Blending The Cultures: Piñata Protest Returns To Houston

San Antonio's Piñata Protest will perform at The Continental Club on Saturday, September 24 with Keli Rosa Cabunoc and Shame On Me.
San Antonio's Piñata Protest will perform at The Continental Club on Saturday, September 24 with Keli Rosa Cabunoc and Shame On Me. Photo by Dave Terry
Seeing Piñata Protest live for the first time is a memorable and dizzying experience. The San Antonio based Tex-Mex Punk rock band hits the crowd like a cold glass of water to the face and a shot of warm rum to the heart with their one of a kind, in your face sound.

“One of my favorites is definitely playing in front of a new audience who have never seen us before, that’s always a trip. People always freak out because they don't know what to expect,” says Àlvaro Del Norte the founder, lead singer and accordionist of the band.

Piñata Protest will return to Houston on Saturday, September 24 to perform at The Continental Club. They will be joined by Keli Rosa Cabunoc who performs Son Jarocho music, traditional songs from Vera Cruz, on the jarana, a small guitar-like instrument from the same region.  They will be joined by Houston’s knockout rockabilly band Shame On Me.

Since Del Norte started the band in 2006, they have blown up growing their fanbase with every show and the many opportunities they have had opening up for bands like Reverend Horton Heat, Mariachi El Bronx and The Blasters.

“When the band was starting, a lot of people thought the idea was dumb,” says Del Norte as he recalls getting support from Houston’s own Felipe Galvan from Los Skarnales, a band he admired for their shared ability to blend Spanish and English language music from a range of genres.

Growing up, Del Norte — originally from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico — heard traditional Mexican music all the time. “When I was little I hated that music. I really did. I'm the first to admit that I hated it because to me it was my parents' music and I was kind of rebellious in that manner,” he says.

Like many young kids, he gravitated toward punk rock and rock and roll using his youthful and high energy spirit to play bass and guitar. Del Norte was growing increasingly frustrated with the reality that each band he was a part of ultimately sounded like something that already existed, mostly American rock bands.

“I fell in love with that music,” he says of the fast paced punk rock songs he was learning and playing. “It changed my life and then when I was in college I started doing this soul and self identity search.”

Del Norte describes moving away from San Antonio and working at the meat market of a Fiesta grocery store where coworkers would bump Norteño music on the daily, causing Del Norte to return to the sounds of his youth to explore what he had missed before.

“That’s what sparked my interest in that whole world again and I started searching for anything I could online and buying CDs. Part of it was recognizing old songs that I hadn't heard in years and part of it was new songs that were older,” says Del Norte who was in between bands at the time.

“I wanted it to be unique,” he says of his original reason in forming Piñata Protest. “That's what sparked that whole idea, a band that combines these two worlds together and it's more reflective of who I am instead of playing American music so straightforward.”

The stretch from punk rock to conjunto is not a far leap as both use similar rhythm patterns and speak to social issues.

“When I was little I remember going to a lot of Tejano shows especially in Market Square for Fiesta in San Antonio, and I remember seeing the dance floor filling up and everybody whirling around. I was always mesmerized by that and I remember growing up and seeing mosh pits for the first time and to me it was just like a Tejano dance floor only faster.”

Del Norte sees the interest from audiences with the ever expanding push toward traditional music in other genres like Americana and Country as people searching for a return to their roots.

“People want to connect with their roots more nowadays in this very modern world filled with a bunch of technology. People want to connect with their ancestors and I think using more traditional instruments, song structures and the use of Spanish language are just ways to do that.”

Piñata Protest has released two albums, their latest the explosive 2018 Necio Nights. Currently, Del Norte and the band are focusing on a string of singles they will roll out while balancing recording with their busy tour schedules, something they are grateful to have again following the years of disruption due to the COVID pandemic.

“We are just doing what we've always been doing, which is experimenting with different rhythms and genres and seeing where it goes. That’s always part of the fun for us, not just performing songs but experimenting with sounds and seeing what we can get away with.”

Piñata Protest will perform with Keli Rosa Cabunoc and Shame On Me on Saturday, September 24 at The Continental Club, 3700 Main. 8 p.m, $17-20.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.
Contact: Gladys Fuentes