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November 27, 2014

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Tejano music’s fifth annual Las Vegas Super Weekend gets underway

Tejano Festival

What: Las Vegas Super Weekend, hosted by the Texas Talent Musicians Association.

When: Friday and Saturday.

Where: Bally's and MGM Grand hotel-casinos.

Tickets: $42.50, $60, $100.

Information: For show times and locations, call Bally's at 739-4567 or the MGM Grand at 891-7777.

It's the name most often equated with Tejano music: Selena.

But to say that the Southwest Texas-born, Mexican-influenced musical genre began and ended earlier this decade with the 23-year-old songstress' tragic death is incorrect, according to industry professionals, music critics and Tejano music fans.

After all, how could the genre have gone kaput when Tejano singers -- including flavor-du-jour Emilio Navaira and the Grammy Award-winning band La Mafia -- continue to enjoy musical success?

Further examples of Tejano music's popularity can be experienced Friday and Saturday, when the nonprofit Texas Talent Musicians Association hosts its fifth Las Vegas Super Weekend at Bally's and MGM Grand hotel-casinos.

The event kicks off Friday with an autograph party featuring a slew of Tejano music stars -- including singers Margarita, Ricardo Castillon and Tejano Music Award-winner Shelly Lares -- who will perform later that evening as part of the Super Showcase.

A Super Dance -- featuring popular Tejano dance bands David Lee Garza y Los Musicales and La Tropa F, as well as a reunited version of the '80s group Latin Breed -- will be held Saturday night. The two-day Super Weekend event is expected to draw 5,000 fans.

Many of those will come from surrounding states -- largely California, Arizona and Washington -- the Midwest and, of course, Texas, as well as a few from Mexico.

"It's a huge event," within the Tejano music industry, assures Sally Fletcher, editor of Planet Tejano magazine, based in San Antonio, Texas, which boasts a circulation of about 65,000 in the U.S. and 35,000 in Mexico.

Fletcher, who has attended the past four Super Weekends, says the event is surpassed in status only by the Tejano Music Awards, also sponsored by TTMA, which is held annually at San Antonio's Alamo Dome.

During the awards program, which is open to the public, up-and-coming Tejano musicians are routinely provided opportunities to perform. Past performers have included Selena, Castillon, La Tropa F and the group Masizzo.

Tejano music is "from the heart, from the culture," TTMA Vice President Emilio Amaya says. "It's danceable and enjoyable and people have a good time" when they hear it.

Here's a primer on Tejano history, courtesy of the music website, onda.com: A Tejano is a Texan of Mexican descent, whose lineage stretches back to the mid-1700s when the Rio Grande Valley was settled by Spain.

With the immigration of Europeans to Texas and Mexico -- particularly Germans, Poles and Czechs -- so came their music and dances including polkas and waltzes. Many were forced to flee the area, however, during the Mexican Revolution, and head to South Texas, which was inhabited largely by the rural Tejano people.

During the early part of this century traveling musicians -- playing mostly flutes, guitars and drums -- would visit farms and ranches, singing tunes of Spanish and Mexican origin. The residents of European heritage incorporated traditional oompah sounds into the music. Accordions were added, birthing what is called "conjunto" music. With the addition of drums, the bajo sexto (a 12-string Spanish bass guitar) and lyrics in the '40s, the Tejano sound began taking shape.

It continued to evolve over the decades, and was also influenced by disco during the '70s and '80s.

Ramiro Burr is a music reporter for the San Antonio Express News and author of the recently-published book "The Billboard Guide to Tejano and Regional Mexican Music" (Billboard Books, $18.95). "Just like modern country (music) evolved from early bluegrass music in the '40s, so did Tejano music evolve from rural cunjunto (music)," he explains.

The style of Tejano music heard most commonly today was born in the mid-'50s.

The genre, Burr explains, is similar to rock music in that "it's got a lot of the same spirit with the ability and the interest" of its musicians to play a variety of instruments.

