Friday, March 22, 2013

Recognizing Narciso Delgado

In the world of regional music, even the most accomplished musicians fade away through time. One such example is Narciso Delgado. A McAllen resident from 1935 until his death in 1977, Delgado was a musical prodigy. Born in 1903 in Camargo, Mexico, it didn't take long for people around him to see his full potential. When he was a teenager, the multi-instrumentalist was already performing with bands in the Corpus Christi area. He would eventually go on to play all over the Valley and form his own orchestra. But his lasting legacy among those that knew him were his compositions. Some of his pieces were performed by legends like Lydia Mendoza and Rafael Mendez.

Unfortunately, not too many people know of Narciso Delgado's work. One person that is trying to change that is Carlos R. Cantu, a native of McAllen, TX. Now 74 years old and retired from 31 years in education, Cantu remembers when he was first exposed to Delgado's music.

"When I was a little boy we used to go the amateur shows at (Cine El) Rey," said Carlos R. Cantu. "The person that accompanied (the performers on the piano) was Narciso. When there was a break, he would start playing some of his songs. I asked my mother, 'What is that beautiful melody he is playing?' She said, 'This is Nochecita, la cancion que le robarron (the song they stole from him).' As a kid, 8 or 9 years old, I couldn't understand what that meant. How could they steal your song?"

Cantu explains that "Nochecita", a song that Delgado and Fred Fernandez (a frequent collaborator) created, was stolen by someone in Mexico. At the Strachwitz Frontera Archive, they have several different releases and versions of that piece. The two composers most often credited with that song in that archive are Narciso Delgado and Victor Huesca. Cantu has in his possession an old copy of a book that contains sheet music for "Nochecita" that credits Delgado with the song. He feels that book gives credence to the idea that it is Delgado's composition.

"Later on, I developed a friendship with Narciso back in the late 50's, before I went into the Armed Forces. We started talking and by that time, the song had bounced back again in popularity. I would question him about what he was doing and he said, 'I am still trying to get credit'. At that time, he was still hoping to get some kind of compensation or royalties."

Cantu would go on with his life but he would never forget about Delgado. In his mind, he always wondered what he could do to bring attention to someone he deeply admires. A few years ago, he would meet the perfect person to help bring recognition to Delgado's oeuvre.

"It just so happened that I went to a concert that Imelda (Delgado's daughter) had here in McAllen," Cantu said. "She had two other people with her, it was a trio of classical music."

Imelda Delgado first performed in McAllen as a young girl but now resides in Corpus Christi. After the concert, Cantu went up to Imelda and introduced himself. He mentioned how he's done research on her father and how he would like to get the local community to recognize him. They have stayed in contact since then, working together to preserve the memory of Narciso Delgado. Imelda is currently searching for musicians to perform her father's compositions. While Cantu is set on producing a mural in Delgado's honor in McAllen.

"I think by the end of the year, we should have something done," Cantu said.

The most important aspect of this for Cantu is to bring recognition to the composers, musicians, and promoters that shaped this unique era of music. If possible, he would like to get other musicians of the period involved in this project like Delia Gutierrez Pineda, Juanita Garcia, and Rene Sandoval. It's been a labor of love for Cantu and he hopes that future generations will have an understanding of these legendary local figures.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Local conjunto accordionists looking for their big break.

Alan Cavazos and Juan Longoria Jr. Photo Courtesy: Iliana Vasquez. 

This past Saturday afternoon, Texas Folklife hosted an audition for their Big Squeeze accordion contest at the University of Texas-Pan American. Sarah Rucker, program and events manager at Texas Folkife, was in attendance to record the performances. She thanked UTPA and Iliana Vasquez for making this event possible.

"I was looking for a way to bring conjunto to the university," said Iliana Vasquez, an undergrad at UTPA's Mexican-American studies program. "So Lupe [Saenz] got me in contact with Don Chilo (Cecilio Garza) and Chilo got me in contact with Texas Folklife."

That led to a phone call between Vasquez and Cristina Balli, the executive director of Texas Folklife. It didn't take long before Vasquez was given the opportunity to host these auditions at UTPA.

Two button diatonic accordionists auditioned for their opportunity at advancing to the semi-finals in Austin. The first contestant was Alan Cavazos, a 17-year-old accordionist from McAllen, TX. He's been accepted to UTPA and has made plans to attend the university this fall. Alan might be best known for being the grandson of Don Ramiro Cavazos, the legendary bajo-sexto player of "Los Donneños". Alan had the honor of performing with his 86-year-old grandfather at the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center last month. Alan hasn't been playing the accordion long but he's proving to be a natural at it with his clean, classy style.

"I started [playing the accordion] about three years ago, when I was barely a [high school] freshman," said Alan Cavazos. "[Los Donneños] are my biggest influence, I love the old songs and the polkas."

The second contestant was Jacob Vela, a 21-year-old accordionist from Lyford, TX. Vela works at the oil rigs, but on his free time he works at improving his musical skills and securing gigs. Before arriving at the auditions he performed at a Brownsville parade with Pete Anzaldua, last year’s Big Squeeze grand champion. Vela has been influenced by country, which he showcased with confidence during his audition by performing Folsom Prison Blues. For Vela, the accordion has been a lifelong commitment.

"My dad bought me my first accordion when I was four, it was a piano accordion," said Jacob Vela. "I learned on the piano accordion, then at the age of eight I got a button accordion."

Along with the auditions, Juan Longoria Jr. and Conteño brought their own hybrid brand of conjunto, Tejano, and norteño music to the event. Longoria, the first ever Big Squeeze grand champion performed boleros, polkas, redovas, schottisches and even a mazurka for the live audience. Along with his musical performance, Longoria discussed the history of border music and his role in bringing a conjunto music program to Los Fresnos High School. He also shared his memories of winning the 2007 Big Squeeze championship.

"It was nerve wrecking, especially in Houston when you know what the prize is and the bragging rights," Juan Longoria Jr. remembers. "It's a competition and it brings out the best in a person. I played cause I love playing but at the same time I wanted to do it to represent my family."

The semi-finalists are scheduled to be announced on April 5, and are set to compete at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin on April 20. If any Valley accordionists under the age of 21 missed out, they can still audition on March 30 at Los Fresnos High School. If you can't make it there, Texas Folklife encourages you to visit them online at and inquiry about emailing a video audition before April 1.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Tom Landry Mural

Photo Credit: Texentric. From the post where he shared this photo:
Tribute to the man by a local artist. This is I believe version 2, as the first one did not fare too well with the weather and had to be repainted/repaired. The revision was quite extensive as the size just about doubled. It's located on the corner of (what else, right?) Tom Landry Blvd. and Conway Ave.