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San Antonio Is The Epicenter For Quaking Conjunto Music

Conjunto Music—it marks one of the ways that in a real sense, San Antonio is like nowhere else. And now the TejanoConjunto Festival is celebrating that individuality. I spoke recently  to one of the guys who created it.

"My name is Juan Tejeda. I am a professor of Mexican-American studies at Palo Alto College."

Juan’s an intense, intelligent, look-you-straight-in-the-eye kind of guy. He’s also a squeezebox player, and he and a man named Ben King created the first Tejano Conjunto Festival 35 years ago at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

“The Tejano Conjunto Festival is the oldest and the largest Festival in the world that is dedicated to Conjunto music.”

A look at any genre of music should start with defining exactly what it is.

"Conjunto came about when the German and other European settlers brought this little squeeze box—the button accordion—with them in sort of the mid to late 1800s here to Texas and northern Mexico. The Mexican people here adopted the button accordion. The polka was sweeping the world at the time—it was like the popular salon dance music."

When the locals got ‘hold of it, the music began to change.

"Once we added the Spanish/Mexican bajo sexto 12-string guitar to the accordion, that was the beginning of a new original American ensemble and style of music. We then began synthesizing all different styles from around the world and musical influences from the United States. Got the cumbia from Colombia, the bolero from Cuba, of course the European polkas and waltzes, salsa and meringue from the African influence, Caribbean country music, blues, jazz, rock from the US and combined it and synthesized it to create a distinctive type of world music we know as Conjunto music."

It’s now become an original American Music. Tejeda says that Conjunto is important in ways hard to measure.

"Conjunto music matters because it is the primary voice of the Chicano, Tejano people. It expresses our hopes and our sorrows and on any given Friday, Saturday weekend night you’ll hear Conjunto music being played at our cultural celebrations throughout the United States. It just goes straight to our heart and soul. We love to dance to it. Very powerful synthesis of cultures and people much like we are—we’re Mestizos."

The Tejano Music Festival started on Wednesday and runs through Sunday night.

"Thursday we have the free screening of the documentary film This Ain’t No Mouse Music here at the Guadalupe Theater.  Flaco Jimenez and Santiago who are featured in the film will be here. Friday night we open up at Rosedale park from 5:30 in the afternoon ‘til 12 midnight. We have Los Hijos de lasLeyendas—the Sons of the Legends. So these are six different bands and the sons of very important legends and innovators and stylists in conjunto music.  On Saturday we have Hecho in Tejas, Made in Texas, one of the most solid and heavy of Conjunto bands today. And we start off Saturday at 11:30 in the morning with a student recital showcase with 7 different programs around the state who are teaching conjunto music. And on Sunday May 17th, the last day there at Rosedale Park we end with a special women in Conjunto Music—5 bands that have never performed at the festival before, fronted by female vocalists."

And Los Tesoros, including 91 year-old Rita Vidaurri will perform. And the festival closers will be San Antonio squeezebox legends.

"Ending up with Flaco Jimenez, Mingo Saldivar, Gilberto Perez, Bene Medina, Nick Villareal, Santiago Jimenez Jr.."

Everybody’s looking forward to Flaco. He broke a hip two months ago and now has a new one.

"He says he’s bionic now, he had to pull some parts from Pick-n-Pull. Ha!"

Flaco’s sense of humor is back in full force. 

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii