Thursday, February 28, 2013

Texas Folklife's Big Squeeze Auditions (UTPA Edinburg)

If you're free on Saturday afternoon and dig conjunto music, make sure to check out the Valley's young accordionists audition for Texas Folklife's Big Squeeze contest. We are fortunate enough to live in an area that has so many talented accordionists. For those that are not aware, last year's Big Squeeze grand prize winner was Brownsville's Pete Anzaldua. I had the privilege of seeing the young accordion wiz perform in San Benito shortly after his big win in Austin. Anzaldua brought the people to their feet with his rendition of Atotonilco (Tony De La Rosa) and Viva Seguin (Santiago Jimenez Sr.). To those that weren't there that warm, autumn Saturday, here's the video of Anzaldua performing at the Narciso Martinez Conjunto Festival:

Details: Saturday afternoon at 3:00 PM. Event will be held at the UTPA Student Union Theater. For more information, please take a look at their Facebook events page.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan Postcards

I want to share these post cards con mi gente (to steal a phrase from Rick Diaz). To those that don’t know, Frank B. Alexander crashed a plane into The Shrine of the Virgin of San Juan on October 23, 1970. Alexander was a former school teacher here in the Valley, a position he resigned in the spring of 1970. I wrote about this before and quoted a newspaper article here

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Los Rinches De Tejas

Aqui esta un corrido written by Willie Lopez, performed by Dueto Reynosa on the Oro record label. This is from Chulas Fronteras, which shares the name of Lopez’s old Valley AM radio show. This corrido recounts a story in Starr County of Texas Rangers brutally assaulting farm workers during a melon strike on June 1, 1967. The corrido is critical of Texas governor John Connally, accusing him of being responsible for what transpired.

This video includes footage of a bodega in McAllen and Willie Lopez talking about a time when he was kicked out of a restaurant for being Mexican.

Here are the lyrics of the corrido, courtesy of this site:

Voy a cantarles, señores,
De los pobres infortunios
De algo que sucedió
El día primero de junio.

En el condado de estrella
En el merito Rio Grande
Junio de '67
Sucedió un hecho de sangre.

Es una triste verdad
De unos pobres campesinos
Que brutalmente golpearon
Esos rinches asesinos.

Decía Magdaleno Dimas,
"Yo no opusé resistencia
Rendido y bien asustado
Me golpearon sin conciencia."

Decía Benjamín Rodríguez
Sin hacer ningún extremo,
"Ya no me peguen' cobardes,
En el nombre del Ser Supremo."

Esos rinches maldecidos
Los mandó el gobernador
A proteger los melones
De un rico conservador.

Mr. Connally, señores,
Es el mal gobernador
Que aborrece al mexicano
Y se burla del dolor.

Me despido, mis hermanos
Con dolor de corazón
Como buenos mexicanos
Pertenezcan a la unión

Monday, February 25, 2013

Esteban Jordan on Johnny Canales

Me encanta este video. It honestly wouldn't surprise me if I found out Jordan was high here. I love how he starts off by saying Elsa, TX is "el ombligo del Valluco". One great moment after another, from Canales joking about seeing Jordan in Born in East L.A. to Jordan saying a song of his is a "rancherota". The best thing in the video by far is Johnny Canales' reaction to Jordan's record label "El Bro". It leads to a really great accordion joke that is just perfect. Canales has some of the best shtick I've ever seen, he's so smooth and knows how to tease with the best of them. His mind is always working and he's great with word play. Genuinely funny and charming. Jordan is Jordan, which is always great to see. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

"La reina de la acordeón" to perform at UTPA

The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas 2013 conference is taking place at the University of Texas-Pan American. The event is a three day event that lasts from February 21st and ends on February 23rd. To conjunto fans, the biggest news of the conference is that legendary accordionist Eva Ybarra will be performing live at the "Noche De Cultura". That scheduled event is taking place at the UTPA Ballroom on February 22nd (5:30-9:30 PM). Then the following day on February 23rd (10:30 AM), Ybarra will have a conjunto workshop at the ITT Ballroom. The conjunto workshop will be facilitated by Dr. Catherine Ragland, who previously taught at UTPA but now teaches at the University of North Texas.

In the world of conjunto music, Eva Ybarra is considered one of the genres most iconic figures. While the conjunto world is dominated by male accordionists, Eva Ybarra has broken ground as the leading female Tex-Mex accordionist. In Louisiana they have Queen Ida. In Texas we have Eva Ybarra.

"[Eva Ybarra] is one of those unusual women that just dedicated her life to making music, to playing the accordion and to leading her own group," said Dr. Catherine Ragland. "That meant that she sacrificed other things in her personal life."

