Friday, September 27, 2013

Rumel Fuentes and his Chican@ Music.

Rumel Fuentes.

Sadly, most people have never heard of that name before. A passionate activist for Mexican-American rights, this Eagle Pass native used music to speak out on a variety of issues that affected the barrios.

I first came across Fuentes in the documentary Chulas Fronteras. His brief, animated appearance featured him performing the song Chicano (a Doug Sahm tune that Fuentes improved upon) with the norteño group Los Pinguinos Del Norte. Searching for what else he's done led me to his lone release — "Rumel Fuentes - Corridos of The Chicano Movement".

This album was released in 2009, twenty-three years after Fuentes had passed away at the age of 46. These songs had been stored away since 1972. The sound and content of them are very much of that time period.

This was a time when we had Colegio Jacinto Treviño, a Chican@ college, in Mercedes and San Juan. We also had "El Papel Del Valle", a local Chican@ newspaper that used the UFW emblem as its logo. It's history that doesn't get much exposure. Fuentes was able to experience a portion of that history and preserve it through these wonderful recordings.

The opening track is Soy Tu Hermano, a spirited rally cry to fight for one's rights. One of the memorable lyrics of this song is: "Si sangre mi hermano, yo tambien sangro, la herida es igual." ("If my brother bleeds, I also bleed, the wound is the same.")

The song that resonated with me the most is Corrido De Pharr, Texas. In this heart-breaking ballad, Fuentes covers a series of issues (police brutality; city corruption) in Pharr that led to a protest on February 6, 1971. The clash between the police and the protesters reached its boiling point when an innocent bystander, Alfonso Laredo Flores, was shot in the head by Robert Johnson, a sheriff deputy. In a news-report of the incident found on YouTube, it's mentioned that witnesses saw Johnson aiming directly at Flores. Flores was taken to the Valley Baptist Hospital in Harlingen, but he didn't survive the head wound. He was 20 years old.

This powerful, passionate corrido is a piece of media that I push to anyone who is interested in Valley history. Here is a brief excerpt of the lyrics, along with the transcriptions. From the liner notes:

"Una protesta calmada (A quiet protest)
en contra los policías,(against the police,)
la gente los denunciaba (the people denounced them)
por cosas que se sabían. (for things that were known.)

Mataron a Poncho Flores, (They killed Pocho Flores,)
fue un policía de Pharr; (it was a policeman in Pharr;)
a un hombre empistolado (a man who wears a gun)
no se le puede confiar. (you cannot trust.)"

I grew up a few blocks from where this injustice took place, so it's something that I think about quite often. Especially when I'm walking near the abandoned Ramos barbershop, on the corner of Bell Ave. and Cage Blvd. I can't walk through that site without thinking of what happened there 42 years ago.

The album also contains two versions of the song Mexico-Americano, a warm song about the melding of two cultures ("Dos culturas, tengo yo."; "Two cultures, I have."). The second version, the last track of this 13-track CD, is a live recording of Fuentes and Los Pinguinos Del Norte. I dig it a lot, it feels rough but alive. Also, adding an accordion is always an improvement!

The other songs cover a wide range of topics, from the walkout at Crystal City to the short-lived Raza Unida political party. One catchy huapango is also worth mentioning. With it's fast-pace tempo, Huapango Los Trabajos details the life of a migrant worker. I'm surprised that no one has covered it yet.

This collection is a treat for anyone that is curious about a part of history that has been obscure for far too long.

You can find a copy of "Rumel Fuentes - Corridos of The Chicano Movement" at The physical copy comes with excellent liner notes. For Facebook users, this album is available for free streaming on Spotify.

El Gallito Madrugador

On August 10th, Rio Grande Valley radio pioneer Jesus "Chuy" De Leon celebrated his 89th birthday. His family spent the day with him at the San Juan Nursing Home. 

Chuy, at this advanced age, has some issues with his memory.

"I think he enjoyed it, he recognized (us)," said Juan De Leon, 63, about seeing his father on his birthday. "Pero hay veces que no conoce (There are times when he doesn't recognize us), y hay veces que si (and there are times when he does)."

Born in Harlingen in 1924, but raised in Donna, Chuy found work at Weslaco's KRGV studios in 1941. As a teenager, he studied the craft of radio broadcasting under Benjamin Cuellar. According to STCA president Lupe Saenz, Chuy spent a brief stint away from the microphone, as he completed his mandatory military service.

Chuy returned to the Valley and KRGV in 1945. Two years later, on December 23, 1947, Chuy married Donna-native Julia Prado. Together they had four children; two boys and two girls. Julia passed away earlier this year, on July 12th at the age of 84.

Chuy caught his big break when he got the attention of Martin Rosales in 1955.

