Tejano music by participating in country music tours. One such tour took Navaira and Flores to Europe. Flores was not only learning about music, but about different cultures as well.

"We went to Switzerland and opened up for Billy Ray Cyrus," Flores recalls. "It was awesome, we did a whole week there."

Other country musicians that they performed with included Alan Jackson and Kenny Rogers.

After four in a half years of performing with Navaira, Flores decided it was time to move on.

"When I left Emilio, I left the scene for two years and then I came back to the Valley."

He and several other musicians created the Tex-Mex Kadillaks. Along the years the group won several awards, including "Most Promising Band" from the Valley Choice Awards in 2006. They released five CD's in their time together.

Flores then shifted to the next phase of his career, as he formed the Gaslight Club band. They released one CD, then Flores transitioned over to his current band — Jesse Flores Jr. y Eskandalo. The rest of the group consists of Guillermo Garcia (accordionist; segunda voz), Jerry Vasquez (bass player), Rene Espinoza (drums) and Javier Guerra (electric guitar).

When asked who his key influences are, he points to two figures.

"My idols were Brando Mireles from Mazz and the late Jerry De La Rosa," Flores said. "I've branched those two keyboard players and made my own style."

He also mentions being an admirer of Beto Ramon's signature composing style.

This past Summer, Eskandalo completed their first album — Vuelve A Mi. Local conjunto accordionist Lucky Joe Paredes is credited with composing the title track.

"It's a mix of conjunto, Tejano, and cumbias," Flores describes his new album.

Flores hopes to start working on his next album in January 2014.

He has become a regular performer at Club Rio in Edinburg, where he will be performing at this Friday and Saturday night. When he looks out into the audience and sees them dancing, he knows he has accomplished his goal.

"My forte and my focus in playing is to get everyone to dance," Flores said. "I try to stay on top of the game, because there are always new artists coming up, that are trying to bring their own style and a new era of music. I respect that so much because that's what we're trying to do, to keep the Tejano music alive."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Q&A: Bernardo Martinez II of Bernardo y Sus Compadres‏

Bernado Martinez II y Pepe Maldonado
Fresh off from completing his latest album, "Siempre" on JB records, regional star Bernardo Martinez II returns to La Lomita Park this Sunday night. Bernardo y Sus Compadres has been a conjunto circuit staple since the 1970's. For over forty years, they have been providing Texas audiences with old fashion, Taquachito-style dance music. In recent years, the Laredo native has been honored with several awards, including being inducted into the Tejano Roots Hall of Fame in 2007. While he's the type of man that lets his music speak for itself, he was happy to share some brief thoughts with us here today.

Festiva: Your career started in Laredo in the early 1970's. Were there any local musicians that influenced your style?

Bernardo Martinez II: Not really in Laredo. In Laredo, it was just my dad (that influenced me). Pero the musicians that influenced me were Ruben Naranjo, Tony De La Rosa, Ruben Vela, Gilberto Perez. All of those bands. El compás of the conjunto (Their beat of conjunto). I liked it.

Festiva: When did you first travel to the Valley, to perform?

BMII: Oh it was in the early 80's when I used to go to (San Benito venues like) La Villita, 77 (Night) Club, KC Hall. (Then after that) it was all over (the Valley).

Festiva: Who are the current members of your band?

BMII: On drums I have (my son) Bernie Martinez III. On the accordion I have Charlie Saenz, from Pearland, TX. Bajo-sexto, Sunny Guerra. On the bass guitar I got Ralph (Perez). And then I have, who has recorded with me also, Gilberto Perez Jr.

I'm the vocalist but I play the accordion too. I learned by myself, when I was 14 years old.

Festiva: You will be performing on a double bill with Lazaro Perez y su conjunto. Are you familiar with this up-and-coming accordionist?

BMII: Oh yeah, he's a good friend of mine. I met Lazaro when he was around 14, 15 years old. When he first started to play the accordion, he used to play with me. Around Kingsville and Corpus, he would play a polka with me or two. Now he's a superman. It's a very good conjunto.

Festiva: For how long have you known musician and promoter Pepe Maldonado?

