Friday, December 6, 2013

A Tejano Christmas

Ah, the holidays. Be prepared for Christmas music to be surrounding you for the next three weeks.

This may be surprising to some of you, but there is actually a large amount of Christmas-related Tejano songs out there. This is only a small list of releases that I'm pointing to, a quick top five to introduce to anyone that is interested. If you would like to hear some more suggestions or have an opinion on this list, shoot me an email so we can continue this conversation.

5. Hacienda Records Presents: A Tejano Christmas - This is a Christmas-themed album that featured the following Hacienda-contracted artists: Pio Treviño y Magic, Janie C. and Cactus Country Band, Romance (from Donna), Fuego, Ricky Smith y La Movida, Josefa, Dallaz, Tumbleweed Band, Los Laytons (de Edcouch-Elsa), Showband USA, Jerry & The Ruf-Nex and our old San Benito pal, Freddy Fender. This is very syrupy and honestly, nothing really stands out here. Nevertheless, it's a bit fun to listen to these different artists, doing bilingual takes on popular Christmas songs within their own Tejano-style.

4. Freddy Fender's Christmas Time In The Valley - I feel like it wouldn't be a Tejano Christmas list without mentioning this release. Listening to this, it feels like a silly novelty album, but Fender has one of my all-time favorite singing voices. So even though this isn't Fender at his best — singing Valley garage-rock, country, or Tex-Mex — it's still charming listening to San Benito's favorite son working with lesser material. The songs are bilingual, and the title track is a pleasant enough song that I often share it with family on Facebook during Christmas Eve.

3. Esteban Jordan's "Esta Navidad" - Many years ago, I listened to a great NPR radio-documentary on Esteban Jordan. Latino USA's Alex Avila said of Jordan, "He won't put on other people's music. He even recorded a Christmas song so he'd have something to listen to during the holiday season." So far, this is the only Christmas song by Jordan that I've been able to come across. Looks like this is it. It hasn't been confirmed, but it's assumed by a few posters online that it's Jessy Serrata, accompanying Jordan on the vocals here. The vocals are tender but Jordan on the accordion is the main draw. His signature, jazz-infused style gels effortlessly with this sad Christmas tune. A neat, obscure gem for some of the Jordan fans out there.

2. Lydia Mendoza's "Amarga Navidad" and "Llorando En Navidad" - This is from the deleted scenes of the film "Chulas Fronteras". This footage can be found on the special features of that DVD release, as well as on YouTube. Lydia Mendoza is one of the great pioneers of the Tejano genre. She broke into the scene with her unforgettable rendition of "Mal Hombre" in 1934. In this footage, she celebrates Christmas 1975 with her family in Houston. She sings her composition of "Amarga Navidad" and Jose Alfredo Jimenez's "Llorando En Navidad". Both songs are heart-wrenching, as she sings about how she will spend her Christmas day crying about the past, or how if her partner is going to leave her, let it be on this Christmas day. Her deep, powerful voice is incredible. Mendoza recorded more Christmas songs for Discos Falcón, which I'm very interested in tracking down. Unlike some of the other Christmas songs out there, these are genuinely great pieces of music.

1. Joel Guzman's "White Christmas" - While Joel Guzman was born and raised in the state of Washington, his parents are Valley natives. His roots to the Valley become apparent through his accordion-based music. Guzman differs from his peers by branching out into different genres — Americana, country, and jazz. "White Christmas" wasn't the first Christmas song Guzman released; "Amor En La Navidad" was already on YouTube by the time this video was uploaded. But "White Christmas" showcases what Guzman is best at. With a black-and-white Dino Baffetti at his helm, Guzman taps his fingers on the buttons, pushing and pressing the air in-and-out, producing one of the most beautiful sounding accordion pieces I've ever heard. Debra Peters, a friend of Guzman, as well as a fellow accordionist herself, describes Guzman's take on this Christmas standard as "graceful and debonair". Like the Mendoza songs, this instrumental also captures the melancholy spirit of Christmas, and pulls forward towards something far more rewarding than most of the Holiday tunes out there.

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