"At that time, Martin Rosales started working at KGBT as the program director, and he heard about my dad," Juan said. "The (KRGV) show was getting a bit popular so he offered my dad a show at KGBT and my dad took it at 4 o'clock in the morning. That's where Martin coined the name 'El Gallito Madrugador' (The Early Morning Roster)."

"El Gallito Madrugador" would often schedule guests for live performances, Saenz said. Musicians that appeared on Chuy's program include Ruben Vela, Gilberto Perez, Baldemar Huerta (Freddy Fender) and Pedro Ayala.

"He opened the door for a lot of conjuntos," Juan said about his father, who was also a local dance promoter in the Valley. "It was part of the job."

According to Juan, one of his father's most memorable moments took place in 1967. As Hurricane Beulah was set to hit the Valley, Chuy and a man that Juan identifies as "Mr. Vela" took off to La Feria, where the KGBT radio tower was at. While all the other radio stations were off the air, Chuy spent the night there covering the category five hurricane.

"He was the lone voice during Hurricane Beulah in 1967, " Juan said. "(He was) getting all the information from New Orleans and broadcasting it por todo el Valle (for all the Valley)."

Throughout his radio broadcasting career, Chuy found work not only at KRGV (Weslaco) and KGBT (Harlingen), but also at KXEX (Fresno, California), KIRT (Mission), KSOX (Raymondville) and KIWW (McAllen). After five decades of broadcasting, he bid farewell to the airwaves in the late 1980's. The fans got to say goodbye to him during a retirement ceremony at La Villa Real in McAllen. In 2008, he was inducted into the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame in San Benito.

I asked Juan, "How would you like people to remember your dad?"

"As a humble man, he served his people, his community," Juan said. "That's how I would like for him to be remembered. But most of all, as a loving caring father."

He notes that his father still has moments where glimpses of his past resurface. He shares a scene that his nephew witnessed recently at the San Juan Nursing Home.

"Somebody gave him a microphone and for about 15 minutes he was his old self," Juan said, as he described his father's Spanish-language radio DJ style. "He didn't catch it on video, it would have been great."

Silent film of MAYO march.

Silent home movie with footage of a memorial march organized by MAYO in Pharr, following the death of innocent bystander Alfonso Flores, at the hands of Robert Johnson.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Happy Birthday Gloria Anzaldua!

"I am a wind-swayed bridge, a crossroads inhabited by whirlwinds… You say my name is ambivalence? Think of me as Shiva, a many-armed and -legged body with one foot on brown soil, one on white, one in straight society, one in the gay world, the man’s world, the women’s, one limb in the literary world, another in the working class, the socialist, and the occult worlds. A sort of spider woman hanging by one thin strand of web. Who, me confused? Ambivalent? Not so. Only your labels split me." -Gloria Anzaldua

WWE Hidalgo, 9/22/13 Results.

Rey Mysterio's Special Appearance. Photo Credit WWE.
This past weekend, the WWE returned to the Valley to celebrate the 10th year anniversary of the State Farm Arena in Hidalgo, TX. By all accounts, it was another successful event down here. From this weeks Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer writes:
Hidalgo, TX, the company’s hottest mid-sized market, a border town where they draw a ton from Mexico, ran shows on both 9/21 and 9/22, selling out the 6,300 seats both nights. They always sell out there, but with the exception of overseas shows, they never run the same building two straight nights. Hidalgo is actually a small town of 11,000 people, with the big city nearby being McAllen.
They have been consistently selling out shows here since Autumn 2003. I've gone to most of the shows, and this was actually one of the better ones I've been to. I love the intimacy of a WWE house show. I've been to a major UFC event (with two title fights), two Showtime Championship Boxing broadcasts, and I honestly feel that nothing beats a good, live professional wrestling/lucha libre show. I felt the same way after I saw El Hijo Del Santo perform in McAllen in June.

I'm really into combat sports, but when I'm at a live event, I can never shake off the feeling that I'm missing subtle details that I would be clearly observing if I was in front of an HD television. When I saw Canelo Alvarez vs Austin Trout live, in the midst of 40,000 fans, I had a difficult time seeing which punches were actually landing. When I go to a live MMA event, I will likely miss the intricacies of the ground work.

With professional wrestling, because it's very broad and it's being performed for a live audience, everything you need to know or see is being communicated clearly. The person at the very last row can see, through the selling of one or the mannerisms of another, what is going on in the ring. It's all body language.  

I wrote up this report for Dave Meltzer and James Caldwell (PW Torch), since they needed the details of the 9/22/13 event. I thought I would share it here:

(1) Brodus Clay & Tensai defeated Drew McIntyre & Jinder Mahal -- Tensai got the pinfall after a senton.