"All of the pop elements are there," Burr says. "The modern urban Tejano guys sometimes have long hair, (wear) leather, a lot of glitter. They have big speakers, a lot of smoke (in their stage acts), just like your rock theatrics, whereas cunjunto is still traditional, kind of like Western swing (music)."

Tejano music was, however, thrust into the spotlight in the mid-'90s following the 1995 murder of Selena (whose full name was Selena Quintanilla-Perez) at the hands of a former assistant.

During her career, the Corpus Christi, Texas, native enjoyed several Tejano hits -- "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" and "Amor Prohibido" among them. Following her murder Selena's American crossover release, "Dreaming of You," debuted in the top spot on national music charts and sold more than 3 million copies. A movie about her life, starring actress-turned-singer Jennifer Lopez, followed.

Fletcher, for one, credits Selena's untimely death for putting a face on Tejano music.

"I think anyone in the industry who doesn't really say this is not being totally honest, that the tragedy that happened with Selena did open a lot of awareness," especially among English-speaking listeners, she says.

"I think she was one of the leading lights," Burr says. "She helped in her death to expand (Tejano music) far beyond what it would have done on its own, although it was moving" toward wider musical recognition.

There was a time earlier this decade, he explains, when Tejano was the fastest-growing American music genre. Over two years, the country went from having no FM radio stations with strictly-Tejano music formats to sporting about 70 of them.

That is, however, no longer the case. Due to the decline in Tejano music's popularity in recent years, Burr estimates that now only 20 stations nationwide still sport a Tejano format.

The "overflow" of emotional fans' reactions following Selena's death "astonished" both the Latino and non-Latino press, he says, and generated a couple of year's worth of publicity -- from the murder trial to the movie's premiere.

"The problem was," Burr says, "everybody had the wrong idea about Tejano (music being) alive and thriving. ... The industry was on a down cycle."

One that continues today, he says, calling the popularity plunge "normal" and "typical" of any musical trend. "Things get pruned, things get shaken out. The weak go by the wayside, the strong reinvent themselves, try to find a new sound."

But you'd have a hard time convincing Albert Salazar that Tejano's popularity is waning. The Las Vegas resident is a founding member and president of the board of directors of the recently-formed Tejanos in Nevada social club.

The group, which boasts about 25 members, meets monthly at the Rafael Rivera Community Center in East Las Vegas to celebrate Tejano culture.

Salazar, a 29-year-old sales representative originally from El Paso, Texas, says the club was born when he and some friends recognized a lack of all things Tejano in Las Vegas.

"There's not a strictly Tejano dance club or lounge where we can just sit and listen to our music and (eat) our food or what have you," Salazar says.

So, what does it take to become a Tejanos in Nevada club member? "If you were born and raised in Texas, you're in!" Salazar says.

A chapter of Burr's book addresses Tejano culture. He says, "It goes along with that whole myth of Texas, of being on the border (of Mexico), of being bicultural, bilingual, of everything being big, everything being ... unique."

Also, Tejanos are typically fans of all types of music -- from rock to country to blues.

"That's the spirit -- that we enjoy it all -- and the (Tejano) bands kind of reflect that," Burr says. "The musicians are very versatile and they pride themselves on that."

But more than just indulging in traditional Tejano culture fun, Salazar says Tejanos in Nevada strives to serve the community.

Besides having members volunteer to take tickets and work behind-the-scenes at the upcoming Super Weekend events, Salazar is pushing to make Tejano music a staple on the local airwaves. He recently met with management at a local Mexican radio station to discuss getting Tejano music into its rotation.

Meanwhile Tejanos in Nevada is working to establish a scholarship fund, possibly to benefit the children of its members.

"We have an agenda, we have things to discuss," Salazar says. "Our mission is to socially introduce and promote the Tejano sense of pride and our identity to this community."

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