BMII: I have known him for forty years. He used to record himself and he had a lot of hits. I met him in Laredo, then I saw him in the Valley. Pepe Maldonado is a very good friend.

Festiva: You've played at La Lomita Park in the past, what are your impressions of this venue?

BMII: I like it, I like it, it's a real nice place. Se ve (I see) a lot of couples; young couples and old couples, who like conjunto. So I love it, La Lomita is one of my favorite places to play.

Festiva: Thank you for your time, I really appreciate it.

BMII: Thank you.

Bernardo y Sus Compadres Albums You Can Listen To on Spotify: "Siempre", "El Enamorado", "Puros Compas", "Botella Maldita", "Tres Generaciones", "El Muchacho Alegre", "El Castigador", "El Rey", "El Huerfano", "El Hijo Del Pueblo", "Amores Que Van y Vienen", "Un Sentimiento" and "Las Isabeles".

Performers: Bernardo y Sus Compadres, Lazaro Perez y su conjunto.
Time: 6:00 PM
Date: 11/17
Cost: $10.00
Phone Number and Website: 956-867-8783 or visit
Location: La Lomita Park, in McAllen.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Return of "Puro Tejano"

Margarita, Mando San Roman y Bonnie Hernandez.
Mando San Roman aims to help the future by reaching back into his past.

The longtime radio personality has brought back to life a format that was used to promote Tejano musicians during its most recent boom period.

In the early 1990's, KIWW 96.1 and Summit Productions teamed up for a television project that came to be known as "Puro Tejano". At the time, Roman was ten years into working as a Tejano DJ for KIWW.

"Summit Productions had an idea for a show and they came to us (at the radio station)," Roman said. "It was hosted by four of the DJ's, within the radio station. Which were Mad Mexican, Rock N Roll James, Iris Hinojosa and myself."

The Valley-based television show was launched on January 17, 1993, and aired locally on KGBT. Eventually, it spread through different markets via syndication. Over the years, the magazine-format program showcased Tejano artists via interviews, behind-the-scenes features and music videos. Old episodes that focused on Selena are regularly uploaded on YouTube, and remain very popular with fans.

Later on, the title would change to "Puro Tejano En Vivo", as the show started including more footage from live performances.

The series came to an end around 2001. There were several reasons as to why. KIWW was no longer involved with the product. Summit Productions evolved into Sendero Multimedia, Inc. and they decided to expand into radio broadcasting. Their interest with the show dwindled and it went off the air.

"A year later, they were thinking of bringing it back, but they had more pending projects, that were of higher priority at that time," Roman said.

In the past four years, Roman and his business partner Eli Gonzales, the CEO of Total Multimedia Team, discussed potential new projects. They came to the conclusion that the time was right to do another Tejano show. "Puro Tejano TV" was green-lit, with Roman serving as the producer.

To get the ball rolling, they turned to social media. On the "Puro Tejano TV" Facebook page, they posted short, online videos to hype the relaunch of the show. As of press time, the page has received 4,481 'likes'. The hosts were introduced on there in short vignettes — Roman, Tejano performer Margarita and longtime radio DJ Bonnie Hernandez.

The show hit the airwaves last month, airing Sunday morning at 9:30 AM on KVEO 23. Historically, Sunday mornings have been a go-to time-slot for Tejano music television programming. This show continues that tradition. The latest episode, which covered the 33rd Annual Tejano Music Awards, can be found on their Facebook page. While no timeline is set, the plan is to take the show to different regional markets.

A lot has changed since the original show went off the air. One key difference is the lack of major record labels involved in today's scene.

"Back in 1990s, when the show was going strong, companies Capitol EMI, RCA, Sony, they were all on board with a lot of Tejano artists," Roman said. "The biggest record label right now, that is out there exposing Tejano artists, is Freddie Records. But besides that, a lot of the artists are, as it was back in the beginning stages of Tejano music, independent artists, working with independent labels."

Roman's goal is to expose fans to a new crop of Tejano talent. When asked who he feels are some up-and-coming artists that deserve our attention, he points to Los Badd Boyz Del Valle, Llueve, AJ Castillo, Ricky Valenz and Cacy Savala.

