La Mafia, David Lee Garza y Los Musicales, Emilio Navaira, Jay Perez, Ram Herrera
El Dorado Western Club Parking Lot @ Almeda Mall
September 26, 2015
Friday evening, the night before the inaugural Tejano Por Siempre Music Festival was to take place, the heavens opened up and poured sheets of heavy rain in South Houston. The festival's stage crew was forced to postpone its operations until sunrise the next morning. The Sunday after the show was also hit with cloud cover and showers. Yet on the Saturday of the event, despite some heat, the sky was clear, a cool breeze blew thorough and we were treated to a supremely spectacular sunset and moonrise. It was then that I realized that God was a fan of Tejano music.
This event was promoted as "The Biggest Tejano Event in History." Lofty aspirations, for sure, and certainly lots of pressure to live up to the hype. I mean, how can this show, held in a parking lot, be bigger than those Selena shows at the Astrodome? Or the annual Chicano Festival at Miller Outdoor Theatre? Or any of the Tejano Music Awards shows? Who was going to perform at this thing anyway?
And that's how they get you. They (promoters) pique your interest, allow your curiosity to grow and then deliver. I mean...Emilio, David Lee, Jay Perez, Ram and La Mafia. On one show?! Those guys are Tejano music. The only way they could have made this lineup better was to have debuted a Selena hologram! (Maybe next year, guys.)
As i drove up Kingspoint Road toward El Dorado, I could hear Ruben "El Tejano Loco" Peña on the mike. "Look at all of y'all out here! Who says Tejano is dead?!" he shouted with pride. I spoke with him briefly backstage, and he commented that the major motivation behind the festival is to keep the love and cultura of Tejano music alive in Houston. The team behind the festival began planning for this event about six months ago, and the roster of his partners reads like a Houston Tejano Music Hall of Fame.
DJ Iceman spun Tejano hits in between sets, keeping the crowd happy. I've never seen or heard anyone mix Tejano like hip-hop before, with cuts and scratching and chops. His baby-faced buddy DJ Eric O. was also on hand to complement the tunes. Both go way back in Houston's Tejano music history, with years of working at KQQK Tejano 106.5 FM, as well as the famed (now shut down) Hallabaloos Night Club on Old Galveston Road and T-Town 2000 (now Stereo Live). Also roaming around backstage was "Mama" Bea Zarate of the popular Bea's Island Club. There were the promoters Mikey Mike and Jesse Ramirez, and the jovial Cue Rodriguez. It was like taking the best parts of Houston's Tejano legacy and focusing their talents into one big show. Their combined efforts made for a top-notch event.
And yes, there was plenty of music to go around. Emilio still asked "Como Le Hare" and wore his cowboy hat onstage as his sons played drums and guitar, saving "La Rama De Mesquite" as his finale. Ram Herrera played most of his set as back-to-back-to-back tracks that sounded like a well-oiled Tejano hit machine. He ended by giving out roses to all the ladies within reach of the stage, belting out "Rosas Para Una Rosa" with hearty emotion and amor. Jay Perez made a cool entrance, and reminded us why his nickname is simply "The Voice." And then the king, David Lee Garza, provided more than 40 years of hit accordion-filled records to the adoring crowd.
Last to hit the stage was The Pride of the Northside, Houston's own La Mafia. The most successful Tejano band in history, La Mafia continue to dazzle their fans with a mix of traditional accordion-driven conjunto and love ballads with a modern twist. The appeal of lead singer Oscar De La Rosa is unmatched, and as he smiled, waved and sang to his fans, the band backed him up with a long list of old hits such as "Nunca," "Mi Llamada" and "Estas Tocando Fuego." Halfway into their set, bassist Tim Ruiz picked up his standup bass, and, accompanied by a bajo sexto guitar and accordion, Oscar sang an acoustic set of "Te Vas, Angel Mio," "Me Cai De La Nube" and other traditional conjunto tracks.
This show also featured a passing of the torch for La Mafia's drummer position. This was to be the last show for Joe Gonzales, who began the night sitting behind the kit and then passed the drumsticks to new recruit Eduardo Torres. A native of San Jose, California, Torres grew up playing conjunto music. He now calls Austin home, and just left a stint with Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears in order to join La Mafia. He was both excited and a little nervous to play his first show in front of this large crowd, but he settled in and did an amazing job keeping the beat. Oscar said farewell to Joe and wished him luck in his future endevours, and welcomed Eduardo to the family.
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And that's really what Tejano music is: a family. This show was a success without the help of a radio station, providing viability to the assertion that Tejano music is not dead in Houston. As long as there are Tejanos, there will be Tejano music.
When he's not roaming around the city in search of tacos and graffiti, Marco points his camera lens toward the vibrant Houston music scene and beyond. You can follow his adventures on Instagram: @MarcoFromHouston.