Alfredo and Rosemary Talavera of El Paso Texas dance to the music of Beyond Therapy at Super Slicks Tex Mex Bar And Grill. PHOTO by ANGELA BUENROSTRO.
by ANGELA BUENROSTRO
for Reporting Texas
BUDA — The crowd inside Super Slicks Tex Mex Bar and Grill grew as the sun began to set. Waiters delivered sizzling fajitas, frozen margaritas and cold beers to dinner tables.
The people gathered at the restaurant in this small town between Austin and San Marcos on a recent Sunday afternoon for what is called, in this Mexican American community, a tardeada, a late afternoon dance.
Neon lights advertising various beer brands, a couple of flat screen televisions and New York license plates hung on one wall gave the restaurant a modern feel.
The dance floor was small, but couples glided smoothly across it.
Most of the women wore casual blouses and fitted jeans with cowboy boots or heels. Men wore jeans or slacks and buttoned-up shirts. Some wore baseball caps, others cowboy hats, and a few sported fedoras.
At this tardeada, people were trying to keep Tejano music alive.
Tejano is a genre that has lost its audience in mainstream Texas radio. For some Tejano music lovers, the loss of the radio stations is the result of corporations’ focusing on the immigrant population’s taste in music – even though native Hispanics outnumber immigrants. According to the 2011 Census, native-born Hispanics made up 70 percent of the Hispanic population, compared to 30 percent foreign-born. That proportion has been relatively stable: in 2000, native-born Hispanics made up 68.1 percent, compared to 31.9 percent.
Tejano is a blend of accordion music, polkas, country, jazz and rock that is popular among Hispanics in Central and South Texas.
“The exclusion of Tejano from radio stations became very prominent by the late ‘90s,” said Guadalupe San Miguel, a professor at the University of Houston, who has researched the history of Tejano music.
That was when major corporations such as Univision were buying up radio stations that had been owned by Mexican Americans or smaller companies such as the Hispanic Broadcasting Corp. The corporations started conducting research to find out what kind of music people preferred, he said.
“When the Spanish-language stations would conduct research, they contacted Spanish-language Mexicans, most of whom were immigrants,” San Miguel said. “When they asked the immigrants what kind of music they listen to, they’d name artists like Pesado and Los Tigres Del Norte.”
They play a genre called “musìca norteña,” which is popular in Texas’ immigrant Mexican community.
“They didn’t interview Mexican Americans, so then they would play more of Los Tigres and more of Pesado and more of that music, and people would hear less and less of Tejano groups,” San Miguel said.
Tejano musician Joe Ramos, who sang and played guitar in the band at the tardeada, said he believes Tejano is disappearing because of the lack of air play.
“The radio stations were bought out by Mexican money and they play their stuff,” he said. “You have groups like Los Tigres Del Norte, and they will pack a place.”
Esther Coronado, owner of Super Slicks, started offering live music in April to draw in more customers. The restaurant has been open for half a year.
“The business itself has grown, but the music has brought in different clientele,” she said.
The audience at the tardeada in Buda was made up mostly of Tejanos — Texans of Hispanic descent — in their 60s and 70s, plus a few few children and young adults.
There was no cover charge, but the audience kept the waitstaff busy ordering drinks and appetizers.
The band, Beyond Therapy, played Alvaro Carrillo’s “Sabor A Mi,” a bolero, or slow-tempo song.
“This is what we call music to chew your food by,” said Rene Garcia, the 58-year-old trombone player and the band’s front man. The audience laughed. Garcia wore a long-sleeved black shirt and black jeans. The three other band members wore dark blue or black dress shirts and slacks.
Beyond Therapy had a few guest musicians. Pete Diaz, a 67-year-old flute player and front man for the Cabo Bay Latin Jazz band, was one of them.
Diaz said he loves going to tardeadas because people get dressed up and have a good time.
“The reason tardeadas are early on Sundays is because people have to work the next day,” he said.
When it comes to Tejano as a withering genre, Diaz said he thinks he knows what the main problem is: “We don’t promote it. It’s our own fault.”
Social media is a good way to promote Tejano music, now that Tejano radio stations are available on the Internet, he said.
According to Radio-Locator.com, a search engine for finding U.S. radio stations, there are only 20 Tejano radio stations in Texas. Encino Broadcasting LLC owns KTXZ 1560 AM — Austin’s only Tejano radio station.
San Miguel, the professor, said disc jockeys have found new ways to promote Tejano.
“If you want to find Tejano music, generally now you’ll find it on the Internet,” he said.
Hundreds of Tejano Internet stations can be found on websites such as BNetRadio with more than 100,000 listeners.
Back at the tardeada that Sunday afternoon, front man Rene Garcia told the audience jokes and wished happy birthday to those celebrating. After each song, the audience clapped.
“We don’t want a round of applause,” Garcia told them. “We want a round of drinks.”
A few tequila shots later, the band got the crowd going by playing songs such as “Suavecito,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and the “Barbacoa Blues.”
But the most exciting part of the evening for the audience was when trumpeter and composer Bob Ojeda, 72, who has performed with artists such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and B.B. King, performed.
When Ojeda was done, the restaurant erupted into applause and whistles. Fans held cell phones aloft to take his picture. Garcia described Ojeda’s performance with Beyond Therapy as a “historical moment.”
Ojeda was not the only music legend who performed that night.
Beyond Therapy guitarist Ramos, 71, is the brother of Tejano musician Ruben Ramos, also known as El Gato Negro, or The Black Cat, and the brothers play together in another band, The Revolution.
Ruth Gonzales of Austin came to the tardeada to celebrate her 70th birthday. Gonzales, wearing a red hoodie over a black V-neck blouse and jeans, said she’s a big fan of Joe Ramos and The Revolution. She has followed the band to venues throughout Texas so she can dance to their music.
“I’ve been dancing Tejano all my life,” she said. “I was 14 when I started going to the dances.”
Pete Diaz, the guest musician who played the flute, had some advice for reviving Tejano: Tejano musicians need to keep rehearsing and show up to gigs.
“We need more bands,” he said. “We just need to wake up.”
But San Miguel, the professor, said plenty of bands perform at Tejano fan fairs even though the bands are not played on the radio.
“There are a lot of young people playing in Tejano music groups that we’ve never heard of because they don’t have contracts,” he said. “Tejano music is very much alive. It will always be alive because that’s the kind of music Tejanos like.”
ANGELA BUENROSTRO reports for Reporting Texas, a UT School of Journalism program, where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between Reporting Texas and the San Marcos Mercury.