Hot Sounds in the City

The 5th Annual Houston Press Music Awards

Best Tejano -- La Mafia
Much like many local blues artists, hometown boys La Mafia are better known internationally than they are here in their own backyard, but that's not likely bothering anyone in the La Mafia organization. With the April release of Vida on the group's CDI label, and 1994 Billboard Latin Music Awards for Regional/ Mexican Song ("Me Estoy Enamorando"), Hot Latin Track of the Year ("Me Estoy Enamorando") and Regional/Mexican Album (Ahora y Siempre), the band is garnering all the recognition, and sales, anyone could possibly need.

La Mafia made its rep by bringing modern pop showbiz and electronic instruments into the world of traditional Tejano music, and in the process became one of the first truly international Tejano bands, with large followings in the U.S., Mexico and Puerto Rico. With its own studio near Houston, its own record label distributed by Sony, and a fan base that crosses geographic and ethnic lines, La Mafia should justly have been nominated in the "Best National Act" category, but you take your honors where you find them. (B.T.)

Local Musician of the Year -- Chris King
"Local Musician of the Year" is a new category for the Press Music Awards this year, and one more way to recognize a local artist who's made contributions above and beyond the call of duty. Any one of the nominees on this year's ballot was easily qualified for the honor, but when vote came to vote, readers chose Chris King, a 23-year-old musician most widely known as bass player for Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys.

While King's an undeniably talented bassist, it's more likely his presence at a focal point in the local music constellation that's earned him the recognition of his peers. While too many local musicians were bickering over trivia of style and power, King set about organizing one of local music's most fondly remembered assemblages -- a working conglomeration of disparate musicians King had the humor to tag Bloodfart. So what if the band played an inspired-to-obnoxious range of '80s rock chestnuts that could make you dance until your stomach turned? The point was the sloppy energy of the variable-member band. Bloodfart bled a come-together sort of vibe, and Chris King had a big hand in making it happen. For that, for his contributions to the Imperial Monkeys, and for a continuing trooper's show of support for local music, Press readers named Chris King Local Musician of the Year. (B.T.)

Best Classical Ensemble -- Allegro String Quartet
Founder Mike Dudley, who has a day job with the Houston Grand Opera, put together the Allegro String Quartet after finding his extracurricular engagements booked with unprofessional musicians. The cellist moans, "I got tired of agents putting me with people who couldn't play, or got lost, or didn't know their job." For five years, the Allegro String Quartet has maintained its standards of quality, says Dudley, "everywhere in town -- high-end parties, celebrity events. We can play everything from Bartók to Bach to Whitney Houston. We have pop arrangements in our books and we do whatever anyone wants." Speaking of first violin Denise Couch, second violin John Kramer and violist Katherine Jelson, Dudley says, "We share the same attitude about professionalism. Music is a business, not something you do entirely because you love it." He feels the quartet's belief is that, "You can love it and get paid to play it, which is a novel concept in this town."

The quartet is about to record and release two CDs. "We won't get rich off these," Dudley suspects, "but we have a demand in our client base for recordings." People are always asking the Allegro String Quartet for more, but the players' schedules keep them too busy for many concert performances. This demand for their music, Dudley points out, is "a perfect example of how the economy should work -- provide quality, and the customers want more." (E.S.)

Best Reggae/World-Beat -- Ethnic Rain
Latin blues, La Nueva Cancion and bouncy rhythms on the charango, zampona and bomb all fit neatly into Ethnic Rain's world beat oeuvre. The music has a good beat and it's easy to dance to, but Ethnic Rain is as likely to play a benefit as a club. The line-up includes a law student (Tanya Urquieta, guitar, keyboards, vocals) and a Catholic Charities caseworker (Kimberly Sue Shelton, vocals), so the group doesn't just talk the talk about good works and trendy issues. Their performance at the Houston Hispanic Forum Career & Education Day earned a glowing review -- in the Houston Peace News. Ethnic Rain's music got good marks, but the story was about the group's activism.

Don't get the wrong idea -- Ethnic Rain is an entertaining band, known to many for their fine shows at pure-partying celebrations such as Cinco de Mayo and the Houston International Festival. Ethnic Rain is also on its way to the studio. The band will be laying down tracks at Sugar Hill in August for a forthcoming CD and cassette. (E.S.)

Best Cajun/Zydeco -- Pierre and
the Zydeco Dots
Everyone with a washboard shirt is trying to lay claim to the crown, but there is no king of zydeco since Clifton Chenier passed on. We're not saying Pierre is heir apparent, but we will note that he's been sunk deep in the frittoir genre for quite a spell.

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