Friday, September 26, 2014

Eva Ybarra

Eva Ybarra at the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center in San Benito in 2014.

Being known throughout the conjunto-loving world as "La Reina del Acordeón" makes Eva Ybarra a bit uneasy.

"It was not me, that's for sure," Eva Ybarra replied, when asked who gave her that nickname. "I'm not the kind of person that wants to be playing themselves up."

She's confident about what she can do on the accordion, but she doesn't want to take anything away from all the other women out there.

"I'm not competing with anybody," Ybarra said. "I'm myself, and I have my own style. Everybody has their own, and I have mine."

Ybarra was born in San Antonio, and raised in the Circle 81 area. She explained to me that it used to be called La Lomita in the past. Brighton Avenue was the barrio she resided in.

I inquired about her birthday early in our conversation.

"That I'm not going to mention," Ybarra said, laughing. "Only thing I'm going to say is that the years are not for counting, they're for living."

She was born into a musical family. Her father Pedro Garza Ybarra was a singer and guitar player. Her mother Maria Eloisa Gonzales Araiza Ybarra composed songs and sang as well.

Ybarra was the fifth child born, in what ended up being nine children in total.

She received her first accordion, a two-row button diatonic Hohner model, when she was just four years old.

"It was like they gave me a doll to play with," Ybarra said.

At that age, Ybarra would turn to her mother and ask, "Mom, turn on the radio, so I could learn some pieces." The radio dial would be turned, while Ybarra sat on a little stool, studying the tunes that spilled out from the speakers.

Ybarra raves about her mom, about how great of a job she did raising her family, but admits that she didn't think the accordion was the right instrument for her daughter.

"My mom, all the time, told me that she was concerned about the push and pull (of the accordion)," Ybarra said. "I don't know if it was that, or that she thought it was a man's instrument. She never told me that, she just said she was concerned about the push and pull, about my lungs. That something could happened."

Nothing ever happened to her lungs, despite her mother's concern. Her father was far more supportive when it came to the accordion.

"My dad, when I was growing up, he said that's my key," Ybarra said, referring to the accordion as the key to her success.

Her madre attempted to push her towards the piano. She took Ybarra to get lessons and bought a piano for the family house. While Ybarra stuck to her squeezebox, she did get plenty of value from those sessions. She learned about music theory, and how to read music. These classes would later help in distinguishing Ybarra's accordion style.

She started playing with the family band at the age of six, where she helped support her parents with her accordion skills and singing.

"(My father) took us to restaurants to baseball fields, and we played there," Ybarra said. "People liked it. We made a lot of money. We put the sombrero out and everybody was putting in one dollar, two dollars."

At eight, she upgraded to a three-row button diatonic accordion. She didn't care when people told her it was too heavy and big for her. That year she outgrew piezas with basic melodies, preferring music that was a bit more complicated.

"I didn't like little, simple polkas," Ybarra said, laughing. "I like to challenge myself."

As a young girl, she dared herself to learn far more difficult polkas like "Polka Monterrey" and the Paulino Bernal arrangement of "Maria Bonita". She's proud that she was able to figure out the accordion on her own.

Her eldest brother formed a group called Pedro Ybarra y Los Chamacones. She started playing the accordion for them around the same time she stopped attending school. One night, the fourteen year old accordionist was performing with this conjunto at a local night club. In walked in Ruben Ruiz, a record producer who owned Rosina Records in San Marcos. He was impressed by what he heard.

"He talked to my dad," Ybarra said. "He gave us a two year contract. We were selling a lot of 45's back then."

Her brother was hoping they would use his band's name, but Ruiz insisted on dubbing them Eva Ybarra y su conjunto. As a courtesy to her brother, the recordings listed, "Accompanied by Pedro Ybarra".

"He believed in me," Ybarra said of Ruiz.

Unfortunately, Ybarra soon realized how hard it was being a female in a male-dominated world. It became difficult for her to find band members that were open-minded.

"A lot of men," Ybarra starts before pausing. "They cannot take it, accept it, that a lady can be a leader. That's the jealousy that came from a lot of musicians that used to play with me."

The opportunities she had to record when she was a teenager disappeared once she became an adult.

