Friday, May 9, 2014

Ruben De La Cruz

Ruben De La Cruz
While out working on the fields, a young Ruben De La Cruz would use his breaks from hard labor to go watch conjunto musicians Ruben Vela and Gilberto Perez. Born in Joliet, Illinois, as his Valley-native parents were migrant workers, Ruben would travel up north every year to work with his family.

While up there, he was exposed to accordionists who would also make the seasonal trip. He started to get a feel for that unique Valley sound.

"Hay comenzo," ("That's when it started,") De La Cruz, 37, said. "My dad tambien tocaba poco la accordion." ("My dad also played the accordion a little bit.")

Ruben's dad, David De La Cruz, had a Hohner accordion in the 1980's. The young kid enjoyed messing around with it for fun. One day David noticed his hijo with his accordion.

"Quieres tocar? Vamonos!" ("You want to play? Let's go!") De La Cruz remembers his dad telling him that day. "So since then (I've been playing). I was eight years old."

David started by having his son hang out with his musician friends. Then one time when they were in Florida, he took Ruben to an accordion teacher there named Tomas Maldonado. He learned "Nuevo Laredo" in two hours, his first polka.

"He pushed me, he pushed me, hasta que aprendi," ("until I learned,") De La Cruz said of his dad.

After that trip to Florida, the young musician was taken to Ruben Vela's house three to four times a week so he could study with a local master. By the age of 12, Ruben says that he was already playing professionally in bars.

"Todas las cantinas in Harlingen," ("All the bars in Harlingen,") De La Cruz said laughing. "My dad hablaba con todos los dueños." ("My dad talked to all the bar owners.")

Ruben does note that a few of the owners were hesitant and didn't allow him to play. A few years later, the group he was performing with finally started calling themselves Ruben De La Cruz y su conjunto.

While all of this was going on, Ruben and his family were still making trips to work. In 2000, he got a big break when he was asked to record for Hacienda Records in Corpus Christi. That was when his life changed.

"Ya no queremos eso," ("We didn't want that anymore,") De La Cruz said. "Me pare de ir al norte y me dedique a la musica." ("I stopped going up north and I dedicated myself to the music.")

He prides himself on being one of the few current conjunto musicians that creates new, original material. Since that turning point, he's released 14 CD's through Hacienda Records and Discos RyN. Some of his most popular songs include "El Proximo Viernes" and "Agua De Fruta". When he's playing here in the Valley, he says that there is a strong demand for polkas like "Asi Se Baila En Tejas".

"I think that's the number one thing que pide la gente," ("that the people ask for,") De La Cruz said. "Ya sabes, la gente del Valle son muy polkeros aqui." ("You know the people of the Valley are polkeros here.")

The current line-up of his conjunto includes: De La Cruz on the accordion and vocals; Frank Hernandez on bajo-sexto and vocals; Felix Aleman on bass guitar; Mike Vallejo Jr. on the drums.

While he's no longer a migrant worker, he finds himself on the road on a consistent basis. With his red Gabbanelli accordion, he enjoys exposing Valley-style conjunto to Mexico and the rest of the states in America. What Vela and Perez did in past years, De La Cruz is doing today.

"It feels awesome, we see different places," De La Cruz said. "We went to California and on the way back, we took a trip to Vegas. We had a good time."

Mother's Day Dance
Who: Ruben De La Cruz y Su Conjunto and Pepe Maldonado
Time: 6:00 PM
Date: 5/11
Cost: $10.00
Phone Number and Website: 956-867-8783 or visit
Location: La Lomita Park, in McAllen.

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