Friday, January 31, 2014

Elida Reyna

Elida Reyna and Ylija Campos Gomez
Some people go an entire lifetime without knowing what they want to do with their lives. Then there are those that make their decision early on and stick with it. Elida Reyna knew exactly what she wanted to do, and it all started when she was nine years old.

The San Antonio-born singer was living in Dallas before her parents decided to move to Mercedes when she was eight years old. Her father was originally from the Rio Grande Valley.

"Where I was living at that time, in Dallas, we lived in a bad neighborhood, and it was getting worse," Elida said. "(Another factor was) my grandmother had been sick, so we decided to move down here."

According to Elida's father, she became enamored with music when she was just two years old.

"He said that he noticed (that) I loved to sing and I loved to dance in front of people," Elida said. "As I got older, I was always singing and dancing, whenever I got a chance. Whenever we had family functions, I always made it a point to learn a song, then we would perform it in front of people, me and my cousins."

At the age of nine, she performed in her first talent show. She sang "I'm Going To Live Forever". She also participated in a talent search held by The Johnny Canales Show.

She became influenced by Tejano music that same year. Groups like Romance, Roberto Pulido and Grupo Mazz caught her attention. There was one musician in particular that stood out for her.

"Of course Laura Canales, I had never seen a female sing Tejano," Elida remembers. "I first saw her perform here in my hometown at the KC Hall, my parents used to go to all the dances in the area. We went to see Laura Canales, and I knew that's what I was going to do (with my life)."

After graduating from Mercedes High School in 1990, Elida enrolled at The University of Texas-Pan American. She attended for three years, and was a part of the school's mariachi program.

"I've always loved mariachi music," Elida said. "It was a real treat for me to be able to explore that (style of music)."

That's where she met bass player Noel Hernandez, who was playing guitarrón at the time with the school's ensemble. Hernandez informed Elida that he and his friends were looking for a singer. The group got together, including accordionist Cande Aguilar Jr. and drummer Javier Perez, to see if there was any spark between the four.

"We instantly hit off," Elida said. "It all felt like I had known them forever. From that moment on, we were all inseparable. It was just great chemistry. We all had the same goals, which was beautiful."

Elida y Avante was born. After recording a demo, they got signed to La Mafia's record label — Voltage Entertainment.

"We definitely felt that when we got signed to that label, things were going to be looking up for us."

Their first album was titled Atrevete, and it was released in 1994. "Luna Llena" was the group's breakout song.

"That was a very pivotal moment for us, that's when we really became more known," Elida said. "Soon after that, a lot of things started happening for us."

Algo Entero (1996) and Eya (1998) followed. At the 20th annual Tejano Music Awards (2000), Elida was awarded with "Female Vocalist of the Year" and "Song of the Year" (for "Duele") honors.

Her life took a different direction that same year.

"I decided I want to have a family," Elida said. "I had my daughter, and then I had my son, I took somewhat of a two year hiatus."

She was performing sporadically until she returned in 2003. Since then she's worked with a new group of musicians.

"I had a lot of people saying, 'Oh she's done'," Elida said. "They automatically assume once you lose your original band then things are never going to be the same. I've been able to prove them wrong."

She feels like she's evolved a lot since her early days.

"Now I'm more confident, I know what I want, it took me a few years to figure out," Elida said. "I think when you are first starting out, you're real green to the industry, and sometimes you don't speak your mind, you're afraid to because you don't want to offend anybody. Now with my second band it's like I'm on my own, and I'm kind of calling my own shots. It just feels good to be standing on my own two feet."

One of her career highlights took place in 2009. Along with accordionist Michael Salgado, Elida was invited to perform at the Latino Inaugural Ball in Washington, D.C. She's really proud to have been a part of President Barack Obama's inauguration celebration.

"That was an amazing experience," Elida said. "It was awesome to be able to perform, probably my biggest song to date, which is a song called 'Duele', a mariachi song. (Then) to look out to the crowd and see George Lopez and Wilmer Valderrama, and they were actually both singing along, so they obviously heard the song before. That was really amazing to see that."

When I asked her to look back at her career for any special moments she's been a part of, Elida remembers one evening in particular that touched her the most. It took place at the San Antonio Events Center on January 19, 2013. Elida learned that one of her fans, a twelve year old girl named Ylija Campos Gomez was battling a form of cancer known as brainstem glioma.

"She didn't have much time to live, but one of her dreams was to be on stage with me, and to hear the song 'Juntos Hasta Morir'," Elida said. "I was able to make that dream come true for her. I invited her to a show, she got up on stage with me, and I sat her on my bench. She sat right there on the side of the stage. When I sang 'Juntos Hasta Morir', I asked her to come up and sing it with me. Her mom also came up and we all sang it together. It was a very endearing moment. If you were to look out into the crowd, everybody, everybody was just in tears. I had a lump in my throat, it was just a very beautiful moment."

A brief video of that emotional evening is up on YouTube, under the title of "Elida Reyna singing to Ylija". Ylija passed away a month later, on February 26, 2013.

In 2014, Elida continues to follow the career path she chose as a young girl. She just re-signed a new deal with Freddie Records, where she's recorded seven albums in the past six years. One of those albums was Fantasia (2010), which won the Latin Grammy Award for "Best Tejano Album". She hopes that her three children are able to follow in her footsteps, creating the life they envision for themselves, like she's been able to do for the past twenty-plus years.

"The one thing that I have to say is that I've always been a very determined person," Elida said. "I always knew what I wanted, from a young age, from the time I was nine.  I told my parents, this is what I'm going to do, and I did it."

Who: Elida Reyna
Time: 7:00 PM
Date: 1/31
Cost: $15.00
Phone Number: 956-572-8158
Location: Gaslight, 1401 S. 10th Street, McAllen.

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