"There is a lot of envy," Ybarra said. "I had a hard time. They closed doors (on me). I went to every studio, looking to record, they would say, 'Well, give me your material.' Never called me because of discrimination."

In the 1970's and 1980's, the promoters weren't any better than the sexist musicians Ybarra encountered. Some were professional and respectful. Sadly, there was way too many that weren't. One promoter in Puerto Rico, who Ybarra didn't name, made her very uncomfortable with his unwanted sexual advances. Some didn't pay Ybarra after her gigs were over.

"I had a hard time," Ybarra said of that period.

In her mid-thirties, she fell deeply in love with a luchador. He worked both as a tecnico and a rudo. When they first met, she couldn't stand him. Despite her initial impression, they remained friends and she slowly became enamored with him. They began dating, and planned to get married. But when Ybarra discovered his mentiras, she thought about how a marriage would affect her craft, and she called it off.

"Marriage was not for me," Ybarra said. "My music is my life. I'm a music lover, and nobody was going to take it away from me, and I was concerned about that."

In the 1990's, Ybarra was asked to record with Hacienda Records out of Corpus Christi. While she was originally skeptical at legitimacy of the offer, she eventually found out it was genuine. She recorded two releases for that label.

Her most renowned releases came through Rounder Records — A Mi San Antonio (1993) and Romance Inolvidable (1996). These came after meeting Dr. Catherine Ragland in the early 1990's.

"Cathy put me with Rounder Records," Ybarra said. "She saw me at Juan Tejeda's (Tejano Conjunto) Festival (1991). She believed in me, and she told me, 'You're going to record at Rounder Records.'"

Ragland, currently a professor at the University of North Texas in Denton, has been championing Ybarra's auteurship since then.

"I produced those records," Ragland said. "What's unique about Eva is that those two recordings that we did are all her original songs. I love Mingo (Saldivar), Flaco Jimenez too, and all those (conjunto) artists are really great, but few of them write their own songs. They play a lot of songs that are already out there in the tradition."

Most of the lyrics in Tejano and conjunto tend to be catered towards men. The majority of compositions are written from a man's point of view. Ybarra is a major exception to that unfortunate norm.

"Some of those songs were very much from the female perspective," Ragland said. "She was really singing about her own experience and I think those songs weren't really being written."

Ybarra has a large repertoire that includes polkas, huapangos, schottisches, racheras, boleros, cumbias and corridos. She pushes the boundaries with a progressive style yet she still keeps it within the conjunto tradition.

"She's very sophisticated, musically," Ragland said. "She does a lot of inverted chords, so they sound a little bit different. Really just expanding and doing a lot of interesting runs on the accordion."

In 1997, Ybarra was invited to be an artist-in-residence at the University of Washington's Ethnomusicology Department. Her one year there inspired her release of Space Needle (2008).

"That was good," Ybarra said of her experience there. "I taught accordion, bajo-sexto, bass, and guitarrón."

Susan Torres, an acclaimed accordionist who plays with Conjunto Clemencia in Austin, is an admirer of Ybarra's work.

"I like the joy that she gets out of playing the accordion," Torres said. "You can tell it comes from her heart, and I think that's what I like best about her."

In 2010, a fundraiser was held at Mission Trail's Conjunto Express to assist Ybarra after someone broke into her home. She lost a significant amount of her possessions, including her instruments. Torres was one of the musicians that volunteered to perform that night.

"She's always complimenting me," Torres said. "She goes, 'Mija, you got to take my torch, you got to run with it because when I'm gone, you're going to be the next one in line.' I go, 'No Eva, cause I don't love music as much as you do.' Where that came from was earlier, she was talking about how her sister makes tamales. I was telling her how I like helping my mom make tamales and I asked Eva if she makes tamales. She goes, 'No, I play the accordion!' So when I told her that I'm not going to be the one that takes the torch, I told her, 'Remember, I like making tamales, you don't.' (laughs) That's a story I'm really fond of."

Iliana Vasquez, a student at the University of Texas at Austin and an aspiring accordionist, tabs Ybarra as a key influence.

