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Tejano Conjunto Festival Conjunto dreams 

Guadalupe festival glides into its 24th year with a forward-looking roots celebration

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Michael Salgado

This year's Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center's Tejano Conjunto Festival celebrates its 24th anniversary with a nod to the past and a look toward the future. Promising a return to its roots, 2005's festival emphasizes the traditional, acoustic origins of conjunto music, that distinctly South Texas sound that emerged from the meeting of German settlers and Mexican natives. At the same time, many of the featured artists borrow and blend from different genres, changing both the composition and the character of the music they love. It all brings to mind the inevitable question: What does it mean to play traditional music, when even traditionalists differ on its meaning?

Canciones de mi padre

A short history lesson is in order here. Initially, the basic conjunto ensemble consisted of an accordion and bajo sexto. Later, musicians added the tololoche, the heavy, booming upright bass, and a drum set. Eventually the tololoche gave way to the electric bass; today, some Tejano outfits have done away with the accordion outright, replacing it with a keyboard or synthesizer, a move Santiago Jiménez, Jr. might consider sacrilegious.

Festival schedule is included at the end of this article
While his brother Flaco has been called conjunto's ambassador to the world for the way in which he popularized the genre through collaborations with the likes of Ry Cooder and Dwight Yoakam, Jiménez, in contrast, is content with playing the traditional style, the way he learned it from his father, the late Santiago Jiménez, Sr. "I'm responsible for carrying on his music," he says, "because I don't want it to die."

The dancing cowboy

Domingo "Mingo" Saldívar agrees with Jiménez. He says, "This `conjunto` is where it all comes from."

He respects the important contributions that deceased pioneers such as Narciso Martínez, Valerio Longoria, Tony de la Rosa and Laura Canales made to the music, but fears that as the older generation passes on, the music will do the same. "We need to preserve `traditional conjunto` so young people know, years from now, where Tejano started," he says.

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Mingo Saldívar

Saldívar's family worked in the fields and followed the seasonal migrant stream, like many Mexican Americans of his generation. "If it could be picked, we picked it. If it could be hoed, we hoed it," he recalls. Wherever he went he tuned into the radio. "Of course conjunto wasn't heard over there - no Mexicans." But he did encounter hillbilly music, he says, country songs that sounded to him like English-language corridos. "It's very similar," he says. "It's about everyday life."

Saldívar translated the verses of his favorites into Spanish and in the 1950s started playing conjunto-fied versions of those songs. Audiences at the time didn't know what to think, so he shelved those tunes until after Freddy Fender and Johnny Rodriguez proved Chicanos could play country.

Even at 68, Saldívar manages to put on a show with more energy than most guys half his age. Fans call him "the dancing cowboy" because of the way he moves across the stage. "Since I've started playing the accordion I was never able to play and just sit still. I couldn't sit put. I started standing up and playing. Finally I found out that other guys wanted to play standing up."

Musica sin fronteras

While Saldívar combined conjunto with country, Michael Salgado took norteño - conjunto's Northern Mexican sibling - and popularized it with a new generation of Tex-Mex fans.

Salgado started in the Tejano market and immediately scored a big hit with his renditions of "Cruz de Madera," the classic Ramón Ayala and Los Relámpagos del Norte tune, done norteño style. "When I got into this I didn't think that those things would matter," he says. But when he went into different markets he encountered a different mentality. "They see you and think 'musica Tejana.'"

The left-handed Salgado, who turns his keyboard accordion upside down to play, is one of a handful of artists whose shows attract gente from both South Texas and Northern Mexico. Not that such distinctions matter to him. "We're all Hispanics: Mexicanos and Tejanos," he says.

Some traditions need breaking

Female-led groups make up just a fraction of the nearly two-dozen scheduled acts at the festival, paralleling their presence in the genre. Usually, as with Selena, the female lead sings, instead of playing accordion. Eva Ybarra does both.

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Ybarra, the preeminent reina de acordeón, is one of only a scattering of women who play the instrument professionally. A versatile, multi-talented performer, she has worked with Shelly Lares and Las Super Tejanas, and collaborated with canto nuevo artist Lourdes Pérez. When she's not onstage, Ybarra teaches at both the Guadalupe Center and Palo Alto College. This year she's joined at the festival by Corpus Christi's Linda Escobar - backed by Mingo Saldívar on "Rice and Beans," her latest single - and Marlissa Vela from Santa Rosa (who plays a special performance for seniors on Friday morning).

As a child she recalls being told she wasn't supposed to play the accordion because it's a man's instrument. "But I liked the sound," she recalls. Thanks to her father's encouragement, she mastered the nuances of the box.

Ybarra plays in the traditional style, but her presence in the men's club of Tex-Mex music couldn't be less traditional. "Nowadays it's better than before," she says. "They get used to it. There's a lot of young women who are good."

By Alejandro Pérez


Featuring Ruben Vela, Mingo Saldívar, Los Dos Gilbertos, and others

Wed, May 4-Sat, May 7
Rosedale Park
303 Dartmouth
$7 (one day); $10 (two-day pass); $15 (three-day pass); $20 (four-day pass)

6:00 p.m. - 7:15 p.m.
Henry Zimmerle (San Antonio)
7:30 p.m. - 8:45 p.m.
Linda Escobar y Su Conjunto with special guest bajo sexto player Honorio from Osaka, Japan (Corpus Christi)
9:00 p.m. - 10:15 p.m.
Invicto (Houston)
10:30 p.m. - 11:45 p.m.
Los Fantasmas Del Valle (Mercedes)

6:00 p.m. - 7:15 p.m.
Jonny Martinez y Grupo Bravo (San Antonio)
7:30 p.m. - 8:45 p.m.
Los Amables (San Antonio)
9:00 p.m. - 10:15 p.m.
Michael Salgado (San Antonio)
10:30 p.m. - 11:45 p.m.
Los Dos Gilbertos (Pharr)

5:00 p.m. - 5:45 p.m.
Conjunto Aztlan (San Antonio)
6:00 p.m. - 7:15 p.m.
Eva Ybarra Y Su Conjunto (San Antonio)
7:30 p.m. - 8:45 p.m.
Joel Guzman (Buda)
9:00 p.m. - 10:15 p.m.
Hometown Boys (Lubbock)
10:30 p.m. - 11:45 p.m.
Mingo Saldívar y Los Tremendos Cuatro Espadas (San Antonio)

11:15 a.m. - 11:45 p.m.
Guadalupe Students (San Antonio,
12:00 p.m. - 1:15 p.m.
Conjunto San Antonio (Spain)
1:30 p.m. - 2:45 p.m.
Dos Generaciones (San Antonio)
3:00 p.m. - 4:15 p.m.
Tina Y Los Gallitos (Missouri, TX)
4:30 p.m. - 5:45 p.m.
Los Cuatro Vientos de Jimmy Bejarano (Freemont, Ohio)
6:00 p.m. - 7:15 p.m.
Los Arroyos Del Rio (Portland, TX)
7:30 p.m. - 8:45 p.m.
Santiago Jiménez, Jr. (San Antonio)
9:00 p.m. - 10:15 p.m.
Texmaniacs (San Antonio)
10:30 p.m. - 11:45 p.m.
Ruben Vela (Santa Rosa)

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