Diversity spans from classic to conjunto

By Helena Rodriguez

How many of you out there in newspaper land can say you’ve enjoyed both classical and conjunto music — on the same night?

The music of famous symphonic composers and contemporary Tejano musicians?

The smooth brass and strings of a philharmonic — and the rumbling, accordion-fueled sound of a Tex-Mex band?
That’s exactly what I did one night in January of 2002 while working as an arts and entertainment writer for the Abilene Reporter-News in Abilene, Texas.

Although I lived a sheltered childhood growing up in north Portales, I like to think that the past 14 years I’ve spent as a journalist have really broadened my horizons. To say the least, it has created for some interesting experiences somewhat unique to me because of my upbringing and career choice.

On this memorable Saturday night in 2002, I had tickets to the Abilene Philharmonic’s “A Dance Odyssey Concert” at the Abilene Civic Center. I also happened to have tickets for the Jaime y Los Chamacos concert at JT’z Night Club for the same night. Instead of tossing the tickets in the air to see which landed on the floor first, I went to both events.

On that night of extreme musical diversity, I journeyed from one toe-tapping realm to another, reveling in two completely distinct forms of dance music. By night’s end, I counted myself culturally steeped indeed. As I wearily laid my body down to sleep, I thought how privileged I was to experience such diverse worlds. I seemed to posses the power to delve in and out of each one of these worlds as I pleased. Even more strange, these two worlds often came together — and still do — in the strangest of ways.

On that musical rollercoaster of a night, I soaked in two contrasting forms of polkas. First I listened to the lively “Tritsch-Tratsch Polka” by 19th century Viennese composer Johann Strauss at the philharmonic concert. It ended at 10 p.m. — just as things were getting hopping at JT’z, the Tejano night club on a different part of town.

I arrived at JT’z in time to catch Jaime y Los Chamacos, a South Texas outfit, playing a different kind of polka, their 1990s regional Mexican hit song, “Mi Musica Favorita.” The song is a tribute to Texas-born conjunto pioneers, Ruben Naranjo, Ruben Vela and Ramon Ayala.

Conjunto is a folksy form of Mexican music dominated by the 12-string Spanish guitar, or bajo sexto, and the button accordion. Basically, conjunto is to Tejano music what Western Swing is to country.

That was certainly a memorable night, and yet it was only one of many incidents of extreme diversity I’ve been fortunate enough to experience. Because of my knowledge of Spanish music, I had another great experience when I worked with the Hobbs Daily News-Sun in 2000. I flew to Las Vegas, Nev., to do a story on another conjunto band, a top regional Mexican group called Conjunto Primavera, who were celebrating the release of a CD and the success of their previous one. Conjunto Primavera flew me and other media representatives to Vegas, putting us up at the Flamingo Hilton.

Another culturally enriching experience was when I wrote a story for the Abilene newspaper on an impressive Asian art collection at the prestigious Old Jail Art Center in nearby Albany. The ladies at the museum were amused when I told them that on that same day, I had to interview a local rapper called Poetic Thug, a musician who also claimed to create “art.”

It doesn’t stop there. Although I’m no longer a full-time journalist (I hope to teach journalism after I complete my master’s), the diverse life I continue to live is evident in my car. On MY side of the radio dial, as I call it, I have a classic rock, a Tejano and a regional Mexican music station programmed. I love the disco classics on KTQM. They take me back to the carefree days of my youth. And on the other side of the radio dial, my teenage daughter, Laura, has a hip-hop and a contemporary country station programmed.

Wonder where she gets such diverse tastes in music?

While we cruise around, Laura and I switch back and forth from these stations, moving in and out of different cultural realms which so often collide and become one and the same.

For us, it’s just another day!

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at
helena_rodriguez@link.freedom.com