Regional Ramblings: Uncertainty over festival leaves hole for Rio Grande Valley culture


Last year, the annual Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center (NMCAC) Conjunto Festival was canceled due to a dispute with the city of San Benito. With that cancellation, the biggest conjunto festival in the Rio Grande Valley suffered a major setback.

There’s been no announcement yet if we will have a NMCAC Conjunto Festival this year, but it appears that the annual Freddie Gomez Memorial Conjunto Concert is still set for latter part of the year. Local high school districts will also have their conjunto festival at the La Joya School District.

With the cancellation last year, it reminds me of something I’ve talked to with friends of mine, that there really should be more and more conjunto festivals across the Valley of South Texas. This is the area where conjunto music was born, and it’s a huge area that goes from Roma to Brownsville.

Imagine an Oscar Hernandez Conjunto Festival in Pharr, or a Esteban Jordan and Benny Layton Conjunto Festival in Edcouch-Elsa? That would be so amazing.

Along with festivals, it would be great to have more workshops and different educational and training opportunities for young accordionists wanting to get into conjunto music, all across the Valley.

Conjunto, as great as the music is, has been too male-dominated, and it would be really great to open up this genre of music to more women and expand it to include a far more diverse field of musicians.

There could be so much done here to ensure that conjunto music continues moving to the future. One thing that for sure needs to be done is the creation of new songs in the genre. There are so many great pieces, from instrumentals to songs, that have become standards, but we need some new fresh material within the conjunto form. It’s great that we have different schools with conjunto classes, and I hope those students go on to create new songs and polkas for future generations.

With all this said, I really hope the NMCAC Conjunto Festival returns again in 2018. It was such a great celebration of the music that was born from this land in South Texas. Hopefully we can start seeing and having different people work toward ensuring that conjunto music lasts for decades to come.