Photos and Story by Emily Blalock / Contributing Writer
MTSU’s Center for Popular Music presented “An Evening of South Texas Conjunto Music” on Monday night at the Blue Note Café, featuring artists Felipe Perez y Sus Polkeros and Cactus Fire, the opening band of the evening.
Gregory Reish, the director of the Center for Popular Music and the director of Spring Fed Records, kicked off the night by introducing the main performer.
“He is one of the great masters of the old school south Texas Conjunto accordion, learned directly from many of the greats,” said Reish of Perez.
Originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, Perez was inducted into the Conjunto Music Hall of Fame in 2018 and has been playing the accordion for nearly 70 years.
“I’m excited to be here because of Felipe,” said Cactus Fire accordion player Gilbert Reyes. “I’m from south Texas. I grew up with this music. I’m a third generation Hohner accordion player.”
Perez played compositions by well-known Conjunto musicians of the past, as well as compositions of his own that he named after his children. He also spoke about his inspiration, Juan Lopez, whom he learned many songs from.
“I’ve always liked his music,” Perez explained.
He described how he would wake up in the mornings in the late 1940s and listen to Lopez play from a few blocks away.
“I fell in love with his style.”
The history of Conjunto music dates back to 19th century, when immigrants introduced the style and the accordion to the southern Texas and northern Mexico area. The bajo sexto, a Mexican string instrument, was added, and a new ensemble of music was formed from this rich mixture of sound and culture.
“A lot of the dances that you hear in this music come from central and eastern Europe,” Reish explained. “Many Czech, German, Polish immigrants, they brought this music with them.”
John Fabke, the manager of Spring Fed Records, played bass, and Reish played the bajo sexto. Grammy Award-winning Max Baca played the drums and the bajo sexto for some of the songs as well.
“That polka, I’m going to tell you a little story about it, behind it. Way in the back, around the ‘50s, it was played by this radio station, and it would wake me up at 5 o’clock in the morning,” Perez explained at the end of one of his songs. “So from there it got into my blood, and I managed to learn it. And, it does belong to Juan Lopez.”
MTSU student Whitley Allen, an entrepreneurship major and sophomore, came to enjoy the Conjunto music for a new experience.
“It’s kind of interesting,” Allen said. “There’s a little bit of singing, but like a lot of it’s like instrumental, and you can kind of feel emotions without words. So, I like it!”
Students from the recording industry department helped with the audio for the performance.
The event was free and open to the public, and copies of Perez’s CD’s were available for purchase following the show.
To contact News Editor Angele Latham, email email@example.com.
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