When asked why there wasn’t more female accordionists from Eva Ybarra's generation, Dr. Catherine Ragland felt it had to do with the conservative nature of San Antonio and South Texas. That typically, a young boy will be encouraged by his parents, family and peers if he decides to pick up the accordion. On the other hand, women of past years faced a lot of criticism and were actively discouraged from going down that same path. In that era, society set different expectations for men and woman. Ybarra faced a lot of obstacles and she overcame them to become someone that current, young female accordionists look up to.

"When I see Eva play, and the brief conversation that I've had with Eva, in her 'being' she encourages me to reach into my soul and express whatever is going on in there," said Susan Torres, a great accordionist from Austin. "Whether joy, sorrow, melancholy or just having a good time. In her 'being' she also encourages me to be tough."

Along with breaking gender barriers and being a strong role model for young women, she's also created her own squeezebox style. Many conjunto musicians play a lot of the same standards but Ybarra prefers playing her own original material. Ybarra has a certain jazzy flair that sets her apart from her contemporaries.

"One of the arguments I make is that part of the reason that I think she is so unique is that she really stays within the tradition of conjunto," said Dr. Catherine Ragland. "She can play the traditional polkas, huapangos, and even the schottisches, mazurkas, and the older style. But she does it in a sort of very interesting, very creative way. She brings elements of jazz, rock, and other Latin popular music into it that make her really stand out."

If you want to get a taste of what you're going to be in store for at the "Noche De Cultura", look up “Eva Ybarra” on YouTube. Check out how energetic her music is and just how intricate her accordion passages are. Seeing the way she handles her squeezebox, you'll come to the obvious conclusion that Ybarra is filled with passion.

"When Eva plays, she's got fire in her eyes," said Susan. "She's not playing around when she's playing."

The conference registration fees are free to any UTPA faculty, staff and/or student. Fee for non-UTPA faculty is $40.00, while the fee for non-UTPA students & others is $30.00. The Saturday morning workshop will feature Ybarra discussing her life, music and answering questions. For more information and details on all the NACCS Tejas 2013 events, please visit

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Susan Torres on Eva Ybarra

I recently had the chance to ask Austin-based accordionist Susan Torres some questions about Eva Ybarra for an upcoming article in this Friday's edition of the Festiva. Due to formatting and the amount of space, I wasn't able to include all of Torres' insight into Eva Ybarra in my piece. The purpose of that article and for these questions is to highlight Eva Ybarra's appearance at UTPA on Friday night and Saturday morning. To learn more about this appearance and NACCS Tejas 2013, be sure to check out Also, make sure to follow Susan Torres on her twitter at want to thank Susan Torres personally for her time and for helping spread conjunto music with her great accordion skills.

Eduardo: How significant of a role has Eva Ybarra been for female accordionists, such as yourself?

Susan: I'm not the most disciplined when it comes to challenging myself to learn new music, and from an accordion players view, it's probably sacrilege that music is not at the top of my list. But when I see Eva play, and the brief conversation that I've had with Eva, in her "being" she encourages me to reach into my soul and express whatever is going on in there...whether, joy, sorrow, melancholy or just having a good time. In her "being" she also encourages me to be tough. When Eva plays, she's got fire in her eyes; she's not playing around when she's playing. She told me once that I would be the next one to carry the "baton" after her. I was honored that she thought of me that way. But I told her, "Eva, I could never do that". She said, "Why not?", I said something to the effect like, "Because you live, breathe, and eat music. And I don't. So I could never carry that baton. It's you, Eva. It's you that has that baton!". I also asked her if she made tamales. And she said, "No, I don't make tamales. I play Accordion!"   As for me...I like playing accordion, but I also make tamales.  

Eduardo: To those that haven't experienced Eva Ybarra performing her music live, what can they expect from the experience?

Susan: To be blown away!    Also, they would experience her child-like and humble being. She's so cute! And she knows that she's talented! I can see that she knows because she prides her self in her playing..."Pride" in a good way..Not that vain way. But even with that knowledge, she's not standoffish around other musicos or around the audience. In fact, I love the way that whenever there's a mistake...vary the end of the song, she tells the audience that it was her fault, and not the bands. How awesome is that?!

Friday, February 8, 2013

REGIONAL RAMBLINGS: Strachwitz Frontera Collection

Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recording by the Arhoolie Foundation feels like reading several volumes of books on the history of Mexican and Mexican-American music. Not only does it touch on border music, it goes on to educate you about music from deep within Mexico and other Latin American regions like Cuba and Puerto Rico. This is a magnificent piece of work that was written by former Los Angeles Times writer Agustín Gurza. But Gurza wasn’t alone here, other areas in the book also had some great pieces by other writers (more on that later).

To those that don’t know about the Strachwitz Frontera Collection, I’ll let the book cover this:

 “The Strachwitz Frontera Collection is the largest repository of commercially produced Mexican and Mexican-American vernacular recordings in existence. It contains more than 130,000 individual recordings.”

