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The return of en caliente

A Tejano pioneer makes a cable comeback

Back when Tejano music ruled the airwaves, fans packed the clubs and dancehalls on weekends to see their favorite artists perform live, then went home and watched their performances and videos on television. As the scene sharply declined at the tail end of the '90s, the myriad venues, events, and programs followed suit, shuttering their doors, reducing their scope, or going off the air. While the industry took a hit, this had the beneficial consequence of forcing the music to return to its roots.

David Lee Garza and his accordions a go-go won the 2004 Readers' Pick for Best Tejano/Conjunto.
"There's still some diehard Tejano fans out there," explains Roger Hernandez. However, the scene has grown much more diverse, with Tejano fans listening to norteño acts and dancing to salsa and merengue. As producer for En Caliente, a new program airing Sundays at midnight on KVDA Telemundo 60, Hernandez hopes to appeal to this diverse audience. Fortunately, he brings a lot of experience to his task. For the majority of the 1980s, the first incarnation of En Caliente covered the scene's growth and evolution. At the genre's peak the show prompted several spin-offs - a sure sign of a healthy, vibrant musical community - and fostered a loyal base of supporters who have welcomed its return.

In fact, save for the inevitable effects of aging, much of En Caliente's debut episode could have been taken from archival footage shot 10 or 20 years ago. The 30-minute episode featured Little Joe, noticeably older but sounding as good as ever in a live performance shot at Graham Central Station; videos from veteran artists like Los Dos Gilbertos; and an uncomfortable Jay Perez declining to comment on allegations surrounding his personal life.

Unfortunately, in this day and age of rapid-fire edits and MTV flash and dazzle, the laid-back production on this episode feels rough and dated as well. By the same token, En Caliente is no longer all Tejano. In addition to performances shot at Graham Central Station and Market Square, future episodes will take the viewer to Monterrey, Mexico to view some of the rising and established regional Mexican acts. Just as Texas-based audiences enjoy listening to groups like Bronco, Pesado, and the ever-popular Ramon Ayala, through En Caliente Hernandez hopes to expose regional favorites to our counterparts del otro lado. "The norteño groups crossed over," he says, acknowledging the blurring of already-fuzzy divisions in accordion-based music. Regardless of where they're listening, Tejano fans once again have a show to call their own. •

By Alejandro Pérez