Friday, April 26, 2013

Aquí y Allá

It's a large world out there when it comes to regional music. From time to time, I will visit certain news items within this format to bring attention to stories that would otherwise slip through the cracks.

--Texas Folklife's 7th Annual Big Squeeze Semi-Finals took place this past Saturday afternoon, April 20, at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. Of the four Valley natives that competed, only one walked away as a finalist. 18-year-old Juan Antonio "Tony" Garcia from Mission performed "Picame Tarantula" (Huapango) and "Ciudad Victoria" (Polka) to advance to the finals. The young talented accordionist tells me that he's the first member of his family to pick up a musical instrument. The other three finalists that advanced were Luis Gonzalez (Grand Prairie), Yesenia Garcia (Houston), and Michael Ramos (Dallas). The next big step for these four finalists will be the Accordion Kings & Queens 2013 finale in Houston on June 1. The grand prize winner will be crowned on that evening.

"It means the world to me, because it was a dream before and now it is reality," said Tony Garcia. "It is not so much the grand prize, it means that I am going to show off my talent to the people that really appreciate this type of music. It means that I am going to express myself to hundreds if not thousands of people."

--On April 1, The Horseman's Bar & Grill in Weslaco announced that they will be promoting the 1st annual RGV Conjuntofest. The festival is scheduled to take place on May 19, from 3:30 PM to 10:00 PM. Some of the bands performing on that event include Tejano Boys, Ruben Vela Jr, and Los Badd Boyz del Valle. On April 9, they announced that Los Dos Gilbertos - Valley legends in conjunto - would be the headliners. A week later, The Horseman's Bar & Grill retracted that statement, clarifying that Los Dos Gilbertos were no longer going to be there due to a scheduling conflict. On April 16, they announced that Boni Mauricio was the new headliner for the event. The promoters are hoping that this will be the first of many future conjunto festivals at The Horseman's Bar & Grill.

--Speaking about Los Dos Gilbertos, they are set to be one of the three headliners of San Antonio's Tejano Conjunto Festival on May 18. This legendary conjunto has been getting a lot more attention as of late. In February, the original Los Dos Gilbertos (Gilberto Garcia and Gilberto Lopez) were featured on KMBH's "Acordeones de Tejas" and were interviewed by Dr. Margaret Dorsey at the Border Studies Archive at the UTPA. To find out more about their interview and view their recent television appearance, please visit

--South Texas Conjunto Association (STCA) is looking for nominations for their 15th Annual Conjunto of the Year awards ceremony. The ceremony honors the past year in conjunto music with awards such as best album, best accordionist, best vocalist and more. Last year, Los Badd Boyz Del Valle took the top award — Conjunto of the Year. Deadline for nomination ballots are on June 1. To make your nominations, please visit or email

--Last but not least, I wanted to talk about the passing of documentary filmmaker Les Blank on April 7. While Blank is most known for his pair of films with the enigmatic Werner Herzog, the bulk of his best work was about the beauty and wonder found in regional music. A cinematic poet, Blank would capture American life that you would never see anywhere else. "A Les Blank Film" was it's own genre. Documenting gap toothed women, the chicken farming industry and garlic in all its forms proved to us that Blank was as eccentric as he was affectionate. Watching his films, you could feel the fondness he had for salt of the Earth people. Whether in Eunice, LA or McAllen, TX, Blank was at home everywhere he went. Never pretentious, he blended in to whatever community and culture he found himself in. Chulas Fronteras - which features plenty of footage of the Rio Grande Valley - is a treasure in documentary filmmaking. If you're a fan of conjunto, norteño, blues, Tejano, jazz, polka, Cajun, zydeco and various other regional flavors, you owe it to yourself to visit Blank's work. To say his work was an influence on me would be an understatement. He will be missed.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Lazaro Perez y Su Conjunto

