German immigrants came to Texas around the mid-1800s and settled in Central Texas in towns like Fredericksburg, Gruene, and New Braunfels--better known as the German Belt. Bringing their language, culture and musical traditions, they made contact with the Mexican Americans. They eventually moved further south to South Texas and Northern Mexico to work the fields and the construction of railroad lines and brought with them the accordion to play their waltzes and polkas.
Popular in German, Polish and Czech immigrant communities, the accordion was a central instrument in music that was central to the lives of these communities. Though the communities remained separated, the Mexican Americans liked the lively sound of the early button accordion heard at dances throughout the German settlements. The accordion was eventually embraced by the Mexican American communities who were working to carve out a living for their families in a society that many times shunned them. They also began to slowly incorporate the traditional European dances, like the lively steps of the polka, into their own dance styles.
The first accordions brought to Texas by the German immigrants only had one row of buttons. A second and third row were eventually added. Today, the three-row button accordion is the accordion used by conjunto musicians. Through working the air button, they are able to get the real power into it--creating the exciting sound they are known for.
Early accordion music was purely instrumental, making it accessible to different ethnic communities in the region. Before long, Tejanos began incorporating Spanish lyrics and added the bajo sexto instrument to finally make the music their own. Within the Mexican American communities, the accordion was usually taught by an older family member to a younger family member in order to carry on family traditions. Of the three main accordions used by musicians--diatonic (button); piano; and chromatic--the piano and chromatic are the preferred accordions in America and the rest of the world. However, conjunto musicians remain loyal to the sound of the button accordion.
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