Friday, July 11, 2014

Leti y El Conjunto Central

Leti y El Conjunto Central
Leticia Urbina had just graduated from Odem High School, and was about to celebrate her mother's birthday. Family and friends gathered at the JRM Convention Center in Sinton, TX for the occasion.

Leticia's present to her mother Eloisa was a singing performance that would launch off her conjunto career.

Afterwards, Leticia watched a VHS tape of her stage debut.

"I remember seeing it the first time, I was like, 'Wow I'm pretty good,'" Leticia thought of her work.

As she spent more time honing her craft, it suddenly hit her.

"Wow, I really wasn't that good," Leticia laughed about what she saw on that VHS tape. "I totally changed my mind on that!"

The decision to sing was not a spur-of-the-moment type situation. It's something that had been building up for years.

Raised in Odem, a small city that has a population of less than 3000 people, Leticia found herself in a family of conjunto musicians.

Her father Beto, and her uncle Juan were original members of El Conjunto Central.

"He just sung beautiful," Leticia said of her late uncle, who she has been favorably compared to. "I remember hearing him, and just being amazed at how strong he could sing."

It was not only her dad and uncle who were impacting her future. Seeing the attention that her two singer brothers — Albert and Mark — were starting to receive made her feel left out.

She began to ask herself, "What about me?"

"So in a way, I kind of started music out of being a little zelosa (jealous)," Leticia said. "That's what pushed me to start performing."

She first dabbled with the keyboard when she was 16. Two years after that was when she really got serious about that instrument.

"My dad is a master accordion player," Leticia said. "He would play something on the accordion, and I would just start to copy him (on the keyboard)."

After her first performance, some of her shyness went away, and her confidence grew. She started playing the keyboard and singing with El Conjunto Central.

Some time passed, and Leticia soon advanced to the front of the stage, as the groups new lead vocalist in the early 2000's.

"I always liked playing keyboard," Leticia said. "But now my passion is more to be in the front. Talk to the crowd, to sing, to bring kids up to dance with us. I totally love getting children involved, and I think they enjoy it to."

With Leticia leading the way, the decision was made to rename the band to Leti Y El Conjunto Central. The current line-up of the group includes: Leticia on lead vocals; Beto on the accordion; Ronnie Delgado on bass; Ramon Hernandez Jr. on bajo-sexto; Ricardo Lerma on drums.

She credits her father with helping her grow as a vocalist over the past 15 years.

"My dad instilled in me what I think a true musician should be," Leticia said. "I owe it all to him."

Outside of her family, one of her key influences is longtime singer Linda Escobar.

"She's one of the biggest pioneers in the conjunto industry for women," Leticia said. "I admire her so much cause she is one of the (few) women that I know of in conjunto music."

Leticia doesn't see too many other women performing at the top conjunto festivals. She hopes to see the day when more women get involved in the conjunto scene.

"It's very much a male industry," Leticia said. "There's not a lot of us. I would love to see more females out there in conjunto music. I believe there is not enough."

She estimates that she's recorded five CD's. Her catchiest recording is also her favorite —  "Limbo Cumbia". Hearing that charming song on KMBH-TV was how I first found out about Leticia's work.

The tune is a conjunto cumbia interpretation of "Limbo Rock". Leticia tells me that her father came up with the idea one night, at 3:00 AM.

"That one is my favorite one," Leticia said. "That was one of our hits from our last CD (Un Mundo Raro). I can't tell you how many times I've heard it."

Last year, she missed the STCA "Conjunto of the Year" Award Show, so she's eager to return to the annual event this year.

"We did miss out last year," Leticia said. "It's always been a great experience (in past years). I commend Lupe Saenz for having that (award show). Him and the staff. Everyone that works together to make that happen."

As far as that VHS tape goes, Leticia still has it in her possession.

"Got it on VHS forever," Leticia said. "Good thing a lot of people don't have VCR's anymore."

Leti Y El Conjunto Central, along with 13 other conjuntos, will be performing at the 16th Annual "Conjunto of the Year" Award Show. 

What: South Texas Conjunto Association's 16th Annual "Conjunto of the Year" Award Show
Time: 6:00 PM
Date: 7/13
Cost: $10.00
Contact: Lupe Saenz at 956-463-6909.
Website: http://conjunto.org/
Location: KC Hall, in Mercedes.
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