"She inspired me," Vasquez said. "She's a big influential force in me learning the accordion. I'm sure she's inspired other women to pursue conjunto music, especially the accordion."

Vasquez met the legendary musician during The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Foco 2013 conference, at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg. Ybarra was scheduled for that event's Noche De Cultura, and a workshop on conjunto music the following day. Vasquez took her guitarra de golpe, and introduced herself to Ybarra before her performance that night. They ended up jamming out, and Vasquez was invited on stage.

"We played 'Paloma Negra' together," Vasquez said. "Then the next day, people were encouraged to take their accordions to the workshop. I was the only one to take an accordion, and I had no clue what I was doing on the accordion. She's very, very welcoming. The way she plays is intimidating, but her demeanor isn't. She was showing me how to play 'La Mucura', cause I had asked her the night before. She showed me a little bit of that. Because she had a gig that same night, she had to rush off to San Antonio. I asked her, 'Can you show me a little bit of 'El Circo'?' And she played 'El Circo' with me, all the way out the door. I had never experienced that with anyone else. It's just a memorable moment for me."

Most recently, Ybarra was part of the International Accordion Festival in San Antonio, which took place on September 13. She was part of a line-up that featured Chinese, Vallenato, Urban Finnish Folk, Southern Italian Modern, Czech, Afro-Brazilian Forro, Celtic Folk, conjunto and norteño styles of the accordion.

"I think she's really come into her own," Ragland said. "I've noticed that in the past couple of years, she has really been doing a lot more with her voice. I always thought she had a really great voice. I think part of it is that she's been playing with mariachis, and I think that's influenced her singing. It's very emotional, very expressive. It's been coming out in her performances, more and more."

Her next major festival will be here in the Rio Grande Valley, at the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center in San Benito. This three-day conjunto extravaganza lands on the weekend of October 24, 25, and 26. Ybarra shares the October 25 line-up with La Clica, Mingo Saldivar y sus Tremendos Cuatro Espadas, and Los Monarcas de Pete y Mario Diaz.

"I like to perform there," Ybarra said. "The people in the Valley are very good. One time, we had a good crowd there (at the NMCAC)."

The current members of her conjunto consist of Ybarra on accordion and vocals, her brother David Ybarra on bass guitar, Ramon "Rabbit" Sanchez on bajo-sexto, and Pedro Lopez on the drums.

"We are just four but we make noise," Ybarra said. "The musicians that I have right now are great, and they respect me. They do what I say."

Ybarra likes to joke about this imaginary crown that's been bestowed upon her. She tells me it's okay if someone comes along, and yanks it away from her. She sees so many talented mujeres out there, and she just doesn't like being pitted against her hermanas en musica.

"They say, 'She's the best female accordionist,'" Ybarra said, imitating what men have said about her for decades. "I don't like that. They are putting down other talented ladies. How come they don't say, 'Well, she's one of the best, of the males and females?'"

Q&A - Elida Reyna

Elida Reyna at the 34th annual Tejano Music Awards
Local Tejano star Elida Reyna had a weekend she will never forget. Last Saturday night at the 34th Annual Tejano Music Awards in San Antonio, Reyna walked away with five awards to her name — "Female Entertainer of the Year", "Female Vocalist of the Year", "Album of the Year" (EYA Nation), "Song of the Year" ("Muevelo Asi"), and "Vocal Duo of the Year" (with Jimmy Gonzalez). I caught up with her to talk about her special night and her new recordings.

Eduardo Martinez: First off, how did it feel to have walked away with five awards?

Elida Reyna: I could not believe that I won all five. I did not expect that, at all. I was beyond happy.

EM: When you were there at the Tejano Music Awards on Saturday night, did you think of how far you've come?

ER: Yeah, when we opened up the show, my last song in our segment was "Luna Llena". And I think it hit me at that moment that the first time I ever performed at the Tejano Music Awards was, I believe, in 1994. That was the first time I had ever sung at the awards. We were doing a compilation of songs that had been hits throughout my twenty years in the industry. So it just took me back, of just how far I've come to get to this point.

EM: Who accompanied you to this event?

ER: Well my band, my parents and my little daughter were there. I have three children but only the little one went this time, because my other kids had prior engagements.

