The rhythm bobs up and down in a perfect tempo for dancing with a partner, while the accordion augments the vocalists who are often singing en español.
It’s the American melting pot come to life in music, a blend of Mexican American and European influences that creates the beloved Tejano sound. This music signals it’s time to party and unwind, perhaps fueled by a bowl of menudo or a cold beer.
And that’s how the crowds have celebrated for the past decade at the Sacramento Tejano Conjunto Festival. The event will mark its 10th year in a weekend-long string of events, including dances at the Red Lion Hotel Woodlake and a festival on Sunday, Sept. 4, at Cesar Chavez Plaza that’s expected to draw upward of 6,000 revelers.
For Ramona Landeros, the festival’s founder, Tejano means much more than a cue to dance. The music was a kind of fuel while growing up as a farmworker, adding bursts of musical joy after trying days of picking crops. In areas populated by working-class Mexican Americans, you can be sure some Tejano music will be in the mix.
“It brings you back to life,” said Landeros, who serves as a trustee for the Twin Rivers Unified School District. “My dad always said if you’ve had a long day in the fields, (Tejano) brought you back to life. Music was a part of your everyday living.”
Tejano refers to the style of music which sprung up around central and southern Texas near the turn of the 20th century. Immigrants from Germany, Poland and other parts of eastern Europe started to settle in Texas during the mid-1800s, bringing an “oom pah” kind of European sound through polka and 3/4 tempo waltz stylings.
Mexican Americans had their own musical traditions, including balladlike corridos and dynamic mariachi music. But through the influence of Europeans also living in Texas, a hybrid sound was born. The accordion, a beloved instrument in German music, was soon adopted by Mexican American musicians and worked into a range of idioms from south of the border. The tunes were often performed by a conjunto, or a quartet that includes accordion, bass, drum and the 12-string bajo sexto.
As American music continued to flourish throughout the 20th century, so did Tejano.
“I like to consider it the true Mexican American music,” said Landeros. “It’s a fusion of jazz, rockabilly and blues mixed with ranchera and other Mexican music. Conjunto is that original traditional music which people still love, but we have both old and new styles (at the festival).”
Tejano has remained somewhat of a niche genre in the overall landscape of American popular music, but it has produced its share of legends. The late Flaco Jimenez, a master accordionist and Tejano legend, recorded with Carlos Santana and the Rolling Stones. Freddy Fender received a share of crossover success with the songs “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and others.
Tejano has also produced a unique subculture that stretches through the Southwest and beyond, with fans decked out in cowboy hats, western shirts and other down-home regalia. Tejano’s unofficial master of ceremonies might well be Johnny Canales, the Spanglish-speaking TV host who showcased Tejano stars including La Mafia and Ramon Ayala on “The Johnny Canales Show.”
But the biggest breakout act from Tejano remains Selena Quintanilla, simply known as Selena. She rose from appearances on “The Johnny Canales Show” to a career that was headed straight for the pop charts before she was murdered by the president of her fan club in 1995, as depicted in the cable movie staple “Selena.”
Selena remains an icon for the Tejano community and legions of Mexican American fans, with a Janet Jackson-like mix of innocence and swagger that resulted in millions of albums sold. The Sacramento Tejano Conjunto Festival will pay tribute to the late singer at a Selena karaoke competition.
“It’s an opportunity for young women, or men, to get onstage and show their talent,” said Landeros. “For someone that adores Selena, they’ll honor her by getting up there and enjoying the songs.”
The festival’s music covers many facets of Tejano, including Roberto Pulido’s modern conjunto style with saxophones and heapings of electric bass from Texas Funk. The weekend also includes a menudo breakfast and various after-parties that’ll keep the dance floor busy.
And the celebrations arrive at an opportune time, with the festival founded by Landeros as a way to honor her roots.
A bill which would provide overtime pay for farmworkers, AB 1066, was recently passed by the state Legislature and awaiting a signature by Gov. Jerry Brown. Either way, Tejano music is a celebration of the multicultural American experience.
“This music speaks to the working class and upward mobility of Latinos,” Landeros said.
Sacramento Tejano Conjunto Festival 2016
With: Jay Perez, Texas Funk, Rio Jordan, Roberto Pulido and others
When/where: Friday, Sept. 2 from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Red Lion Hotel Woodlake, 500 Leisure Lane, Sacramento; Saturday, Sept. 3 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Red Lion Hotel Woodlake; Sunday, Sept. 4 at Cesar Chavez Plaza, 10th and J streets, Sacramento, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Cost: $15 for Friday; $25 for kickoff dance; $25 for Sunday festival; VIP packages and reserved tables also available. The festival includes a menudo breakfast and after-parties for an additional cost.
Information: 916-529-5299, 916-922-2020 or on Facebook