Tejano Music Fest 2013 feat. La Mafia, Emilio Navaira, Jay Perez, and Fito Olivares Humble Civic Center April 6, 2013
It was one of those rare, perfect, mosquito-free afternoons in the Bayou City. Little to no humidity, the temperature hovered around seventy, and the breeze blew softly through the smog-less sky. Just north of Houston, a few thousand lovers of Tejano music gathered at the fairgrounds located next to the Humble Civic Center. The mood was more family barbecue than concert, albeit with a better list of invited musical guests. And maybe best of all, the price of beer was only $5.
The crowd included a range of old-school and younger Tejanos, from cholos wearing fedoras, Locs sunglasses, and Dickies, to guys and gals dressed in Wranglers and roper boots, all ready to dance and sing along to a strong lineup of the brightest stars of Tejano music.
It was as if I were being transported back to my middle- and high-school days, when Tejano music ruled the airwaves, and Tejano artists still released new albums that people actually purchased. Before the so-called death of Tejano music.
I arrived to the festival just as saxophonist Fito Olivares was gearing up his band La Pura Sabrosura to entertain the large crowd with his fun and lively cumbias. This man was the reason I picked up an alto saxophone as a kid, first learning to play his songs by ear, then later learning how to read and write music as a skinny middle-school nerd. I would practice my versions of "La Gallinita" and "Juana La Cubana" until my lips bled, or until my mother asked me kindly to take a break.
Wearing matching red silk shirts, Fito and his band played hits such as "El Chicle," "El Cholesterol," and "Cumbia Caliente" with the same energy and emphasis as when I first saw them live in Pasadena at my cousin's quinceañera 20 years ago. The man is a master of his instrument, a virtuoso who dominates the woodwind with both agility and determination.
After his set, I spoke briefly with Mr. Olivares backstage, thanking him for his music, and expressing my condolences on the passing of his brother, Javier.
The MC took the chance between sets to thank the organizers of the festival, a new company called Imperial Productions. "Although we have no radio stations on the major airwaves, Tejano music lives on in the hearts of every single one of you" he said to the more than 4,000 in attendance. He continued to say that Imperial is working to bring more artists in concert, including conjuntos like Siggno, Intocable, and Grupo Solido, and well as the accordion legend Ramon Ayala.
"Esta musica no pasa de moda!" (This music doesn't get old/never dies!)
Jay Perez, the man nicknamed "La Voz (The Voice)," hit the stage next. Jay Perez earned that name as the leading vocalist for the band Latin Breed, and later for David Lee Garza's band Los Musicales. As a solo artist, he has given us a mix of traditional Tejano love ballads, salsa- and cumbia-influenced dance tracks, and old-school R&B covers.
He began his set with "Son Tus Miradas", an ode to the sultry gaze he received from his lover. "This one is for the ladies!" he shouts before commencing the Billy Paul classic "Me and Mrs. Jones". Indeed, "La Voz" sure does know how to get the ladies attention. Emilio Navaira and his band Grupo Rio followed Jay to the stage. The "Rey del Rodeo" (King of the Rodeo) was dressed for the role, wearing his cowboy hat, large belt buckle, Wranglers, and boots.
Emilio is a diverse entertainer, swinging fluidly between accordion lead Tejano, to cumbia, and then into country music. He treated the crowd to his hits "Eclipse", "Como Lo Hare", and the norteño classic "La Rama Del Mesquite."
The headliners of the festival were none other than the "Pride of The Northside," Oscar De La Rosa y La Mafia. The success this band, both in Texas and internationally, was matched by only one other Tejano artist, the queen Selena Quintanilla.
Led by the voice and charisma of their lead singer, La Mafia produced what can now be called classics of Tejano music. They are masters both the accordion and keyboard lead Tejano sound with hits such as "Estas Tocando Fuego," "Vida," "Si Tu Supieras," and "Un Million de Rosas."
"Que viva mi raza!" yelled Oscar as he took the stage. He showed a tremendous love and appreciation to his fans, interacting with them at every opportunity. He also dedicated the show to his brother Henry Gonzalez who passed away just last week. He followed by singing his popular version of The Chi-Lites' "Oh Girl," followed by James Brown's "Try Me."
Has Tejano music been resurrected? Not completely, although this festival was a step in the right direction. The music and the movement will always live on in our memories, but Houston is so ready for the next chapter.
Personal Bias: Tejano to the bone.
The Crowd: Lowriders & vaqueros, tejanitas & kiddos.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Y que viva la musica Tejana! (Love live Tejano music!)"
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Random Notebook Dump: Big props go out to a young lady by the name of Lily Rodriguez. She was in charge of distributing the press badges, managing the guest list, and running the backstage area. In all my years of covering concerts and music festivals, very rarely have I ever seen anyone work as hard as she did Saturday night. Whoever chose her for the job certainly chose wisely.