Norte de México
When we first moved to Austin, we lived in a run down 2-bedroom apartment just across from the “lake” (then called Town Lake), a Colorado River reservoir that everyone just calls “the river.” The place was so bad that, a couple years after we moved out the damn thing was condemned. We had ants constantly, sometimes even fire ants, and any time we went more than a couple weeks without changing the filter on our air conditioner, the damn thing would flood the hallway just inside the front door.
About 90% of the residents of the apartment complex were recent immigrants from Latin America, mostly Northern Mexico, and the vast majority of them were undocumented. The apartment below us had, at any one time, about 20 occupants, all men in their late teens to mid-30s, who lived in shifts. No one spoke English, which was great for me, because it gave me a chance to practice my Spanish with native speakers. This was a bit of a challenge since people from Northern Mexico speak really fast and I’d learned Spanish from native Kentuckians and Tennesseans who spoke at a Southern pace (and with Southern accents), but I enjoyed it immensely, and made some good friends.
Coming from Tennessee via Kentucky to what was in essence a little pocket of Nuevo Loredo in the middle of Texas, the biggest shock for me was not the complete lack of spoken English, but the music. We moved in on a Friday, and after a long day of driving, unloading, and unpacking, I finally settled into bed at about midnight, but I was prevented from sleeping by the constant thump of a stand up bass playing two notes with occasional flourishes: BUM, bum, BUM, bum, BUM, bum, BUM, bum, BUM BUM BUM BUM. It drove me insane. This was my introduction to Tejano music.
If you have never heard Tejano, it is a combination of various American musical styles with traditional Spanish and Mexican music. The most basic form is played by variants of the traditional conjunto, a Mexican band comprised of a stand up bass, an accordion, a drum, and a bajo sexto, and in Tejano the conjunto is often accompanied by horns (particularly trumpets) and occasionally electronic keyboards. The musical form originated in Texas, but apparently became very popular just south of the border, and on Friday and Saturday evenings, the guys in my building would sit in their trucks in the parking lot that was just below my bedroom window and blare the stuff. Through the walls I could only hear the bass, which often felt like it was in my skull rather than downstairs in the parking lot, and kept me awake many a weekend night. I still sometimes hear it in my dreams. They aren’t good dreams. I hated that music. I still hate it.
But there is a variant that has become more popular these days, often just called “modern Tejano,” that is heavily electronic, and blended with American and European-style dance music. This I kind of like. Nortec Collective, a musical group from Tijuana with a rotating lineup revolving around two artists, Bostich and Fossible, are the most accessible versions of this for non-Tejano listeners (an I’m definitely a non-Tejano listener). They’re so accessible to American audiences that I heard them on NPR this evening, which caught me a bit off guard. So I figured I’d play some here. The song at the top is pretty straight electronic tejano, as you can probably tell from the bass line, but they have some much less straightforward songs as well. Consider:
Not really a video, but I love the Tejano version of Daft Punk outfits. Also:
Anyway, I hope you’re having a wonderful, conjunto Tejano-free weekend.