By promoting these new musicians, within this television format and on social media, Roman hopes he can ensure a bright future for Tejano music.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Gilberto Lopez Sr.‏

Los Dos Gilbertos - Gilberto Garcia y Gilberto Lopez at the Border Studies Archive in UTPA.
The past continues to be a vital part of Gilberto Lopez Sr.'s life.

"Look at how far these roots have gone now," said Gilberto Lopez Sr., 77.

These roots can be traced back to when Lopez was born in Edinburg, on December 17, 1935. Lopez grew up in a migrant family, where he experienced hard labor early on as a child. His first exposure to the accordion came from his father.

"He didn't know how to play it himself but he still played a little bit," Lopez said, in Spanish. "I like the way it sounded."

Since there wasn't enough money to go around in the family, it was difficult for Lopez to get his own accordion. Eventually, Lopez' mom was able to secure $15.00 to purchase a used, one-row button accordion.

"That was a lot of money for someone who would pick cotton," Lopez said.

Initially, Lopez would just mess around with the accordion before he actually got serious about learning how to play it. At the age of 12, he started using one finger to hit the buttons, slowly learning his way around the instrument. After plenty of practice, he finally learned his first piece — La Pajarera.

"If it's in your heart, you'll learn," Lopez said. "I see it as a gift from God."

The following year, he was already playing professionally. He has fond memories of performing in backyards, patios and family gatherings. One venue he specifically recalls playing at is "El Patio Saenz" at La Villa, TX. Lopez' success would lead him to recording at Discos Ideal and Discos Falcón.

Around 1970, Lopez was thinking of calling it quits. His aunt intervened, saying his late mother wouldn't want him to sever his musical roots. Lopez didn't want to continue under his own "Gilberto Lopez y su conjunto" brand. An opportunity soon arose between Lopez and another Edinburg musician by the name of Gilberto Garcia. These two accordionists, who refer to one another as tocayo (namesake), decided to join forces after a brief conversation. They became Los Dos Gilbertos.

"We decided to try it, with two accordions," Lopez said. "It was beautiful. Real nice."

The two become one of the most popular conjunto acts of the era, making appearances all throughout the Valley.

"I'm very grateful for Gilberto Garcia," Lopez said. "I love him like a brother."

However, the run would be short-lived. One day, in 1976, Lopez couldn't sing. He couldn't talk either. After a visit to the doctor, a tumor was discovered on his right vocal chord. He had to get treatments for cancer and his music career was put on hold.

He went through a lot of soul searching during this period. Lopez explains that after a vivid dream, he felt like he needed to make a change with his life. He believed that he needed to stop his excessive alcohol drinking and smoking after this traumatic health scare. He made a promise to God that if he were to survive the ordeal, he would change his life and play the accordion to honor him. Once he received confirmation that he was cancer free, he left the medical facility in Houston and came back to the Valley with a new outlook on life. While he left Los Dos Gilbertos, he's proud that Garcia has carried the brand forward.

"Los Dos Gilbertos were accepted and to this day I'm proud that Gilberto has kept it going," Lopez said. "I'm very proud of him and I feel very thankful to God for Gilberto."

His first performance after his recovery was at St. Anne's Church in Pharr. Lopez says it was a different feeling at first, since Catholic Church's typically had organ music. He then joined Sacred Heart's Parish in Edinburg. After some encouragement from the Sacred Heart priest, Lopez decided to become a deacon at the church.

Lopez explains that while he struggles with various health issues — rheumatoid arthritis and high-blood pressure — his faith bring peace to his life. Along with Maria Elva, his wife off 55 years, he keeps himself busy with church activities and family gatherings. Recently, Lopez and his sons performed at STCA's "15th Annual Conjunto of the Year Awards" ceremony. The songs interchanged, back and forth, from Lopez' conjunto career to the religious music he currently engages in. The past is something that Lopez will never let go of.

"We always say, the past is the past, right?" Lopez said. "But these experiences helped shape my life. When I would play (conjunto) music, I would see things that I thought were wrong. But it was part of my life at the time. I didn't see it then how I see it now. By reflecting (on the past), I see things with different eyes now."