Conjunto music may be a familiar sound to residents of Texas, but its worldwide appeal can be surprising. Max Baca, founder of Los Texmaniacs, is as surprised as anyone by the warm reception he and his band mates have had while traveling the world bringing their roots sound to far away countries, whether through their tours or their partnership with the Smithsonian Folkways.
“So many different cultures around the world and forms of folk music, that’s what I’m so fortunate, blessed and proud to have experienced,” says Baca about his travels. He and his Grammy award winning band, Los Texmaniacs will perform at the Heights Theater December 27 with Rick Trevino and special guest and Los Lonely Boys drummer, Ringo Garza.
“To be recognized by the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. is a big honor for us because if you listen to their repertoire, they record so many genres of folk music and they usually choose the cream of the crop, the real deal,” says Baca.
“They’ve given us awards saying we are ambassadors of this music and they say Los Texmaniacs breathe new life into conjunto music and so it’s an honor.” Los Texmaniacs bring the older sounds of Hispanic culture to younger audiences, keeping the sound and history of conjunto music alive.
Baca has had a long career which began at the young age of five, he is currently contributing to a biography about his life. He described how his father had an accordion in every room of their house growing up in New Mexico and encouraged Baca and his brother Jimmy to play not only accordion, but also any instrument that could be useful.
“It was a means of survival to bring food to the table playing three or four nights a week. My mom didn't really like it because come Monday morning for me to get up to go to school was impossible,” laughs Baca.
It was through his father that none other than Texas accordion god, Flaco Jimenez, summoned Baca to play with him. “He’s like a father to me. I’ve known Flaco since I was seven years old.” It was Flaco who pushed for Baca to join the Texas Tornados on bajo sexto.
Baca remembers being a young boy and his father calling him and his brother to the bedroom to see Flaco performing on Saturday Night Live. The Baca brothers were in awe seeing the kind of music they played being featured on something as important and American as Saturday Night Live.
“I’d have to say Flaco is the one that opened the doors for Max Baca and Los Texmaniacs because he’s the one that pushed for me to join the Texas Tornados and he’s the one that brought me in to be part of his band and tour all over the world with his conjunto band. I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”
“He told me along time ago he said, ‘Mi hijo, I want to see you go up. Be careful, in this life and this road there are so many different roads you can take and I don’t ever want to see you go down, I want to see you go up.’ My dad pushed me and brother so far and then Flaco took me to the next level.”
Flaco is one of the last standing pillars of the original Tejano scene and continues to play with Baca and Los Texmaniacs. He is currently recovering from two broken ribs after taking a fall but hopes to get back on stage soon.
Baca moved to Austin at the urging of Doug Sahm and played with the Texas Tornados until the death of Freddy Fender. “That’s when I decided to form my own band. The concept was to keep my traditional conjunto roots, because you cannot wander too far. Even though I grew up listening to Creedence and rock and roll, conjunto is who I am, it’s my culture, it’s me.”
Los Texmaniacs have held tight to their conjunto sound while combining elements of rock and roll. “That’s what makes it pretty unique, to play a blues tune or a honky tonk on the bajo sexto,” says Baca. His nephew, Josh Baca is the accordion player in the band and one of the finest players in the country.
Los Texmaniacs left out the rock and roll in their 2018 Grammy nominated release, Cruzando Borders. The album is a roots-based, conjunto record featuring some of the finest songs about the subject of immigration and belonging in a country you’re not necessarily from while at times yearning for home.
“I don’t really like to get too political but sometimes you have to make a choice,” says Vaca. They got a little help from friend and collaborator Rick Trevino to reinterpret his song, “I am a Mexican”, a song which describes the plight of undocumented immigrants and their often misunderstood and misrepresented desire to for a better life.
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Conjunto music has historically been about melting cultures, it originated when the German immigrants introduced the accordion and polka songs to the Mexican immigrants in Texas in the nineteenth century.
“In our genre the original pioneers are slowly fading. My goal is to keep the culture alive and to keep the music alive so the younger kids can continue on with it someday, take the torch and keep going with it because it’s part of our culture.”
Los Texmaniacs will perform with Rick Trevino Friday, December 27 at The Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th. Doors open at 7 p.m. $28-214.