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Overview

Two playersConjunto is a unique Texas-based music tradition born in the 19th century that continues to evolve and thrive today. Conjunto, like jazz, blues, and rock and roll, is a distinct American musical genre that has had a major impact on the Mexican American community of the United States, as well as reviving an interest in the accordion, and is gaining fans around the world.

Accordion-driven conjunto is its own culture, Over Jesse Turner's shoulderhas its own fans and followers and plays an integral and vital role in many communities. It is dramatic, vibrant and sensual - far from traditional stereotypes of accordion music. The world of accordions and conjunto is attracting a diverse worldwide audience that includes millions of admirers of the accordion-based polka that is popular in Czech, Polish, and German communities.

NarcisoTrans-generational in nature, conjunto is a musical synthesis of many cultures resulting in a very distinctive and unique style that is tied to the Mexican American identity.

pic of Albert ZamorraTraditionally, young Mexican Americans viewed conjunto as music of their parent's generation. However, today's young conjunto musicians are bridging the gap with their unique interpretations of the old and the new and have helped to create the emergence of a new generation of enthusiasts.

With the addition of women in this traditionally all male genre, it has matured into a family cultural experience that continues to be shared and enjoyed by all.

Copyright 2001 Galan Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

Introduction of the Bajo Sexto

Real Audio Available Narciso Martínez, La Cuquita, IDEAL Records

Young NarcisoExciting, happy, lively and magical - conjunto music is described by musicians as something they feel and play from the heart, but it actually became conjunto when the innovative Narciso Martínez, known as the father of conjunto music, added the bajo sexto (the Mexican twelve string bass guitar) with musical partner Santiago Almeida in the 1930's.

Los DonnenosWith this addition, conjunto musicians began to focus on using the accordion just for the melody with the bass guitar as accompaniment creating the distinctive sound conjunto is known for.

Copyright 2001 Galan Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

A More Polished Conjunto Sound

Real Audio Available Valerio Longoria, Abandonada, live recording

Conjunto music became part of the working class experience with farm workers its biggest audience. Musicians began following los migrantes year round throughout the state of Texas.

In urban areas, a more vibrant and polished conjunto style was emerging with Valerio Longoria at the forefront of this new sound.Valerio Longoria He is credited with many innovations within the genre including being one of the first musicians to perform standing up with straps on the accordion. He was also one of the first to incorporate singing with his music where previously it had all been instrumental. His romantic songs were called boleros and were considered more of a high class vocal tradition.

Copyright 2001 Galan Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

An Independent Record Industry is Born

Real Audio Available Carmen y Laura, Se Me Fue Mi Amor, IDEAL Records
Rubén Vela, La Quebrada, IDEAL Records
Tony De La Rosa, Atotonilco, IDEAL Records

As conjunto became the focus of cultural and social expression for Mexican Americans, the demand for it created opportunities for musicians to earn a living. Most musicians had demanding day jobs and then would perform in cantinas in the evenings for almost nothing. But conjunto brought the families together even more--with children listening in the wings as older family members played in weddings, baptisms, quinceañeras and at other special events.

With the addition of drums and electric bass, conjunto innovator Tony De La Rosa slowed the rhythm down and created a new dance sound that became distinctly Texas Mexican. With the music easier to dance to, he sparked a new dance style called tacuachito and established the conjunto "dance hall sound". As the music continued to grow and evolve, conjunto musicians, like Rubén Vela, refined the "dance hall" sound. With his arrangements of the Mexican song tradition called ranchera, Rubén Vela popularized an irresistable dance beat.

Major American record labels, like RCA and Bluebird, Armando Marroquinwere recording conjunto music in the late 20's and 30's--but World War II put a stop to all recordings and the major labels pulled out. Armando Marroquín, who owned juke box routes, had to go to Mexico to find Spanish language recordings.

