Popularity of Tejano music wanes; other regional Mexican music takes over
Oct. 15, 2011 at 5:15 a.m.
Updated Oct. 16, 2011 at 5:16 a.m.
The rich, reedy organ-like sounds of Joseph Garcia's button accordion wailed through the air of Victoria's Brentwood Subdivision on Tuesday evening as he practiced alongside his band mates in their manager's garage.
"The timing was a little off," said Miguel Sanchez, the band's manager, who was filling in for the band's absent bass player.
The slightly rushed tempo toward the end of the song seemingly went unnoticed, however, by neighbors out for an evening bicycle ride or passers-by in vehicles, all of whom acknowledged the band by smiling and waving as they passed by the open garage door stealing a few minutes of free listening pleasure.
"Let's do it again," said Sanchez, who emphasized to the boys that the song was for their upcoming CD.
Young, talented and determined, Garcia, and his pre-teen band mates Alec Sanchez, Aaron Garcia and Gustavo De Los Santos, otherwise known as Los Conjunto Kidz, are the new face of Conjunto music - one of traditional Tejano music's biggest enemy.
As Regional Mexican bands, which include conjunto bands, continue to take over the airways, traditional Tejano bands fight to remain relevant in the Latin music world.
Traditionally thought of as the music of their parent's generation, young conjunto musicians are bridging the gap by infusing their own distinct flavor with the older style of the musical genre, creating a new, younger generation of conjunto fans.
This unique flavor includes swapping out traditional matching western outfits with more youthful, urban clothing as well as mixing in beats usually associated with rap, rock, hip-hop and even chopped and screwed into the conjunto music.
Since forming in 2009, Los Conjunto Kidz has done just that, taking the local and state conjunto scene by storm.
Voted the 2011 "Best Young Conjunto group" by the South Texas Conjunto Association, the group's ability to successfully play conjunto music with a sound thought to be beyond their years has not only landed them several area gigs, but also a rapidly growing fan base.
"When the crowd hears them, they go wild," said Sanchez. "There are adult bands out there that can't play like they can."
Members of Los Conjunto Kidz said they were inspired to choose conjunto because of the longstanding family traditions of playing it.
"I saw my Dad playing all the time," said Alec, whose dad is the group's manager in addition to playing guitar in his own band. "Now, I have my own band to get up there and perform with."
The boys' choice to form a conjunto band received an unexpected positive reaction from their peers.
"I didn't expect it because you don't think anybody (at school) is listening to Spanish music," said Alec, a sixth-grader at Stroman Middle School. "But they say stuff like, 'You need to invite me to a show.'"
It also yielded a positive response from friends and family members.
"It's like a blessing," said Carlos Garcia, Aaron's father. "At their age, kids are out in the streets doing bad. This keeps him out of those bad things."
In addition to complying with a strict No pass/No Play rule put in place by the boys' parents, the boys also face other obstacles to making it big including the stiff competition from older, more established conjunto groups like Los Cuatro Del Barrio.
Known for its coordinated pachuco-style of flashy shirts and Stacey Adams shoes, Los Cuatro Del Barrio has worked for nearly four years to make it big in the conjunto market.
"We're trying to get somewhere," said Jesse, bass player and lead vocalist for the group. "We're just trying to get that one song."
The band has found moderate success, having opened up shows for a number of big name acts including Ramon Ayala and Little Joe and being inducted into the Tejano and Conjunto Museum in Pharr last year.
While conjunto groups continue to see success, Tejano bands have seen a decline in demand for their services, partially because the high booking cost.
"With nine guys on stage, you're not going to make a lot of money. We try to make it so that every guy makes at least $100 a night," said Frank Benavides, guitar player in The Majestics, a local Tejano band that mainly plays Tejano and Motown cover hits.
The influx of more first-generation Mexican-Americans has impacted both conjunto and Tejano bands' success.
"The Mexican crowd will pay $75 to see one of their preferred artists, but with conjunto, you could bring five bands the caliber of Mazz and other headliner bands for the same price, and they don't want to pay it," said Sanchez, 33.
Benavides said Tejano bands have a hard time being accepted by these newcomers.
"We're not Mexican enough as far as the music. Mazz is from Brownsville. If we play Mazz, they understand it," said Benavides, 57. "We have to prove ourselves if we sing in English or Spanish. It's hard to satisfy them and our people."
The bands of today also utilize social media and YouTube as a means of getting their names out to the public.
"We're targeting whoever likes our music no matter who you are," said Garza.
Tejano music struggling
Since 1998, Tejano music radio stations have steadily declined.
While many have shut down completely, a larger number have simply converted their programming to Regional Mexican music.
Once popular Houston Tejano station KQQR, is an example of that.
The use of the bilingual format and the focus on Tejano music catapulted KQQR to the top of the Spanish-language radio market throughout the 90's.
By mid-1999, however, the station had abandoned this format in favor of a new Spanish only policy, according to a National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies conference paper submitted by researcher Guadalupe San Miguel Jr.
The conversion meant bilingual commercials and DJ chatter would be replaced with Spanish-only ones, and the station would play more artists from Mexico and more musica nortena; thus moving away from polka-driven rancheras toward more cumbias and baladas, according to Miguel's paper.
Reasons given for the modification included the increase of Mexican immigrants in the listening audience, the increased popularity of norteno music, the slump in the Tejano music industry as evidenced by the closure of several Tejano night clubs throughout the state as well as the lack of charismatic Tejano superstars comparable to Selena or Emilio
The creation of online radio stations, however, provided an outlet for Tejano music to continue to thrive.
"They keep saying Tejano is dead, but it's not," said Lilo Argullez, program director for Victoria's Tejano station Magic 95.9. "It's still going."
Although they broadcast over the airwaves, Magic 95.9 also broadcasts over the web, which attracts listeners from as far east as Florida and as far west as Washington, said Argullez.
"Tejano isn't dead," said Benavides. "It's alive and well."
"I think it's good it's getting passed on from my generation to the next," said Miguel Sanchez. "It's good to know that music I played my whole life is not going to die with me. It's passed on to my son and hopefully, it will pass on to his son and so on."
Garza had this advice for other Texas-based Latin musicians.
"Don't let anybody tell you what you should play. If you like to play conjunto music, then play conjunto music."
Meanwhile, groups like The Majestics are just happy to continue doing what they love even if it is losing popularity.
"At our age, it's hard to do it for the fame anymore," said Benavides. "But we appreciate our fans."