Saturday, March 15, 2014

Texas Sweethearts

Diana De Hoyos, Elisa De Hoyos, Minnie Loredo, and Mari De Hoyos.
The Texas Sweethearts is an all-female band that plays music that is made up of a variety of influences that come from both sides of the border. It's a mixture of many key ingredients, including Tejano, conjunto, country and ranchera music.

Before the formation of the Texas Sweethearts, three members of this group were part of their own family band called Mari and Her Spanish Angels.

Mari De Hoyos, 45, was born in Reynosa, which is where her love of music first started.

"We lived very close to the bull fighting ring," Mari said. "Every morning they had speakers full blast, the whole city can hear it. I would wake up very early, sit by the door and listen to all the songs that were coming up. I'd sing right along with them too."

Mari took a liking to the guitar after seeing her mother and father performing. She learned how to play in secret.

"He was very particular about us touching his guitars so he would hide them," Mari said. " I figured a way of getting inside the walk in closet. I'd put the flashlight on, take out his charts, his guitar and I would practice that way."

It wasn't until she learned "Cariño" that she revealed to her parents that she knew how to play.

"I played it for him, he was like, 'When did this happen?'," Mari laughs. "So he gave me his guitar. Very nice, black, shiny guitar. He says, 'You can have that one.'"

When Mari became a mother, she took her children to church often. Two of those seven children are Elisa De Hoyos, 26, and Diana De Hoyos, 25. Both were raised in Weslaco.

"I gave them small rhythm instruments so that they could behave at church," Mari said. "I had a church choir, they were running all over the place. I'm singing, I'm like, 'Where are they?'"

The two daughters played tambourine and maracas. Mari and Her Spanish Angels began to take shape. After a few years, the two moved on to different instruments.

"I started playing the accordion," Elisa said. "I figured since it's a piano accordion, I can play the keyboard so I asked my parents for a keyboard and they got me a keyboard."

At the age of 11, Elisa went from a piano accordion to a button diatonic accordion when she received a Hohner Corona II. Later she was given a Gabbanelli accordion as her regalo de sorpresa (surprise gift) at her quinceañera.

"The first song that I figured out on the piano accordion was 'Atotonilco'," Elisa said. "When I got to the Hohner, I did meet up with (Juan Lugo) in San Benito, who works at Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center. They give lessons once a week. My mom's like, 'Why don't you go learn a song or two.' So I started going there. The next polkitas I learned were, "La Nona", "La Sicodélica", "Los Cardenales". Certain old polkas 'cause he was very traditional. Later I met up with Gilberto Perez and he showed me some other polkas."

Diana briefly played guitar with her mother, giving the group a two-guitar sound. However that didn't last long.

"I wanted something else," Diana said. "My dad was the bass player, he would let me play, he would show me some things, and at the end of a show, he would let me play the last song. From there I just started playing (the bass)."

The country element to their style came from a certain demographic.

"Winter Texans were our fan base," Elisa said. "They would bring us cassette tapes, and they were like, 'Listen to this song, figure this song out.' We started listening to whatever they were giving us. I probably know more country artists off the top of my head than any other genre and it's because of that."

Through networking with their Winter Texan audience, they found themselves performing outside of Texas. They ventured out three times, playing throughout the central states. They even went to Maine at one point.

Elisa and Diana's participation dwindled as they got older. Elisa moved away briefly, and had a daughter of her own. Diana went a different direction.

"I was like, this is not cool, I want to play rock and roll," Diana said. "I started leaving the family band behind. I wanted to go explore other things."

Diana started performing for heavy metal and rock bands. She currently plays with another group, an instrumental rock band named Verena Serene. Her perspective has changed in recent years.

"You grow up, you get out of that phase," Diana said, about how she's grown to appreciate the local culture and performing with her family.

"You go back to your roots," Elisa adds.

About a year ago, Diana talked to her mother about starting a new band.

"I told my mom, this is what I really want to do," Diana said. "I want to play again. So I told my mom, we should just do this again, when I graduate, I'll have all the time in the world. So I graduated and we started it. That's pretty much where I stand."

Mari was thrilled to hear that her daughters were interested in pursuing a new project with her. While she had missed playing with them, she didn't want to push them into doing something that they didn't want to do.

While all three were ready to start their new ensemble, one thing was missing.

"We always said we need a drummer, cause it was just us three," Mari said. "Elisa playing the keyboard, the accordion. (Diana) would play the bass. I'd play the guitar and the lead vocalist. Elisa (would) harmonize with me. It was like, 'We need a drummer, man. If we can find a drummer, it'll sound complete.'"

"A girl drummer!" Elisa adds.

"My husband was like, 'I can try," laughs Mari. "You stay home, take care of the kids."

Mari went on Craigslist and saw a post that read, "Where are all the female musicians?" Mari replied and the person on the other end was Minnie Loredo, 28.

Minnie grew up in Edinburg, and dabbled with the accordion before deciding it wasn't for her. She started playing drums when was 19 years old.

"When I heard about these girls, I was like, 'I'm going to try it, see what happens'," Minnie said. "First day we were practicing, it just flowed like we'd playing for a while."

Minnie brings to the group a deep appreciation of older conjunto stars like Paulino Bernal, Tony De La Rosa, Valerio Longoria and Oscar Hernandez. In the past, she's jammed out with Mel Villarreal and Jesse Gomez y Los Nuevo Chachos. She feels like she has improved a lot over the past year.

"(This is) where I'm growing up," Minnie said of the Texas Sweethearts. "It's making me a better drummer."

One day at Melharts Music Center, they came across a flyer promoting "Chingona Fest 2013", a women's empowerment festival in McAllen.

"I told mom, 'Maybe they have a slot open and we can play there'," Elisa said.

"Cause we're chingonas," Mari said, laughing.

Mari contacted the festival's organizer and the band was booked for the May 4, 2013 event. Mari tells me they quickly named themselves the Texas Sweethearts after securing that first gig.

Diana was a bit nervous about how the crowd would respond.

"I was worried because I know all the bands that went to play there," Diana said. "There were a lot of punk bands from the McAllen area, I was like, 'Oh they are coming here to see all these rock bands and we're a Tejano band, no one is going to like us.' Then it turned out a lot of people really enjoyed it. So I know that was a success."

"It was awesome, I was very happy (with how it turned out)," Elisa added.

Since then, Texas Sweethearts has kept themselves busy by performing all throughout the Valley. Recently they were invited to the 33rd annual Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio. They will perform on a bill that includes an impressive line-up of musicians — Miguel A. Pérez (Spain), Dwayne Verheyden (Netherlends), Los Texmaniacs (San Antonio), Joel Guzman (Austin) and The Texas Tornados (Austin/San Antonio). The group plans to have some recordings completed soon to sell there on May 16.

Gloria E. Anzaldua once described this area as a mix of cultures coming together to create a new one. When discussing her life and musical style, Mari has a very similar philosophy.

"I feel like where we're at, it is a blend," Mari said. "I feel that I am a result of being born in Mexico, coming here, being influenced by Tejano music, the ranchera music that my parents would listen to. Then the country music that exists here. So we are a blend."

Learn more about the Texas Sweethearts at https://www.facebook.com/TexasSweethearts.

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