This book goes on to give a wonderful, analytical overview of the music in this epic collection. There are certain people who look down their noses at any Spanish music. Some of those people have a bizarre idea that it all sounds the same. It’s a weird myth that even really educated music fans will utter when dismissing countless genres of music. This book shatters that ridiculous myth, obliterating it with detailed breakdowns on what makes a corrido, the differences of various regional groups, the panoply of themes covered in songs, “intercultural conflict” and more. So much more. For example, even a corrido that covers the same subject can be a radically different experience depending on the region it comes from due to local dialects, regional aesthetics, etc. The serious academic way this book deals with corridos, treating it as a subject worth investigating, is reason enough to get this book. While that might sound like serious business, it’s also a joyous celebration.

As mentioned earlier, this book also features other writers. The writing from Jonathan Clark discusses the origins of mariachis and the path they took. Along with that, Clark also covers the most significant individuals that played a role in mariachi music. Another writer that is highlighted in the book is the great, late Guillermo Hernández. His work on corrido music is a treasure to anyone interested in the subject. Also Mr. Arhoolie himself, Chris Strachwitz wrote a neat chapter that details not only his own, invaluable history of recording regional music, but he even goes on to briefly describe the very history of the record business itself.

One of the most fun aspects of the book is the lists it features. The three key lists I’m talking about are by Antonio Cuéllar (archivist who has listened to every 78 in the Frontera Collection), Strachwitz and Clark. The most valuable types of lists are those that come from individuals with unique stylistic preferences. When it comes from that mindset, you’re going to be introduced to something that you normally wouldn’t know of. Thanks to Cuéllar, I learned about many curious gems, some of which blew my mind. One such example is titled “El Tirili,” a crazy jazzy 1940’s Chicano number using caló slang about “el zacatito” (weed). The list by Strachwitz is a great love letter to the music he cherishes (a list that includes plenty of South Texas acts like Los Donneños, Narciso Martinez, Freddy Fender and more). Finally, Clark’s list is the list to look at for anyone that seriously wants to know about mariachi music. These are three legitimately valuable lists for exploring music.

It’s almost overwhelming to review a book such as this. There is genuinely so much information that simply could not be covered in one simple review. Everyone that took part in putting together this book and preserving this music deserves a standing ovation.

You can purchase the Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings at or

Friday, February 1, 2013

Festiva # 3

Chris Strachwitz produced this fascinating documentary feature on South Texas music in the 1970's and we all should thank him for it. Strachwitz, a German-born American citizen is a fountain of information regarding regional music. Strachwitz had been collecting Spanish music since the 1960's and wanted to do a film as a love letter to "Tex-Mex music". To complete his cinematic vision he acquired the services of filmmakers Les Blank and Maureen Gosling. They would go on to shoot it in Texas, in a variety of places that include Austin, San Antonio, Eagle Pass, and our neck of the woods here in the Rio Grande Valley. A few years after this film, Blank and Gosling would go on to film the highly acclaimed "Burden of Dreams", with Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski.

This film turned out to be a revelation, exposing documentary film goers to legendary talent on both sides of the border. The film features iconic figures like Lydia Mendoza, Narciso Martinez, Los Alegres de Terán, Rumel Fuentes, Don Santiago Jimenez, Ramiro Cavazos, and Flaco Jimenez. This soundtrack is really a time capsule that showcases many different styles and eras of border music. The film does a graceful job of highlighting the unique features of each individual musician as the film flows effortlessly from one great talent to the next. At several points in the film, we see small glimpses of the Valley like the Del Valle Record pressing plant, local cantinas (bars), and a bodega de cebolla (onion factory) in McAllen. One of the highlights was seeing conjunto pioneer Narciso Martinez working at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, feeding the animals as his fast pace accordion music is playing on the soundtrack.

But this film isn't just about the music, it's about the border lifestyle. It intimately sets out to explore and capture the social life, the dancing halls, the family, the migrant farm workers, the weddings, the delicious food, the stories of racism and so much more. This is a genuine emotional piece that attempts and succeeds at celebrating Mexican-American culture. J. Hoberman, one of the most recognizable film critics in the world, would later proclaim this film as “Blank’s most emotionally complex film."

The DVD comes with the companion film "Del Mero Corazon", which has beautiful, haunting voice over work by Maria Antonia Contreras. Special features include extended deleted scenes from both films and additional musical performances. It also contains informative essays and commentary tracks by Strachwitz, Blank, and Gosling for both "Chulas Fronteras" and "Del Mero Corazon". The commentary discussion is lead by Strachwitz, as they discuss how they shot the footage and the backgrounds of the musicians.

If you're a fan of documentaries, this is one of the greatest of all time. This film and DVD also serve as a gateway to all the wonderful regional music documentaries that Les Blank and Maureen Gosling have created in their journeys.