Tejano Conjunto Music Takes the Stage in Sacramento
JOSH JOHNSON: This weekend, hundreds of people will come to Sacramento for a little taste of Texas. They're coming for the 6th annual Tejano Conjunto Festival. It's a celebration of Latino music from Texas that migrant farmworkers brought with them as they made their way west. Acclaimed accordionist Flaco Jimenez is headlining this weekend's show. Lisa Morehouse previews one band playing at Tejano Conjunto.
LISA MOREHOUSE: The Gloria family--cousins, aunts and uncles--is sitting around a kitchen table in Modesto, doing what they always do: playing music together. Thirty-year-old accordionist Albert Gloria remembers being a kid and watching his Uncle Beto’s band practice in the garage across the street.
ALBERT GLORIA: Instead of running around playing tag I’d just watch them.
MOREHOUSE: This band is called Texas Funk, and they play at clubs and parties around Modesto. It’s made up of three generations of musicians--the younger ones were born in California, the older ones in Texas.
The music they play is called Tejano Conjunto. Tejano is the Spanish word for Texan, conjunto means ensemble. The music is a blend of Mexican ballads and German polkas, brought together in Texas. The accordion is the star instrument, and it’s joined by bass, drums and a 12-string guitar called a bajo sexto. The lyrics often tell sad tales of broken hearts and forbidden love, but the rhythm is made for dancing.
Like the older generation of the Gloria family, many early Tejano Conjunto musicians and their relatives were migrant farm workers.
RAMONA LANDEROS: My first job was picking cotton at the age of five.
MOREHOUSE: That’s Ramona Landeros, who today organizes the Tejano Conjunto Festival. She grew up in the 1960s with no child labor protections.
LANDEROS: I remember reaching into the bud of the cotton plant and my hand was so small that it would fit perfectly inside the cotton bud.
MOREHOUSE: Originally from Texas, her family traveled across the West working in fields and living in migrant labor camps with terrible conditions. She says their music made life bearable.
LANDEROS: Dad used to say, “la música que te trae de la muerte.” In other words, music that would bring you back from the dead. After a long day’s work and you feel dead at the end of the day and then when they bust out the accordions, the guitars, and the bajo sextos, everybody would be outside listening to the music and before you know it, they start--you know, people start kicking up dust dancing.
MOREHOUSE: These Tejano migrants brought their music with them as they traveled, which is how it came to to California.
LANDEROS: I just thought God, it would be nice to have something out here because I know so many Tejanos in Oregon and Washington and Idaho, all the places that I’ve been and that we’ve worked, I knew there was always Tejanos that ended up staying in those places and I thought well, if we were to--if I was to organize a festival here in Sacramento, I bet people would come.
MOREHOUSE: And she was right. Now in its sixth year, the festival’s grown to three days. It attracts people from all across the West, keeping the music alive far from its roots.
Audiences come to dance to and to hear musicians like the Gloria family play with heart. Accordion player Albert Gloria says songs get passed down from generation to generation.
ALBERT GLORIA: We’re doing it for the love. If we wanted to do it to be famous we wouldn’t be doing this kind of music. We do it to keep the tradition going, and love of the music we’ve been taught by our parents, uncles, aunts, everybody.
MOREHOUSE: The Tejano Conjunto Festival runs through Sunday. Texas Funk plays the closing party.