BY EDUARDO MARTINEZ
The 7th annual Freddie Gomez Memorial Conjunto Concert took place this past Saturday night in Brownsville, and it was a loving tribute to conjunto music as a whole, and to the pioneers of this genre of music in South Texas.
Timo Ruedas, Juan Antonio Tapia, Lupe Saenz, and all the people at the South Texas Conjunto Association (STCA) deserve credit for leading the way for grassroots conjunto music here in the Rio Grande Valley. When this event was organized, the idea that the STCA Brownsville Chapter had in mind was to have sons of conjunto pioneers honor their legendary fathers. So we had Santiago Jimenez Jr., the brother of Flaco Jimenez and a 2015 recipient of the National Medal of the Arts, paying homage to his father Don Santiago Jimenez Sr.
Santiago Jr. went up there, drank a bit of beer (he famously has talked about how drinking beer helps him perform on stage, adding a little bit of flavor to his music and helping put him at ease), and delivered a great 45 minute set. At one point, someone asked that he play “El Rosalito”, and he honored that request. The highlight to me was seeing him perform “Viva Seguin”, the great polka from his father, and a piece that has lived on thanks to Flaco and Santiago Jr. At the end, Santiago Jr. got a bit choked up during his emotional rendition of “Homenaje A Don Santiago Jimenez,” a corrido that told the story of his father. Afterwards, Santiago Jr. sold copies of his new CD, which has a cover photo of him receiving the National Medal of the Arts from former President Barack Obama.
The second chapter of the night was with Ricky Guzman III and Ricardo Guzman Jr. paying tribute to Ricardo Guzman Sr.; Ricky III’s grandfather and Ricardo Jr.’s father. Ricardo Guzman Sr. had the locally famous band Ricardo Guzman y Sus Tres Ases (bajo-sexto player Ricardo Jr. has carried on the brand of the band in recent years). Ricky III is one of the best young accordionists around today, and there were more people dancing during this set than at any other point of the night. Last time I saw Ricky III was at my neighborhood Jamaica at St. Anne’s Church, and I love his unique, Edinburg-conjunto-Tex-Mex style. Some of the Guzman family was in attendance, wearing a Guzman conjunto T-shirt that said “Conjunto Hasta La Muerte” with a skull. It looked so cool. Best moment of this set for me was when Ricky III started busting out “El Coco Rayado” and “Juana La Cubana.”
Finally the Gilberto “Chore” Perez Jr. y su conjunto stepped on the stage to close at the night in Downtown Brownsville. Bajo-sexto player Gilberto Jr. announced a warm message from his father, Gilberto Sr., who resides in Mercedes and is still an active performer in the local conjunto scene. The conjunto played a nice variety, including a polka, a huapango, and even the Gilberto Sr. classic “El Dia de tu Boda”, one of my all time favorite songs. Composed by Ramon Medina, the song was recorded at Falcon Records by the composer and Gilberto Sr. on November of 1959. The emotional song also reminded me of my own father, who always remembers the song from his childhood.
“Ibamos a piscar algodon, y el troquero tenia un radio (We went to go pick cotton, and the trucker would have a radio),” Felix Martinez, my dad, told me. “Las muchachas jovenes, todo el dia estaban cantando la cancion (The young women would be singing ‘El Dia De Tu Boda’ all day long).”
Tapia deserves a special shout out for the different roles he took on during the night: a key member of the Brownsville chapter of the STCA, the bajo-sexto player for Santiago Jr., and the accordionist for Gilberto Jr. He did a great job on all fronts.
So all in all, it was a lovely night of conjunto music in Brownsville this past Saturday night. Was also happy to see many conjunto regulars in attendance, like Raul and Amelia Martinez, and the Perales Family. You know it’s a great conjunto event when you see these folks there.
I’m very much looking forward to the next year’s celebration of conjunto music. With the future of the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival being uncertain, after having established itself during its 25-year run, this annual event in Brownsville might become the only community conjunto festival for this region. So if you can make it out there the next time this extravaganza takes place, I strongly recommend you check it out and support it.
Like that shirt said, “Conjunto Hasta La Muerte.”