EM: Did you do anything special to celebrate the occasion?

ER: What was special to me was being able to share it with my family. Really we just celebrated by going out to dinner to Mi Tierra (in San Antonio). That was really special.

EM: One of the awards you won was "Vocal Duo of the Year" with Jimmy Gonzalez. Can you share your thoughts on him and your collaboration?

ER: I've always had the utmost respect for Jimmy and all of his accomplishments. When he invited me to be a part of this collaboration, I was honored, like anyone else would be. I consider him an icon, a legend in our industry, so when you get that phone call you don't pass it up. I was very privileged to be a part of it and then to win an award because of it, it was the cherry on top.

EM: Can you tell us about your upcoming release?

ER: We have a new album (Al Fin Completa) that comes out November 4th, and our new single drops today (9/23/2014) on the radio. The song is a collaboration with Jay Perez, and it's called "Siempre Seras Para Mi". It's a beautiful love song.

EM: Is this your first time working with Jay Perez?

ER: Yes, this is my first collaboration with Jay, and it was a song written by my husband Lalo Reyna and Lucky Joe Paredes, who is an upcoming solo artist under Freddie Records.

I hope this next single will be a hit, and move up the charts to number one.

EM: Anything you would like to say to all your fans?

ER: None of this would be possible without them. This weekend is forever embedded in my heart. It's just an experience that I will never forget, and it's all because of my fans. They made it possible for me to go on and live my dreams. They inspire me to do better and better.

It's moments like this weekend that make it all worth it.

EM: Awesome, thank you for your time Elida. I know you must be real busy, so I really appreciate it.

ER: No problem, anytime.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Javier Gonzalez's Path To The Delta Boyz‏

When Edcouch-Elsa native Javier Gonzalez was 4 years old, he noticed something wrapped up at his grandfather's house. He asked his abuelito, Gregorio Ramirez Sr., what it was.

"Es acordeon," ("It's an accordion,") answered Ramirez Sr.

"Dejame mirarla," ("Let me look at it,") a young Javier Gonzalez requested. "I wanted to see it so bad."

It was a two-row, button diatonic Hohner accordion. That was his introduction to the squeezebox.

"That's when I started liking the accordion," Gonzalez, 32, said.

 He would just press the buttons, pushing and pulling the box for fun until he entered the 7th grade.

"I used to live close to Lucky Joe Paredes," Gonzalez said. "He used to play with Los Frijoles Romanticos out here in the Valley."

Gonzalez would walk by Paredes' house after school as he headed home. While passing by, he would see Paredes playing the accordion outside his house.

One day, Gonzalez finally stopped by and told Paredes that he really liked the sound. Paredes responded enthusiastically by inviting Gonzalez to stop by the next day, so he could teach him what he knew.

"Lucky Joe me enseño mi primera polkita," ("Lucky Joe taught me my first polka,") Gonzalez said. "'El Sube y Baja', that's the first polkita I learned."

That polka was first recorded by Los Donneños on Falcón Records in the early 1950's.

His music education continued after he enrolled in Edcouch-Elsa High School in 1996. As he was registering, he came across the estudiantina class and met the great, late Benny Layton.

Gonzalez told Layton that he wanted to join the estudiantina, to learn everything he could from him.

"Since freshman 'till I was a senior, when I graduated, I was in the estudiantina," Gonzalez said. "(Layton) would teach us about our culture, about our backgrounds, our grandfathers, and all about the music. He influenced a lot of (Edcouch-Elsa) band members that now play with professional bands."

Layton passed away in 2011. He remains a beloved figure in the Rio Grande Valley conjunto scene.

While in his sophomore year, Gonzalez became a professional musician after joining Galante, a Mercedes-area group. He began performing at clubs, weddings, and quinceañeras. He went on to play the accordion for Margarita, then accompanied Ruben Vela on the bajo-sexto, and primera voz for 12 years.  With Vela, he recorded four albums.

Over two years ago, Gonzalez, his little brother Jaime Gonzalez, who previously played bajo-sexto with Albert Zamora, and bass player Rigo Rangel got together to form a new band. The original drummer was Paul Layton, but he moved on to perform with his family. Tury Alviar is now the current drummer.

