Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Dance music played by tejanos (Texan-Mexicans), a simple definition blurred by easy confusion with music norteña (on the USA-Mexico border), conjunto and even mariachi (see those entries), much of this summed up as musica chicana (Texan term for anyone of Mexican descent). In general Tex-Mex may be said to revolve around the accordion, important in most of these genres since the mid-19th century, the accordion ensemble being forged 1928-60 (according to Manuel Peña in his The Texas-Mexican Conjunto '85, U. of Texas Press). Recorded history parallels that of black folk music ('race' music), Jewish klezmer etc in that a market was identified and then exploited by record labels, a measure of diversity reflected in a long series of anthologies Una Historia de la Musica de la Frontera on Folklyric, drawing on original recordings made of dozens of regional acts by local labels refreshing the parts Bluebird, OKeh, Decca, Vocalion etc couldn't reach, including accordionists Santiago Jimenez Sr, Narcisco Martinez and Bruno Villareal; ensembles Los Alegres de Teran (named after a town in Mexico: Eugenio Abrego on accordion, Tomas Ortiz on bajo sexto) and Conjunto Bernal (led by Paulino Bernal, b 21 June 1939 in Rio Grande valley), with albums on Falcon, others on Mexican Columbia reissued on Caytronics/Caliente; also Los Hermanos Chavarria, Lydia Mendoza y Familia, Pedro Rocha y Lupe Martinez. Some had considerable local success, usually not approaching much commercial reward.

In post-war years the community became more aware of its own cultural roots and became attractive to chicano and anglo audiences alike; artists such as Mendoza, Flaco Jimenez, Steve Jordan, Sam the Sham, Doug Sahm, Los Lobos had success with the music or were influenced by it; similarly, acts like Freddy Fender, Ry Cooder, Santana, Peter Rowan and David Byrne have drawn upon it; films Chulas Fronteras and Del Mero Corazon captured it (soundtrack music on Arhoolie); non-documentary films True Stories (from Byrne) and The Border used the music to great atmospheric effect; a spinoff of the Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba was a curiosity about the music's roots. It may have come of age, yet as Jeremy Marre and Hannah Charlton pointed out in a TV documentary in their Beats Of The Heart series, in the 1980s it still immortalized tales of smuggling, outlaws and derring-do in newly created corridos: its roots run deep. Texas-Mexican Border Music series on Folklyric included The First Recordings, Early Corridos, Vol. 14: The Chicano Experience, Vol. 17: The First Women Duets, Vol. 19: The Chavarria Brothers etc; on Arhoolie: The Texas-Mexican Conjunto, Del Mero Corazon. See also entries for individuals. Books include Américo Paredes's A Texas-Mexican Cancionera '76, Marre/Charlton's Beats Of The Heart '85.

See the entry for Lydia Mendoza. Also, Rosita Fernandez (b 1918, Monterrey, Mexico; d 2 May 2006, San Antonio, TX) was another pioneer in Tejano music, one of 16 children who began singing when she was nine and recording in the 1930s. As opposed to ranchera music, the favorite of the working class, Fernandez leaned toward the canciones románticas, often accompanied by more sophisticated orchestral arrangements, and also specialized in boleros. Generations of San Antonians saw her sing at the Arneson River Theater, where a bridge was named for her, which she hoped was symbolic of her work as a bridge between two countries.