Friday, December 27, 2013

A look back at 2013

As the executive director of Texas Folklife, Brownsville's Cristina Balli had a wonderful year full of accordion-related highlights.

One very special night for her was the Accordion Kings & Queens Live! CD release party at Antone's in Austin. The event featured a memorable jam that involved Max Baca and five young accordionists — Josh Baca, Nachito Morales, Michael Ramos, Roberto Casillas and Anthony Ortiz Jr.

"The reason that was really special is because we could see the strength of conjunto music right there, right before our eyes," Balli said of what she saw up on the stage that Summer night.

Seeing so many up-and-coming accordionists has lead her to believe that there is a strong future in conjunto music.

"For a long time, people were saying conjunto music was dying. But we are finding more and more evidence to the contrary. We our finding evidence that it's stronger than ever, but it's very grassroots. It's not mainstream, but with the 'Big Squeeze' over the last seven years, we have had 121 young conjunto accordionists enter the contest throughout the entire state. So that's huge, that's a lot of young accordionists and those are just the ones that entered our contests."

While she has a lot of events to look forward to in 2014, there is one in particular that stands out for her.

"The big thing we're looking forward to is our 30th anniversary on September of 2014," Balli said. "I can't announce any details yet since we're still planning but we will be having (an event). We hope to have musicians, scholars, folklorists that have worked with Texas Folklife throughout the years."

Texas Folklife played a major role in Tony Garcia's year. The Mission native was a "Big Squeeze" finalist at 24th annual "Accordion Kings & Queens Festival" in Houston. While he didn't walk away with the title, he considers it was one of his 2013 highlights.

"There were two dates in particular that I remember the most in 2013," Garcia said. "May 29, my (high school) graduation and of course who can forget about June 1st (in Houston). Playing in front of 7,000-plus people was a huge adrenaline rush and I really enjoyed doing that. But the thing that was really priceless about that the night was seeing some of my family members that I have not seen in so long and just appraising on how much I have advanced, skill wise, on the accordion in just 2 1/2 years, and how proud they were proud of me."

Garcia will be with his family when the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve. He is excited about a new band he joined, as well as continuing his education in 2014.

"It's a very different flavor of music but I also like it and it keeps me striving for more every time," Garcia said of playing for Julio Valenzuela y su Norteño Banda. "I want to go to school this upcoming year because I would love to go further in my education, to have a better future for myself."

Peter Anzaldua is another Valley native that benefited from Texas Folklife.

"(2013) was great," Anzaldua said. "There are too many highlights, it's hard to pick one."

Some highlights that I can think of include Anzaldua performing at the 24th annual "Accordion Kings & Queens Festival" and at La Lomita Park in McAllen.

The 2012 "Big Squeeze" champion will celebrate New Years Eve with his family and friends in Brownsville. As for 2014, he already has some plans set in motion.

"I am looking forward to recording another CD and God willing playing more."

For Edcouch-Elsa accordionist Lucky Joe Eguia‏, he tells me his favorite 2013 memory was recording Suerte, his first solo album. As for what he's most looking forward to in 2014, he's straight to the point.

"Work, work, and more work," Eguia said, with a smile.

I also talked with Mando San Roman about his year. With Eli Gonzalez, and the Total Multimedia Team, he launched "Puro Tejano TV" in October. Roman also returned to the radio airwaves on December 9th, for the Super Tejano 102.1 morning block. While working on TV and radio programming was a significant part of his year, he did more than just that.

"With Zereno, the Tejano band I play keyboards and do backup vocals with, we released our latest CD (titled Zereno) after a period of about 10 years without any new releases," Roman said.

He tells me that fans of his radio and TV programs have a lot to look forward to in 2014.

"2014 brings some great plans for the 'Mando En Las Mañanas' morning show," Roman said. "'Puro Tejano TV' will be featuring the biggest names in Tejano music plus exposing rising new young talents that will cater to a new wave of Tejano fans. There are some great surprises in store."

Monday, December 23, 2013

Los Hermanos Ayala Promo Photo and "Guerra De Las Galaxias".

Funky, conjunto cover of the “Star Wars” theme by Los Hermanos Ayala. This was recorded at Discos Falcon (McAllen), and it’s so great.

