Tejano Music: The Onda Continues

I need to give a tip of the DC sombrero to Vicente Arenas at KHOU for a great report on the resurgence of the Tejano music genre.

The early style of Tejano was wildly popular in Houston  until the mid 90s.

It was during that time that Tejano went off the radio airwaves in Houston. Artists just couldn’t sell the music, all because of a lack of star power.

Selena’s death left a gaping hole in Tejano music and since then, things have never been the same.

Fans, though, are hardcore and refuse to let it go.

“The music—the musicians—we are still here. It’s the support mechanisms that are not there anymore, but things are changing now,” said Jesse “Jumpin Jess” Rodriguez, a Tejano expert.

The 90s were an awesome time for the genre, no doubt. Corporations like Capitol Records, Sony, and others had taken over La Onda, signing up some of the biggies like Little Joe y La Familia, Mazz, La Mafia, Emilio, Selena, Johnny Hernandez, Laura Canales, David Lee Garza, Ram Herrera, and other showbands. But they went further and gave other smaller-name bands a shot. With it came some new touring opportunities, cash, a lot of distribution, and some marketing that these groups had pretty much done on their own previous to this boon.

Some would argue, though, that perhaps there was a lot of saturation of the market, too. While the biggies had paid their dues, some of the younger bands perhaps were still working on perfecting their talents. Still, after the death of Selena, it seemed the market waned, then the Gringos and “non-Tejano” execs who had squeezed every profitable penny out of the industry declared it dead, thus, big radio stations like Houston’s KQQK went away or changed genres. The big money people weren’t giving Tejano music a shot anymore because it wasn’t profitable for them. The musicians still had a talent to show off, and they still had to make a living. For the fans, the thirst was still there–for the music, for the culture. And as Jumpin’ Jess states, none of these bands left, the tours continued, though, with their own management. The big record companies kept a few big names, but their heart wasn’t in the marketing anymore. Even supergroups like Intocable went indie and managed themselves.

Nowadays, you see the big names like David Lee Garza and Joe Posada running their own independent recording companies. The tried and true Freddie Records, owned by the legendary Freddie Martinez, is still around, too, and with a stellar line-up of bands. No, the music and the culture never died. It’s the cash infusion and big media marketing that died out. I guess that’s what happens when you allow big money interests to basically buy your culture without some stipulation that it preserve it somehow.

Yes, I remember that 90s heyday. I remember well when El Grupo Mazz recorded their live album before 9,000 fans at San Antonio’s Rosedale Park–I was there! But I also remember this past Spring and the 6,000 fans at the Humble Civic Arena. And hell, I also remember the sell-out crowds at Miller Outdoor Theater every year for Festival Chicano. Yes, you still have those small nightclub crowds, and some bands still run risks between charging a percentage of the door or a set fee. But the touring continues. All one has to do is search them on Facebook, how in touch they are with their fans, to know that, while they are trying to make a living, they are still in it for the music and the culture. And to hell with the big money interests! These bands and the fans are owning their music.

No, the genre is not dead. Technological advances in recording, the ability to self-distribute and upload music to iTunes, and a strong surge in online Tejano stations help, too. And Arenas’ report about a home appraiser who wants to make sure the next generation keeps the music and culture going by running a school for Tejano music is just one story of many that is occurring at the moment. Thanks to the Texas Folklife Resources, we have the Big Squeeze Competition for squeezebox playing kids to compete for cash and recording contracts. Thanks to Juan Tejeda and the Tejano-Conjunto Festival in San Antonio, there is an outlet for this music for all ages.

No doubt, there will always be profiteers. If it happens on Wall Street, it will happen in ballrooms and nightclubs, too. But La Onda is very much alive, and given all of these advances, quite savvy, too. Will it be another 90s heyday? Who cares? It is our music, and as long as we retain ownership of our culture, it will continue to live and prosper.

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One response to “Tejano Music: The Onda Continues

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