Gonzalez says the timing was right for them to try to branch out on their own. They just needed to find the right name, and that assist came from Gonzalez's other brother, Jessie Gonzalez.

"You're from the Delta area, so you're The Delta Boyz," Gonzalez remembers Jessie telling him right before a gig. "The name stayed with us. "

As far as the style used in The Delta Boyz, Gonzalez says he's been influenced by Esteban Jordan, Ruben Vela, Los Dos Gilbertos, and Mingo Saldivar.

This past May the group released their first CD titled Perdona.

"'Perdona' was a song we liked when we were small," Gonzalez said. "We first heard it with David Marez, then we heard it with Los Dos Gilbertos. I really like their style of conjunto, so I told my brother, 'Let's record this song, and name it as our CD.'"

The group is looking forward to their next major show, which will be at the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival in San Benito, on the weekend of October 24, 25, and 26. They will be playing on the first day of the event, on Friday night.

"I'm really excited that we're going to be a part of this conjunto festival this year," Gonzalez said.

Knowing there are kids in the Valley that are interested in this style of music, Gonzalez would like to leave them with some words of advice.

"Just to never give up, que le den pa' delante, siempre," ("move forward, always,") Gonzalez said. "If you have the music in your heart, if you like the accordion, bajo-sexto, bass, drums, do it man. Play with your heart and you'll get somewhere with that."

Monday, September 15, 2014


I found the first three photos in a book titled Images of America - Pharr, by Romeo Rosales Jr. of the Pharr Memorial Library. The next three photos are from my own personal collection. First one is a class photo. I’m in the bottom row, wearing a TMNT sweater. The other two have me in the middle, wearing t-shirts, during the annual Mother’s Day performances. The last three photos were taken today, so y’all can see how the school looks like now.

I always heard growing up that this school was made specifically for Mexican and Mexican-American children in Pharr, so I’m glad I finally saw this statement published in a book. When I was attending, the student body was 99% Latin@s, who came from a small neighborhood-area in East Pharr, or from the colonias in Las Milpas.

When my mom first came over from Rayones, Nuevo León, Mexico, this was the first school she was enrolled at. That was in the early 1960’s. Then my older brother had classes here in the 1980’s, with myself and my little brother following him in the 1990’s.

I went to Buell Elementary from kindergarten to 2nd grade. I left one year going to Ford Elementary for 3rd grade, before returning back to Buell for 4th and 5th.

In those first few years at Buell all of my class, including myself, would speak mainly in Spanish. That’s how we socialized at home, and at school. Since the classes were part of a bilingual program, we benefited by learning the Spanish alphabet, spelling, grammar and rhymes. They had another separate class for kids that were English-speakers only. For Halloween, we would sing that silly pumpkin song, “Calabaza, calabaza, Muy chistosa, muy chistosa.” My older brother, when he heard me sing the song, repeated it but said, “Muy chichona, muy chichona.”. (“Really busty, really busty.”)

Since it was bilingual, we also had to learn English. I always remember this one moment where we had to spell something out-loud in English, in front of the class for a grade. I was spelling the word right (which I can’t remember anymore), but I pronounced the letter “I” the way it’s pronounced in Spanish, which sounded like I said “E”. The teacher immediately stopped me, telling me I had spelled it wrong. I didn’t say anything, since it would have sounded like I was making excuses, and all of my classmates were watching. Code-switching gone wrong in an academic setting, I guess.

When I entered the 4th grade, they moved me to the English-speakers class, and that’s the point where I stopped conversing in Spanish with my classmates at school. I was talking to my friend Rose recently about how growing up, becoming teenagers, we felt pressure to speak in English, and not talk in Spanish. This stigma hurt my overall development in being comfortable communicating in Spanish in public settings.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Blue Moon

This photo is from a book titled Images of America - Pharr by Romeo Rosales Jr. of the Pharr Memorial Library.

This club used to be near where I live. By the time I was born, it had already been closed for many years. A lot of the older musicians I talk to always bring up this place.

After I saw this photo, I called my dad on the phone since I remembered him talking about it as well.

