By Jef With One F
By Bob Ruggiero
By Corey Deiterman
By Marco Torres
By Angelica Leicht
By Angelica Leicht
By Charne Graham
The kids Diaz is referring to are a bunch of middle and high school students with secondhand instruments and homemade costumes that nudged longtime HPMA Latin Music champion Norma Zenteno out for this year's honor. Part of the 100 singers, dancers and musicians trained by the Diaz Music Institute, Caliente is a tropical music ensemble that has performed around the country, appearing with Latin music legends such as Eddie Palmieri, David Sánchez, Danilo Pérez and Pete Escovedo.
"We started the group because we thought that we would be filling an educational need, presenting Hispanic music to youth but we've been surprised by the results. During our last (two-week) workshop we had about 20 little babies show up, and when I say babies I mean little, little kids like 5 years old. But by the end of the session they were able to perform two songs, on their own. That was really great."
"For the older kids we offer high-level training, conservatory style training. It's kind of a pressure cooker for them because we want them to understand what it is to perform on a professional level. We train them to be literate musicians, teach them not only how to read music but also how to read contracts."
Students from around Houston attend the various workshops Diaz holds throughout the year, with older, more accomplished kids working their way into Caliente. Local salsa and jazz musicians such as percussionist Jorge 'Cro-Cro' Orta and saxophonist Horace Alexander Young pitch in to train the kids, teaching theory and prepping for concerts -- all for free. And there's the rub.
No funding has been secured for the group despite its nonprofit status so none of the teachers or support staff are paid and Diaz has to scramble to find used instruments the students can borrow for performances.
"We've been able to do good things so far but now the needs are getting so great that we're really having to look for serious funding. Who knows, maybe this award will help us get some corporate sponsorship. Because if we're able to do this on very little money, can you imagine what we could do if we had the funds to put quality instruments in the hands of these kids, if we had a rehearsal hall we could use? If we can get funding to keep doing what we're doing, it would be wonderful opportunity for these kids."
It wouldn't be too bad for Houston's Latin music scene either. -- O.F.A.
Critic's Pick: Vudu Cafe
For this tall and fiery six-stringer, this award was a much-deserved show of love from a hometown that often neglects him. Much of Hooks's fan base is overseas -- in places like Germany and Holland he's regarded as one of Stevie Ray Vaughan's worthiest successors, while in his hometown he's as taken for granted as a great plate of barbecue. Maybe that's because it's just as easy to find tasty brisket as great blues here -- as the list of previous winners of this award shows. Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Mark May, Eric Dane and Little Joe Washington are pretty good company to keep, and Hooks seemed visibly stunned to have won. -- J.N.L.
Best Traditional Mexican
Tejano music veteran Fito Olivares wasn't on hand to receive his first ever Music Awards honor but talking from his East End home the next day he said "It's a great pleasure for us, especially because it's here in Houston. This is where we started, where we live, where our families are. It's wonderful to have the affection of fans here who have followed our work for so many years."
With a string of hits to his credit, Olivares's biggest claim to fame so far has been "Juana La Cubana," one of his earliest songs. "That's my favorite," he laughs, noting that "Juana" still pays a lot of his bills. Although Olivares wrote the Tejano classic, another group recorded it first, but it didn't exactly hit the charts. Then Olivares put the tune on his own album in 1986 and his ode to the loose-hipped, dancing Juana took off. "We had no idea that it would be such a big hit but thankfully people seemed to really like it," he says. "After us, other groups started to record it, in lots of different styles and now it's a standard."
With more than 23 years in the business, Olivares is a Tejano music pioneer and he was among the first to attract fans from both sides of the Rio Grande. "It used to be that you had either a Tejano audience or a Mexican audience. We've had the luck to enjoy both, with success in both formats."
He's also been part of some of the genre's most important moments including Selena's legendary 1992 Monterrey concert. Tejano music was still largely ignored south of the border and promoters were expecting a small turnout. More than 50,000 showed up.
"The Monterrey concert really happened just like they showed in the (Selena) movie. We were lucky enough to have appeared at that concert," he remembers.