Los hijos de Pedro Ayala don’t really get talked about much today, but every once in a while I’ll think about them and think how overlooked they are when discussion turns to local conjunto musicians. I guess maybe it’s cause they are from an era that had a lot of depth (Conjunto Bernal, Ruben Vela, Tony De La Rosa, Esteban Jordan, the list goes on and on). They also might be in their father’s shadow, who was known locally in the 1950’s as “El Monarca del Acordeon”. But still, they are such a tight conjunto with a really graceful accordion sound. I actually prefer them over a lot of more popular and well-regarded conjunto acts of their time.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Silvia Garcia

 Silvia Garcia likes to say that Tejano music is made up of a variety of styles and sounds. She feels comfortable performing a hybrid-style under the Tejano banner.

Born in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, and raised within the Progreso area, Silvia was first exposed to music from her father, Jose Moreno.

"Mi papa siempre estuvo en la musica, la musica tropical (My dad was always involved in music, tropical music)," Silvia said.

While watching her father play cumbias, the little eight-year-old Silvia became fascinated by the drum-set.

"No mas mirando (Just looking at) the drummer playing, I learned," Silvia said, explaining how she learned to play the drums.

Silvia's parents have always been involved with church and church-related activities. To this day, she notes that her parents are pastors at the Casa De David on Alamo Road. Performing for the church choir is where she got her first taste of singing.

While she had plenty of experience with Christian music, her Tejano journey began about eight years ago.

It all started when she decided to help her suegro (father-in-law). He had difficulty finding a reliable drummer, so Silvia began filling in. They performed throughout the local area.

Eventually, Silvia talked her sister, Mari Moreno, into joining her for a new musical venture. Rene Moreno, Silvia's brother who had just returned to the Valley, also became involved. The three would become known as Grupo Eskala, a group that would be managed by Silvia's husband, Rolando Garcia. Local accordionist Jesse Yanez also performs with the group.

"This is what I always wanted," Silvia said. "Desde chiquita, de que me acuerdo (Since I was little, since I can remember)."

Silvia likes to joke that she's to blame for starting the band. Their first live performance took place at the local livestock show. Silvia remembers giving out her first autograph that night, to a man that made the trip from Austin. If you ever meet Silvia, make sure to ask her about that night. She has a great sense of humor, and she'll have you laughing within seconds of meeting her.

The family-trio went to a recording studio in Harlingen, where they completed an album within a short time span. Haciendo Nuestra Historia, Grupo Eskala's debut album, was released in the middle of 2012. The most popular track in that album was "Dime", a composition by local songwriter Kid Zapper.

Shortly thereafter, Grupo Eskala made an appearance on El Show de Johnny y Nora Canales.

"It's an honor to be a part of this," Silvia said of her appearance. "We grew up watching all these shows de Aqui Rogelio, Johnny Canales, all these shows (that) promoted the talent of the Valley."

Silvia already has some new material that she plans to release soon. The first is an upcoming single titled "Madrigal", that she recorded with producer Bob Gallarza. The song, which was composed by a late Puerto Rican songwriter, is a piece of music that Silvia has very much connected with. "Madrigal" was written for the composer's daughter, who Silvia hopes to talk to one day.

"To me it's a big thing to get to know the family of the man who wrote this song," Silvia said. "You really have to be connect with what you're going to produce, what you're going to sing. To me it's very important."

While no date is set, "Madrigal" is set to be released within the next few weeks. More information will be coming out soon on the Grupo Eskala Facebook page.

Another recording that Silvia recently completed is a song that she says came to her in a Jenni Rivera-inspired dream. As soon as she woke up, she snatched up her phone and recorded what she remembered from her mesmerizing trip. Her fellow musicians helped in crafting the melody for the song. The final product is dubbed "Dulce Amor".

"To me it has a lot of meaning," Silvia said of this upcoming tune.

While she's proud of her success, she hopes that other local musicians are able to find opportunities to succeed. She feels the Valley has a lot of talent that deserves more recognition that it is currently getting.

Tejano music is close to her heart, and she feels the most apt comparison to the genre is a certain Mexican dish.

"La musica Tejana siempre me a llamado la atencion (Tejano music has always piqued my interest). Sera porque it has a lot of diversidad, poquito de todo (Perhaps it's cause it has a lot of diversity, a little bit of everything). It's like the capirotada. I always compare la onda Tejana, con la capirotada. (This Mexican dish contains) bananas, apples, and everything. It's so good."

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.