One of the topics most often discussed in conjunto music is the future of the genre. That topic is almost an obsession with us, similar to how MMA or boxing fans constantly ask themselves if something is "good or bad" for the sport.
When it comes to local exposure, people like Pepe Maldonado (La Lomita Park), Roy Rodriguez (Hub City Conjunto & Tejano Museum), and Lupe Saenz (South Texas Conjunto Association) have done their part in keeping the spotlight on conjunto music. Older musicians are still the big draws but the genre is going to need new blood to fill those dancing halls. 
One young group that has developed a strong following is Lazaro Perez y su conjunto (also referred to as LPYSC). Led by accordionist Lazaro Perez III, the conjunto includes Ramiro Adame (bass), Jerry Flores (bajo-sexto), Rey Longoria (drums) and Josh Avila. Perez informs me that while LPYSC have been around since his senior year at Bishop High School (2007), this current incarnation has only been around for a year-in-a-half. 
At this point, the 23-year-old Perez has already performed at the major annual festivals like the Tejano Conjunto Festival and the Narciso Martinez Conjunto Festival. He's also proven to be quite prolific when it comes to recording albums, having released five albums and a sixth one on the way in May. 
Perez's big breakthrough came from a single on his "Capitulo III" (2010) album. The song composed was Mayo Davila, a close friend of his family.  
"'Mi Obsesion', that was actually our first hit that opened the door for us in Monterrey," said Lazaro Perez. "That song opened up a lot of doors for us. We got to go play in Monterrey for the first time back in 2010, It's just amazing that that one song did it all." 
I ask Lazaro, "How would you describe your style and what makes you different?" 
"I would describe it probably as progressive conjunto," Perez said. "We still play some of our old roots but I think our music has evolved into a more romantic swing of conjunto."    
Perez would go on to be very complimentary of his peers. He says that he's not the only one bringing something new and fresh to conjunto bailes
"(Salomon Ramos) from Retoño is an awesome accordion player," Perez said. "Juanito Castillo is another one that is a young guy that is a tremendous accordionist." 
Perez will be returning to the Valley's mecca of conjunto bailes this Sunday night— La Lomita Park. 
"La Lomita is an awesome place to be at," proclaimed Perez about the intimate venue in McAllen. "Just the atmosphere of the crowd , the fans that are always dancing and singing away. It feels great." 
That venue has become one of the few places where you can still find pure conjunto music at. A significant percentage of that audience is older but Perez has had success at attracting a younger demographic 
"We've modernized our music and made it hit the ears of the younger fans," Perez said. 
I'm a bit optimistic about the future of conjunto music. I feel that Lazaro Perez, Juanito Castillo, Susan Torres, AJ Castillo, Piñata Protest and Dwayne Verheyden are just a few of the many acts out there that can be headlining future editions of major conjunto festivals. A brief way to describe those aforementioned acts— Bishop's progressive/romantic accordionist, the "Psycho Trip" protege of Esteban Jordan, a charming Latina that can play the bass-side of an accordion, a slick marketable star, a conjunto/punk hybrid and the Dutch re-incarnation of Flaco Jimenez! We also have Juan Longoria Jr. teaching conjunto at Los Fresnos High School, following what the great, late Benny Layton did at Edcouch-Elsa. Even if it remains a niche genre and it goes through various experimental forms, I don't ever see the tradition dying out.
LPYSC and Los Leones De Laredo are scheduled to perform at La Lomita Park in McAllen on Sunday night. Event starts at 6 p.m. and ends at 10 p.m. Entrance fee is $10.00. For more information, please call Pepe Maldonado at 956-867-8783. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Valley native leading the way in modernizing the accordion business.‏

Juan Villarreal, Gilberto Reyes Jr. and Paulino Bernal.

There are many influential people in the world of Tejano, conjunto and norteño music. But one of the most interesting individuals to point to is Weslaco's Gilberto Reyes Jr. Born in Harlingen, Reyes quickly fell in love with conjunto and norteño music. Some of his fondest childhood memories include him attending Vera's Palladium in Weslaco to experience the live performances of Esteban Jordan and Los Alegres de Terán. When asked what initially drew Reyes to this music, he's quick to inform you how much of a role his grandfather, Pablo Reyes, has played in his love of music. 

What makes Reyes an influential figure is his role at Hohner, one of the leading and oldest musical instrument manufacturers in the world — established in 1857 in Trossingen, Germany. As the product manager of Hohner USA, Reyes deals with marketing, market research, product development, and identifying new distribution channels in North American and Latin American countries. He has made his mark by changing their business structure over the past five years and introducing popular new products. Reyes took this role of product manager (Hohner had no such role before Reyes was hired) and made the most of it.

"I started with not just accordions but with the whole parts department," said Gilberto Reyes Jr. in a phone interview from his Hohner office at Glen Allen, VA. "First thing that I did was restructure the whole parts department." 

Reyes would go on to hire new employees to handle the parts department to make it run smoothly. By doing this, Reyes says it created much-needed structure for Hohner's production. His next mission was to bring more variety and flavor to Hohner accordions. 

"I thought instead of just having the regular black, red, white accordions we needed something a little bit more exciting." 

He embarked on several projects to do just that. One of them was creating the "Signature Series", his way of honoring legendary accordionists and giving back to the community. 

"We started with Steve Jordan. We had already done a signature series (for Jordan) back in '88 but we wanted to do a relaunch on that. So I recreated a new one, a different color. Of course Flaco Jimenez (was the next one in the series) and we also wanted to include somebody else from a different genre. Which (ended up being) Jorge Hernandez of Los Tigres Del Norte."

By working closely with Los Tigres Del Norte on that project, Reyes noticed that band-member Eduardo Hernandez (Jorge's brother) preferred Italian-made boxes. Reyes says a "light went off" in his head at that moment. A significant percentage of norteño and conjunto accordionists prefer the aesthetics of an Italian-made box. This realization led Reyes to doing a full presentation for Hohner to get behind the idea of marketing Italian-made boxes. He hoped that this would lead to capitalizing on a distinct demographic and increasing Hohner's bottom line. 

"I took a trip to Frankfurt and I met Mr. Anacleto Gabbanelli there. We decided to see if we could work something up. We went to visit his factory in Italy and before you know it, we started making these premium Anacleto accordions." 

The Anacleto's stand out in Hohner's product line as having a flashier appearance and hand-made reeds (as opposed to factory-made reeds from the German-made and Chinese-made Hohner boxes). There has been a lot of positive feedback online about the high-level of craftsmanship found on these models. 

Those are just a few of the projects and improvements that Reyes has brought to Hohner in his brief time there. When asked about what the future holds for him, Reyes said that he's always looking for bright new ideas to incorporate into production. He also plans on continuing the "Hohner Lifetime Achievement Award" that he started in 2012. The first recipients of that honor were Flaco Jimenez, Paulino Bernal, Juan Villarreal and Anacleto Gabbanelli. If Reyes' first five years are any indication, accordion aficionados have a lot to look forward to in the near future.