|Los Dos Gilbertos - Gilberto Garcia y Gilberto Lopez at the Border Studies Archive in UTPA.|
"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."