Friday, May 16, 2014

Review - Smithsonian Folkways' Taquachito Nights‏

As we reach the mid-point of 2014, the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center has already started making plans for its 23rd annual conjunto festival.

In 1998, their yearly conjunto celebration was recorded live for an album release, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Folkways and the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce. It's a great representation of puro border music in el Valle.

The album opens up with Gilberto Perez's "El Burro Pardo", a light song that covers the jealousy of an older lover in a relationship. This tune is sprinkled with some neat word play and a lively accordion sound.  

Ernesto Guerra's two piezas — "La sicodélica" and "Calle Diez y Siete" — showcase his swift, self-taught accordion playing skills. Before this live recording, one had to track down obscure releases from Bego, El Pato and RyN to be able to listen to these instrumentals. The first is a psychedelic polka, which is built around a zany sounding shuffle that Guerra invented one afternoon in Illinois during the 1960's. To create this peculiar sound, Guerra had to open and close his squeezebox at a breakneck pace. According to the linear notes, Guerra used to call this adorno "El Jorgoneo". It's one of my all time favorite polkas to listen to. The second one is an appealing huapango named after 17th street in McAllen, which was Guerra's home territory.

"Bellos Recuerdos" by Los Fantasmas del Valle is a beautiful cancion that illustrates the plight of the Valley migrant worker. The song describes several vivid scenes ranging from hardships to sweet memories, like picking cotton, the constant traveling, eating your first hamburger and going to the movies. This is such a sincere and heartfelt song. If you ever get the chance, check out some of the YouTube comments to this piece. Many people have a strong emotional connection with this cancion.

As explained in the linear notes, "Atotonilco" is one of the more popular piezas among aspiring accordionists. This iconic Tony De La Rosa number has roots to a Juan Jose Espinoza Guevara song by the same title. De La Rosa has transformed that into a spirited conjunto polka that fills one with alegria. With the possible exception of "Viva Seguin", this might be the most recognizable polka in the genre.

The 1990's hit "El Coco Rayado" closes out this charming collection. With the help of Enrique "Flaco" Naranjo's vocals, Ruben Vela's career was rejuvenated when he released this power cumbia during a decade that was dominated by far younger musicians. This catchy, amusing cumbia takes you right back to the 1990's. I always loved his signature at the end — "Que bruto, me avente, me avente!" That line is probably best described as a vocal pat on the back.

This album arrives with a 36-page booklet, that carries English translations of the songs. It also includes a great article about conjunto by David Champion, Ramon de Leon and Cynthia L. Vidaurri. Other tracks on here feature festival music from Valerio Longoria, Mingo Saldivar, Ricardo Guzman, Freddy Gonzalez, Martin Zapata, Amadeo Flores, Joe Ramos and Conjunto Aztlan.

This compilation offers you a chance to discover the range of styles and trends found in this corner of the world. It's a delight taking in the exclusive characteristics that are brought forth by forms like schottisches, rancheras, polkas, cumbias, danzóns, redovas, boleros and huapangos. It's a showcase of what a great festival like this provides to the world. A strong recommendation to any fan of regional music.

Available for purchase at Also streaming at Spotify on Facebook. Check out the Narcisco Martinez Cultural Arts Center at

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