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Hispanic Heritage


The late twentieth century has witnessed some notable changes in the music of Latinos in the United States. A "meltdown" has occurred, resulting from styles that have crossed over and overlapped with others. An important example of this crossover comes from Texas, where Música Norteña (more particularly the Texan-Mexican conjunto) and orquesta have witnessed a dramatic convergence. The traditional orquesta, as epitomized by Little Joe> y la Familia, has virtually disappeared in the 1990s, replaced by such groups as Mazz, La Mafia, and others. These carry on the basic stylistic features that identify the music as "tejano," but the mainstay of the orquesta — the horns — have been replaced by electronic keyboards that imitate the sounds of trumpets and saxophones. At the same time, these ensembles often incorporate the accordion, thus lending them a hybrid character.

Also on the trend-setting Texas scene, the absorption of country western elements into tejano music has intensified since the 1980s. Borrowing from country western is not new to tejanos (it took place as early as the 1960s), but in the 1980s and 1990s, this absorption has accelerated. Thus, conjunto performers such as Emilio Navaira and Roberto Pulido, and especially The Texas Tornados, a new group made up of veteran musicians (Freddie Fender, Flaco Jimenez, Doug Sahm), have fused conjunto with country western to produce a novel sound that adds a new dimension to tejano music.

Selena and Emilio Navaira led the pack from the top of Billboard's charts to stadium tours to multiple awards. But it was Selena, on the road to becoming a crossover star to mainstream pop, who made tejano music known to the majority of U.S. households. At the time of her death at the hands of the former president of her fan club, the Corpus Christi-born and bred singer/bandleader had captured the hearts of young Chicanos from across the Southwest and of youngsters throughout Mexico. Their mourning catapulted Selena into international headlines and her latest albums into best sellers.

Tejano music continued its explosive growth in the Southwest with top artists like Mazz, La Mafia, Selena, and Emilio playing stadiums like San Antonio's Alamodome, Houston's Astrodome, Dallas' Texas Stadium, as well as other major venues. In fact, in February 1995, just before her death, Selena registered the highest ticket sales in history for the Astrodome during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. In 1994 the Tejano Music Awards, which recognize the best in Tex-Mex, moved into the Alamodome.

Since 1990, Tejano artists such as Mazz, La Sombra, and La Mafia, initiated major tours of Mexico and made regular appearances on national Mexican TV shows such as "Furia Musical" and "Siempre en Domingo."

In San Antonio, KXTN-FM remained the city's number one station with its all-Tejano, bilingual format. Dallas got its first full-time Tejano station in KICK-FM 107.9, which went on the air December 1, 1993. Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Austin, and Laredo are all cities now with two Tejano FM stations. Prior to 1990, none of the major markets had one station devoted to the genre. Since 1991, at least 75 stations from Brownsville to California, including Mexican border cities, have switched to full-time or part-time Tejano formats.

Across the Southwest, major nightclubs opened to spotlight Tejano music. New clubs include Dallas' Tejano Rodeo and Club Trends; Fort Worth has Tejano Rodeo and Zaps; San Antonio has Desperado's, Tejano Rose, Ttown, and Bronco Bill's; and Houston has Zaaz, Emilio's Country Club. Typically these clubs have capacities of 1,200 to 1,600 patrons and feature live Tex-Mex acts two to four nights a week.

Source: Hispanic American Almanac, Gale, 1997; DISCovering Multicultural America, Gale, 1999.

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