Carmen y LauraWith his wife Carmen and her sister Laura as his topsellers, Armando Marroquín became the first Mexican American to produce a conjunto record in the U.S. He founded the Ideal Record Company in Alice, Texas and an industry was born.

At about the same time, Arnaldo Ramírez formed Falcon records in a living room in Mission, TexasFalcon records logo and would later become a major player in conjunto music. Other independent record labels that popped up were Bernal, Mira, Sombrero, and Norteño. For over 40 years, recording and distribution of Tejano music was active on a regional basis--but this changed in the 1980's with major artists like Little Joe y La Familia who took their music national.

Progressing to television following its success in radio, Arnaldo Ramírez propelled conjunto music beyond the Texas border with a syndicated show called Fanfarria Falcon. This show reached 244 cities in the U.S. and eventually got picked up for years in Mexico and Central America. With the marketing potential realized by advertisers, competition heated up and more conjunto television programs were in demand.

Back from World War II, Mexican Americans demanded equal treatment as citizens. ww2 soldiersThe process of assimilation accelerated. Mexican American communities saw that the American dream was within their reach for the first time--but entering the mainstream was still difficult.

Copyright 2001 Galan Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

Big Band Era

Real Audio Available Beto Villa, Morir Soñando, IDEAL Records

DancersThe popularity of a new style of music challenged accordion based conjunto --the era of the Big Band had entered America and the Mexican American bands wanted to look and sound more American--it became somewhat of a status symbol.

Beto VillaOne artist that successfully bridged the gap between traditional Mexican music and popular American music was Beto Villa--considered the Lawrence Welk of his time. Playing high tone or "highbrow" orchestra music, he gave the music, and those attending dances, a middle class respectable air.

agricultural lifeAlthough the urban middle class was growing, the vast majority of Mexican Americans were still living in rural areas. And agriculture still played an important part in their lives.

As orchestras in south Texas were evolving, Isidro López gave the music a homegrown voice and made it more accessible to the working class. He didn't sing in a flowery Spanish voice--but instead in Tex-Mex. Isidro and his band created a new sensation and sang to crowded dance halls.

IsidroThrough his music, Isidro López came to represent success, and the aspiration of the working class Tejano. While orchestras were incorporating more American musical styles, the accordion-based conjunto stayed true to its roots.

Conjunto music was considered the music of the poor, working class population. This was an image that the new, upwardly-mobile Tejanos were trying to move away from. The accordion wasn't a respected instrument, especially from the musician's point of view and not something they wanted to be identified with. Stigmatized, accordion-based conjunto music faced an uncertain future.

By the early 1950's, Tejanos were listening to a variety of music--from country and Texas swing to more traditional music imported from Mexico. However, a powerful new influence was just over the horizon.

Copyright 2001 Galan Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

A New Sound

Real Audio Available Sunny and the Sunliners, Just a Moment, Joey Records Inc.
Paulino Bernal, Mi Borrachera, IDEAL Records

When rock and roll burst on the scene, a whole generation of Mexican Americans embraced it. Once again the direction of Tejano music was changed and Tejano musicians began playing rock and roll. In the barrios of San Antonio young musicians were experimenting with American pop music.

Suny OsunaA Tejano musician influenced by this movement was Sunny Ozuna. Like many of this generation, Sunny was influenced more by the music on American Bandstand than by the Spanish language music of his parents.

Little Jo & the LatinairesAlso crossing over to other music genres like rock and roll, country western and rhythm and blues were musicians like Little Joe and the Latinaires.

Ushering in a new era for conjunto music, Paulino Bernal Paulino Bernaland his brother Eloy stunned audiences with a style of accordion music never heard before. His musical talent and style was considered light years ahead of its time creating a smooth blending of serious music with its harmonies into his signature polka style. He would become one of the most influential conjunto musicians in history.

