Tejano music has its roots deep in the Meixcan-American experience. In the 1930s and ’40s, while “working class” Mexican-Americans were listening to and dancing to conjunto music, Mexican-Americans from “upper” classes were enjoying “musica orquestra”–music performed by Mexican and Mexican-American orchestras that, like their popular Cuban counterparts, featured Latin dances like danzones, boleros, mambos. Unlike Cuban orquestas these ensembles also dabbled liberally in American dances such as the boogie, swing and foxtrot, as well as German dances such as redovas, waltzes, mazurkas and polkas. [Let U. Texas teach you about “Orquesta Tejana,” audio samples and all]
In the 1960s and ’70s, the Mexican-American children of the generation that had enjoyed musica orquestra infused conjunto music with more orchestral instrumentation, adding keyboards, brass instruments and percussion. They even replaced the bajo sextos with electric guitars! Vocal styles became more complex, with bands layering multiple harmonies and embracing performance styles that were much more theatrical than the salt-of-the-earth delivery of traditional conjunto singers. This next generation fusion of conjunto music with orquestra instrumental flair became known as “tejano.”
While tejano music is an offshoot of conjunto, “tejano” has become a blanket term that covers three kinds of music:
— Conjunto: traditional conjunto music played on accordion, bajo sexto, bass and drum. There are many well-respected conjunto musicians today including “King of Accordion” Ramon Ayala (watch him perfom “Mi Tesoro“) and Flaco Jimenez, son of congjunto pioneer Santiago Jimenez (watch Flaco perform “Hasta La Tumba“). Accordionist Esteban “Steve” Jordan–known as “The Jimi Hendrix of the Accordion–passed away in 2010, but his musical legacy lives on. [Watch Steve Jordan perform with Valerio Longoria.]
— Orchestra: a more fully instrumented band that might include bass, drums, electric guitar, synthesizer, a brass section (very important!) and sometimes even an accordion. [Watch Ruben Ramon and the Mexican Revolution performing a set of tejano orchestra classics in 2011.]
— Modern: synthesizer-focused dance-pop bands that also have drums, electric guitars, bass and sometimes an accordion. [Watch Grupo Mazz perform modern tejano in the mid-80s | Watch Selena perform “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” and also “Missing My Baby.” (Let SelenaForever.com introduce you to the too-short life of Selena.)]
Since 2000 artists such as A.B. Quintinilla and The Kumbia Kings have created a new tejano music, either by taking current forms and blending them with contemporary forms like hip hop and reggaeton [Watch The Kumbia Kings perform “Boom Boom” at the 17th Annual Tejano Music Awards or like frequent “Tejano Music Award Female Vocalist of the Year” award winner Elida Reyna, producing tejano pop that comfortably crosses musical boundaries. [Watch Elida Reyna and Avante performing, “Playa del Sol” and “Ya Basta” in 2010.]
The Smithsonian introduces us to Tejano and Conjunto music | The Roots of Conjunto & Tejano music | Watch a clip from the inspiring 1976 documentary, “Chulas Fronteras,” which shows how music weaves into the daily Mexican-American life in the Southwest (and read a very positive review of the film)
COUNTRY: Mexico, U.S.
KEY INSTRUMENTS: Accordion, Bajo sexto, Bass, Drum kit, Saxophone, Synthesizer, Trombone, Trumpet
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