"Hay iba casi todos los domingos," ("I would go there almost every Sunday,") my dad said on Wednesday night. "Cuando estaba joven, verdad, iba a tocar allí yo." ("When I was young, right, I would go there to play music.")

His band’s name was Sandy and the Silhouettes. The band-members were from Donna, McAllen, and Edinburg. They recorded one 45 for Bego Records, and briefly toured with the Bego Caravana. My dad estimates that this was around 1970-71, after he graduated from Donna High School.

According to my dad, Joe Vera would have two bands at Vera’s Palladium in Weslaco, and two bands at Blue Moon in Pharr. After their sets were done, the bands would then switch venues. My dad remembers seeing Johnny Canales, Chano Cadena, and Henry and the Glares at these hot spots.

The Veras sold this building later in the decade, and it became a factory where leather jackets were made. My Tia Panchie worked there for a few years.

Recommended Places To Buy Tejano, Conjunto, and Norteño Music‏

A box of my LP's.

One of the most common questions I get asked is, "Where do I find this music?" So this week I felt it would be a good time to recommend nearby stores that sell authentic, physical copies of Tejano, conjunto, and norteño music. While I know there are probably plenty of stores all across the Rio Grande Valley, these are four places near where I live (the Pharr-McAllen area) that I can vouch for without hesitation.

—RyN Music & Wireless, 209 S. 23rd St. in McAllen - Here you can find CD releases from the RyN record label, along with different labels that display a variety of regional music from Mexico and Texas, old and new. There is stuff here you won't find anywhere else. This place has been owned and operated by the musical Cavazos family for decades. Along with the rare CD's, one of my favorite things about this place is that you never know when an impromptu jam session is about the break out. The last time I went, the 87-year-old Ramiro Cavazos was being visited by a middle-aged bajo-sexto player and a young accordionist who appeared to be in his mid-twenties. After a lively conversation, Cavazos got his guitar and bajo-sexto, and all three musicians started playing old polkas and ranchers. It was amazing. Latest item I bought here: El Cachorro y El Donneño, Juan Villarreal y Ramiro Cavazos, Polkas, Redovas y Mas... (Discos RyN, 2012).

—H-E-B, 1300 S Cage Blvd. in Pharr and 901 E. Expressway 83 in San Juan - I only attend these two H-E-B's, so I can't speak for any others in the Hidalgo County. Both of these stores have a surprisingly good selection of musical releases. The San Juan store has a section of good DVD's, some of which include video footage of 1990's Selena and early 2000's Elida Reyna. Some DVD's I've reviewed here in the past (Valerio Longoria, Flaco Jimenez) are available for purchase at this outlet. The Pharr store has plenty of CD's to look through, including Gilberto Perez, Los Badd Boyz Del Valle, Los Texmaniacs, and Little Joe Hernandez. Latest item I bought here: Tejano Roots - Tony de la Rosa - Atotonilco (Arhoolie Records, 1993).

—Novedades Musicales Martinez, 211 N Cage Blvd in Pharr - One day earlier this year I woke and thought, "I want to listen to some more Paulino Bernal music." I remembered that this store was a few blocks from my house. I had gone in the past to buy tickets to go see El Hijo Del Santo perform, but had never actually checked out their collection of music. So I ended up going later that day, and asked if they had any Conjunto Bernal music. They took me to the shelf where I could find Tejano and conjunto CD's, which ended up having about a dozen different Bernal titles. I picked one titled El Maestro Del Acordeon Y Sus Polkas. Also I saw that they had other releases from stars like Carlos Guzman, Roberto Pulido, and Santiago Jimenez Jr.  Latest item I bought here: Mi Manzanita by Santiago Jimenez Jr. and Don Jose Moreno (JB Records, 2006).