(2) Bo Dallas beat Antonio Cesaro -- Really good performance from Cesaro, carried Dallas to a fun, good bout. Opening part featured a lot of atomic-drops and inverted-atomic-drops that Cesaro sold perfectly. After eating an armdrag, Cesaro accused Dallas of pulling his hair, which everyone laughed at. Cesaro had a lot of great mannerisms and worked him over with his uppercuts, footstomp, holds, etc. Cesaro was getting a lot of heel heat throughout, except when he did his giant swing, which everyone seemed to dig. After arguing with the referee over a nearfall, Dallas snuck up behind Cesaro and pinned him with a school boy.

(3) Brie Bella beat Alicia Fox -- Short match, not much of note, but Bella went over with the X-Factor.

(4) Justin Gabriel defeated Fandango -- Solid match, Gabriel went over with a springboard 450 splash.

Rey Mysterio came out, on crutches, to a big reaction. He did a promo in Spanish, talked about the first time he came to the State Farm Arena, then titled the Dodge Arena, in Hidalgo, TX. Mysterio talked about how when he first came down here, Eddy Guerrero was on the first show in Hidalgo. Side note, but when Guerrero came here in 2003, that is still one of the loudest crowds I've ever heard, and that's including UFC and big boxing fights I've gone to. Mysterio did the old, Eddy-deal where he would lie across the top-rope and turnbuckle. Mysterio joked about the "I'm Your Papi" bit. Then said he wants to return next month, on October 16th, for the Mexico tour. He then repeated that last bit in English, and that's when The Shield (Reigns and Rollins) came out. Mysterio tried to keep them away by swinging his crutch, until he fell down and sold that he couldn't get back up. That's when the Big Show music hit, which got a monster pop. Just an amazing reaction. Show made the save, embraced Mysterio and it led to the next match.

(5) Big Show defeats Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns -- A lot of spots based on the size difference between Show and Rollins/Reigns, which the crowd really dug. Crowd loved that Show-spot where he quiets the audience and lands an overhand slap on his opponent's chest. A chop-block type move lead to Reigns and Rollins taking over until Show made the comeback later on. Show got the pin after a chokeslam on Rollins. Fun match.

(6) The Great Khali & R-Truth defeated Camacho & Hunico -- Truth worked almost the entire match with Camacho and Hunico. Truth's shtick got the most reaction in this match, then he got worked over by Camacho and Hunico until he tagged Khali. Khali hit a few overhand strikes and then got the pin.

(7) Dean Ambrose defeated The Miz -- The Miz came out, all bandaged up, still selling the beating from Randy Orton on Raw. Crowd was very hot for most, but I was still surprised by how big of a reaction Miz got here. Miz mentioned how he didn't want to let the people down here in Hidalgo. Ambrose worked over Miz's shoulder and used some good brawling. Like Cesaro earlier, he had awesome mannerisms that really worked well in a live setting. After some close near-falls, Miz rushed in after Ambrose in the corner, Ambrose moved out of the way, and Miz went shoulder first into the post. Ambrose rolled him up in a school boy, hooked the tights, and got the pinfall. Miz did a good job selling here, and Ambrose was good as the aggressor. Good match.

(8) Daniel Bryan defeated Randy Orton -- The night before in Hidalgo, Bryan defeated Orton in a singles match. So on Sunday, they had the fans vote via text and Twitter for what stipulation they wanted for the second nights main event. Fans could vote on either a '2 out of 3 Falls' match or an 'Hidalgo Street Fight'. An actual street fight in Hidalgo would leave you dead. Well, like the old William Castle voting gimmick, the fans obviously picked the street fight. Both Bryan and Orton got superstar-level reactions; the atmosphere was incredible. Lots of 'Yes' and 'Let's Go Bryan' chants. While Orton was booed at times, he was also being cheered a lot by a good amount of the audience. First part of the match was worked like a straight-up match,until Orton got frustrated and got a kendo stick. Bryan hit his tope suicida and even suplexed Orton on the entrance ramp. When Bryan would land his kicks, everyone would chant 'Yes'. They got a chair for a corner spot where Orton went shoulder-first into it. Later on, Orton hit a great superplex from the top rope for a nearfall. Bryan attempted a pescado to the outside but Orton moved out of the way. Bryan got a table from underneath the ring, which the fans loved. Orton teased doing a big move to Bryan off the ropes, through the table that was set-up near the corner. But Bryan countered that and powerbombed Orton, off the middle-rope, through the table. That led to a good nearfall. Bryan got the Lebell-lock, but couldn't get the submission, and Orton got out of it by hitting Bryan with the kendo stick. Orton hit his hangman's DDT. Orton was about to hit the RKO, but Bryan shoved him away, backed into the corner and hit the busaiku knee for the finish. That got a huge reaction. Excellent house show main event, both Orton and Bryan were working really hard. Match was on the same level as their "Smackdown" TV match in the Summer and their "Night of the Champions" match.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Max Baca and Los Texmaniacs

While he was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Max Baca has been representing Tejano-conjunto music to the world for the past three decades.

