Music is an integral part of the makeup of San Antonio, but if you peel off all the city’s sound layers (rock, hip-hop, metal, country, Tejano, Americana, et al), at the center of it you’ll find conjunto—literally, a group; etymologically, it comes from the Latin coniunctus, meaning “adjoining, connected,” which makes complete sense: Conjunto is a hybrid of sounds emanating from the German settlers who introduced the button accordion and the polka at the end of the 18th century in South Texas and Northern Mexico, and is closely associated Eastern European sounds and Mexico’s norteña music. The debate on whether it was born on this or that side of the border continues to this day.
One thing no one argues is that San Antonio, widely regarded as “the birthplace of conjunto,” is the city that nourished, cherished and embraced the sound like nowhere else.
“SA is a Chicano, Mexicano, Mexican-American city, and conjunto was born in South Texas, from here all the way down to the Valley,” said Juan Tejeda, Chicano studies professor at Palo Alto University, director of the annual Tejano Conjunto Festival and accordionist/singer for Conjunto Aztlan. “It is so important for our cultural identity because we created this art form and it’s at the heart of who we are. It’s our gift to the whole world.”
But even rockers—or, at least, those who know where it’s at—appreciate conjunto and often compare it to, yes, rock ’n’ roll.
“I like it because it’s raw,” said guitarist Roland Delacruz of SA rock powerhouse Masters of Love. “To me, it’s like punk rock. And those fills on the drums, man … No drummer can do it, not even [Rush’s] Neil Peart. Rock drummers do it, but the fills are too nice. Then you go to some flea market and a guy playing a shitty drum set does it and it’s like, ‘Fuck yeah!’
It sounds simple but it isn’t easy—you gotta be good to play conjunto.”
Check this list of West Side-oriented clubs and events and add conjunto to the things you have to do in San Antonio before you die.
915 W Houston, (210) 227-5585
In 2014, the annual Tejano Explosion (featuring enough top conjuntos to make you an expert by the time the festival is over) will be held April 11-26 at 700 West Houston, but Cattleman’s Square itself is a popular Tejano/conjunto center year-round.
Graham Central Station
4902 Fredericksburg, (210) 979-9303, grahamcentralstationsanantonio.com
Two of the five clubs housed at GCS feature Tejano, conjunto and cumbias. Check listings regularly.
Tejano Conjunto Festival
May 14-18, 2014
This is the premier annual festival, featuring the best of contemporary and traditional conjuntos from Texas and all over the world (Dutch teen accordionist Dwayne Verheyden, a Flaco Jiménez protégé, is a regular guest star). At the Guadalupe Theater (1301 Guadalupe) and Rosedale Park (340 Dartmouth).
2530 Ruiz, (210) 435-5250
At the time of this writing, conjunto accordion legend Santiago Jiménez Jr. (Flaco’s brother) has a regular Sunday gig at this small meat market.
Tejano Music Awards
As of this writing, the date and location of the annual Tejano Music Awards are still to be determined, but the Tejano Fan Fair, where you can mingle with the biggest stars of Tejano and conjunto music, will take place March 13-16. Go to the TMA website for details.