—Valley Vinyls, 2201 N 10th St. Suite I in McAllen - I first went here in the Spring of 2011, when a friend invited me to go check it out after my dad gave me his old Magnavox stereophonic micromatic power transistor record player. On that first visit I bought three Esteban Jordan LP's that were in solid to good condition for $15.00 — Ahorita, Mirada Que Facina, and My Toot Toot. Later I picked up a sealed Wally Gonzalez Falcón Records LP titled Las Mujeres y las novelas. What I love about going through crates of old vinyl records is that feeling of finding a hidden gem that most have forgotten about, or maybe never even knew existed. Last time I was there in August, I saw a sealed LP of Los Layton's of Edcouch-Elsa. I didn't have money that day to buy it, so it's still there in case anyone is interested. Latest item I bought here: Cariñito De Mi Vida by Angel Flores (Freddie Records, 1978).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

At STFC 31

My friend Rosario took this photo of me inside the STFC cage at the McAllen Convention Center, on September 5, 2014. Fun night of fights. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

PSJA North Travels To San Antonio

Miguel Guerra, a PSJA North High School classmate of mine, wrote a really great piece titled “From My Street to Main Street”. This appears in a book titled Global Mexican Cultural Productions. I am sharing an excerpt of this because I remember when they were doing this play at PSJA North, as I was part of the tech theater 3rd period class. I wasn’t part of the techies that stayed after school or traveled with this troupe, but I was friends or acquaintances with this cast and crew.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Marco Antonio Solis Autograph Poster

I thought this had gone missing. Glad I found it still in good condition. 

My tia took my mom to this concert seven years ago. After the show, they saw Marco Antonio Solis (or “El Buki” as they love to call him because of his previous band Los Bukis) leaving the arena in Hidalgo. They asked for his autograph. While he was signing these posters with a pen, my tia claims to have run her fingers through his beard (which has magic powers, I think). 

For years my mom had this poster next to a painting of “La última cena” (“The Last Supper”), which was oddly appropriate since so many people joke that Solis looks like the popular, European and North American depictions of Jesus Christ. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

CD Review - José "El Patrullero" Moreno - El Fidelero Del Valle‏

Don José Moreno is incredible. The people that know him, like folks who have worked at the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center (where Moreno has taught) in San Benito and various local musicians, are aware of how great he is. To those of you that aren't, I hope you give him a chance, because he's a brilliant, original musician that resides here in the Rio Grande Valley.

This is eighteen-track album presents the uncommon yet wonderful music of Don José Moreno.

The crown jewel of this collection is Moreno's instrumental vals interpretation of Agustín Lara's "Maria Bonita". Lara composed this beautiful piece for his then wife, Mexican cinema superstar María Félix during their honeymoon. Other quality musicians have covered this tune before, including Paulino Bernal who crafted a spectacular polka version of it on the accordion. Moreno's take — with the violin delicately leading the way, Amado Banda on the bajo-sexto, and Mark Rubin on the tololoche  — is every bit as genuine and romantic as the original cancion. This is enchanting no matter how many times I listen to this.

Other forms of music found on this release include polka, huapango, redova, and son matachin. Moreno brings so many neat touches to many of these piezas. For three tracks, Moreno uses a mandolin, which sounds whimsical in a polka titled "Patricia Erika".

There is only one track with singing, and it's at the tail-end of this release. It happens to be the famous anthem "El Corrido De Gregorio Cortez". It's a ballad on Cortez, who became a folk hero after he shot Karnes County sheriff W.T. "Brack" Morris to defend himself and his brother Romaldo in 1901. No violin or mandolin here as Moreno decides to show us that he's quite capable when it comes to the accordion. I'm glad this was included as it reveals how versatile Moreno is.

The CD comes with a booklet that features a nice two-page biography on Moreno that is credited to David Champion and Ramon de Leon. The notes mention that Moreno recorded for various labels like Charro, RyN, Triple E, and Chief. It gives me hope that I'll be able to track down some more rare Moreno gems at some point in my life. So far, all I have of Moreno is this CD, and Mi Manzanita, an out of print album collaboration between Moreno and Santiago Jimenez, Jr. that I found at Novedades Martinez in Pharr earlier this year. When I took it up to the cashier to purchase, even he was surprised that they had it in stock.

This fantastic release from Arhoolie Records succeeds in capturing the soul of a unique, one of a kind musician. When I take trips across the Rio Grande Valley, this is one CD I always carry with me. I can't even estimate how many times I've listened to this entire album. Moreno staying true to this style of music throughout the decades should be counted on as a blessing to any fan of regional music.

Available for purchase at Also streaming for free at Spotify.