When asked what ignited his love for conjunto music, he quickly points to his father, Max Baca Sr. An accordionist of his own conjunto in New Mexico, Baca Sr. taught his five-year-old son his first two pieces on the accordion.

"I learned to play two songs, you know polkitas, 'Polka Monterrey'," said Max Baca, 46-years-old. "Then the next song I learned was Glenn Miller's 'In the Mood'. "

When Baca was seven years old, his father took him and his brother to Lubbock to experience the Tejano-conjunto style, as opposed to the norteño-conjunto style that Baca says was found in New Mexico at the time. In a ballroom in Lubbock, Baca got to see Flaco Jimenez and Oscar Tellez for the very first time.

"That blew my mind," Baca said of his first glimpse of Flaco Jimenez on the accordion. "Oscar Tellez really inspired me tambien."

Bajo-sexto player Oscar Tellez would end up becoming a big influence on the young kid, who was now playing the bajo-sexto. Curious about the history of the instrument, Baca learned about its origins and studied the 1930's recordings of Narciso Martinez and Santiago Almeida. In an interview with the San Antonio Current, Dr. Cathy Ragland came to the conclusion that Baca might be the only person alive today that can play the complex, dynamic bajo-sexto style that Almeida mastered in the early days of conjunto music.

With his fathers conjunto, Baca was able to perform for the local Native Americans, at dance halls, and quinceañeras. Then as a teenager in the 1980's, he split off with his brother Jimmy, as the two started their own conjunto called Los Hermanos Baca.

In Albuquerque, the two brothers received local acclaim after recording a cover of Augie Meyers' "Hey Baby, Que Paso". The duo got the opportunity to open for The Texas Tornados when the Tex-Mex group formed in 1989. The following year, Baca was invited to join The Texas Tornados, where he got to work side-by-side with his childhood hero.

"Flaco is like a dad to me," Baca said. "I can honestly say that Flaco took me under his wing and he's the one that was responsible for my success and my career."

Working closely with Jimenez and The Texas Tornados, Baca was able to learn on the job and develop into one of the best bajo-sexto players in the world. Tellez was also around for help, becoming another key figure in Baca's development as a musician.

One of his career highlights took place when him and Jimenez were at a gig in Los Angeles in 1994. Rolling Stones producer Don Was called Jimenez, looking for a 'Tex-Mex' sound, and asked him if he was interested in recording a part for their upcoming Voodoo Lounge album. Jimenez accepted, and suggested bringing Baca along for the session. Was agreed, so Jimenez and Baca headed to the recording studio.

When the two 'Tex-Mex' icons arrived, they met Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. 

"Keith Richards saw the bajo-sexto and he wanted to buy it," Baca said. "He had never seen a bajo-sexto before in his life."

The instrument, which Baca had received as a gift from his father, was an original Martin Macias bajo-sexto. While Richards was determined and asked him to "name his price", Baca ultimately declined the offer. This vintage bajo-sexto meant too much to him.

"I came back home to New Mexico, to Albuquerque and I tell my dad, and my dad told me, 'Pendejo! You should have sold it and you could have bought the damn (bajo-sexto) factory Max!'," laughs Baca.

In 1997, he decided to go a different direction and formed his own band — Los Texmaniacs. He drew not just from his Tejano-conjunto influences, but also from the blues, rock and country music. It wasn't until 2004 that the band really took off, as they released A Tex-Mex Groove, their first CD. Now in 2013 they have six albums to their credit, including one with the Smithsonian Folkways titled Borders y Bailes, which earned them the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Tejano Album.

What might be their greatest achievement is how they've become international ambassadors for Tejano-conjunto music. They have flown out overseas, spreading awareness of a genre that was born out of the Mexican-American working class in Texas. In the past decade, Baca and his crew of musicians have performed Tejano-conjunto music in Russia, Holland, China, France, Argentina, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We are the first conjunto, other than Flaco Jimenez of course, to take conjunto music around the world and represent conjunto," Baca said. "So we've been blessed to be considered ambassadors of conjunto music, representing our culture and our state."

Baca tells me that the line-up that will be performing at La Lomita Park this Sunday night includes himself, his talented nephew Josh Baca (accordionist), Chale Torres (drummer) and the newest member of the group, the Valley's own Noel Hernandez (bass player). When I asked him what type of set can attendees expect on Sunday night, Baca said that he plans to take the audience on a journey of Texas music, with a mid-set tribute to old-school, traditional conjunto music.

"We are going to give them a true taste of Texas," Baca said. "Whether it's a rock and roll song, a country song, a blues song, as long as it has an accordion and bajo-sexto, it's conjunto."

Time: 6:00 PM
Date: 9/15
Cost: $10.00
Phone Number and Website: 956-867-8783 or visit
Location: La Lomita Park, in McAllen.