Copyright 2001 Galan Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

Turbulent 60's

Real Audio Available Little Joe & La Familia, Las Nubes, Freddy Records
Los Hermanos Ayala, Bailando Con Los Farias, Hacienda Records
Amadeo Flores, El Sube y Baja, live recording

In the 1960's, Mexican Americans were entering a new era of cultural awareness. Bands like Little Joe and the Latinaires changed their name to La Familia reflecting this new identity with their roots.

ChicanasThe social upheaval of the Vietnam War era brought about political and social changes among America's youth. Once again, Mexican Americans were actively redefining their role in American society. The Chicano movement awakened a new generation of young Mexican Americans who demanded social and political change as a unified culture.

La Familia's song, "Las Nubes", combined an old Mexican song and layered-in symphony strings, a brass ensemble and harmonic vocals. Setting a new standard in Tejano music, the song embodied the spirit of the Chicano movement.

Copyright 2001 Galan Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

Transition to the Younger Generation

Real Audio Available Roberto Pulido, Si Tienes Corazon, Lago
Jaime De Anda y Los Chamacos, Dangerous, Freddy Records
La Tropa F, Pure Tropa F Energy Power Mix, Hacienda Records

Roberto PulidoNew ground was broken in the 1970's when Roberto Pulido y Los Clásicos began combining a brass sound with the accordion. Roberto would later become an institution, but in the early years, his performance style and tenor voice caught audiences by surprise.

But by the 1980's, conjunto music was losing out to American pop music. This pushed conjunto musicians to look for new ways to reach younger audiences.

Jaime de Anda y Los ChamacosWith a new style--a new look--and a new way of playing the accordion--Jaime de Anda and his band, Los Chamacos, accomplished this goal and reached the younger generation setting the standard for a new generation of conjunto musicians in the 1980's.

Dressing more like contemporary rock musicians as well as combining the use of a rock beat at the beginning of a ranchera, they started a trend that would bring an enthusiastic younger generation to conjunto.

Young audiences today have a deep connection to conjunto--even though many of them do not speak Spanish. Like many Mexican Americans growing up in the U.S., Jaime de Anda came face to face with his own dual culture--and through listening to the traditional conjunto songs, he eventually learned to speak Spanish.

Like Jaime de Anda, the younger generation of today is also starting to expandStudents their musical horizon and is listening to this traditional grassroots music again--and understanding more about their culture and where many of the songs of today came from. For many, it is a very moving experience and about much more than just music.

Copyright 2001 Galan Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

A New Face

Real Audio Available Eva Ybarra, Olvidate De Mi, Hacienda Records

Another growing trend among young Cecilia Saenzconjunto musicians today is the influx of females into this almost all-male genre. Historically, the accordion was not an instrument that women were suppose to play--and more importantly, music was not an occupation for women because it wasn't considered proper.

Eva YbarraOne exception to this philosophy was Eva Ybarra. A self-taught musician, Eva began playing at icehouses, restaurants and dance halls when she was six years old. Eva broke the barrier for other women accordionists and today remains one of the genres most prolific accordionists.

Copyright 2001 Galan Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

El Conjunto Regional

Real Audio Available Jesse Turner, La Regañona, Crown Records
Albert Zamora, Este Gran Dolor, Hacienda Records
Flaco Jiménez, El Guero Polkas, IDEAL Records
Mingo Saldivar, La Monjita de las Piñatas, live recording

Today's conjunto is considered a very happy and uplifting music with a young sound that belongs to its people. While it hasn't always been accepted by society, conjunto music is now being expressed and enjoyed by today's younger generation through new venues.

Students in a South Texas high school now have conjunto music in their curriculum--helping them understand who they are and the roots from which they come--through their music. As in the past, independent record labels like Hacienda, Freddy, and Joey are still a major force in conjunto music--and it is through them that the regional conjunto music is kept alive and distributed worldwide.

Victoria GalvanBut it is the new, young generation that will continue the accordion tradition--combining an Old World instrument with a modern day sound--in their own way.

Copyright 2001 Galan Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

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