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NPR: Accordions in Texas

Desert Dancer 03 Jun 11 - 06:35 PM
Stilly River Sage 04 Jun 11 - 01:55 AM
open mike 04 Jun 11 - 11:56 AM
GUEST,leeneia 04 Jun 11 - 12:01 PM
Desert Dancer 04 Jun 11 - 12:55 PM
Desert Dancer 04 Jun 11 - 01:01 PM
GUEST,leeneia 04 Jun 11 - 10:52 PM
katlaughing 05 Jun 11 - 12:10 AM
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Subject: NPR: Accordions in Texas
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 03 Jun 11 - 06:35 PM

Nice item from NPR on the contagion of accordions infecting Texas ;-)

Texas Gets The Accordion Bug And Never Looks Back
by Wade Goodwyn

It's a well-known story — the one where European conquerors ravaged the New World with disease in the 15th century. That story repeated itself, in a very different way, in the early part of the 20th century in Texas.

Only it wasn't illness that German and Czech settlers were spreading to unsuspecting Hispanics, Creoles and Cajuns. This time, it was a musical instrument from which they would not recover.

It started in the dance halls in the Texas hill country. While German and Czech farmers danced the polka on Saturday nights, their Hispanic farmhands would gather nearby to watch and listen.

It was a mistake. Because they had no immunity, the button accordion began to spread through these Hispanic communities like wildfire.

From New Braunfels and San Antonio, down to Brownsville, back up the coast to Corpus Christi and Houston and then across East Texas like a ladle full of gumbo, the accordion resisted all attempts to control it. And the infection, it seems, is now permanent.

The diatonic button accordion had many qualities that made it attractive to a Texas working-class agrarian community. First, they were cheap and easy to play. The early models had just one row of buttons; later models had two, and in 1906 you could buy one for as little as $3.

Another key to success? They're loud — you don't need an amplifier or electricity. Add a drummer and guitar, washtubs of cold beer and voila, as the Cajuns say. The early Sears catalogs described the accordion as an "orchestra in a box."

Cajun Zydeco, Texas Style (sic)

Whether it's a zydeco or conjunto or German and Czech polka band, the accordion player is almost always the bandleader. Step Rideau, the accordion player and lead singer of Step Rideau and the Zydeco Outlaws, was born in southwestern Louisiana, but moved to Houston in the mid-1980s and never looked back.

Rideau's inspiration was the great Boozoo Chavis, but he developed a sound of his own. Young people flocked to hear him.

"People wanted to see someone young and coming into their own style, and still feel the richness of the heritage and the culture in the music," Rideau says.

Conjunto Viva

As popular as zydeco is in Texas, conjunto music is just as popular, and its heritage just as rich.

Santiago and his little brother Flaco Jimenez from San Antonio are two kings of the conjunto. It's music played with a button accordion, a big 12-string guitar called a bajo sexto, bass and drums.

Although the song "Viva Seguin" is clearly Tejano music — music made by Hispanics in Texas — listen carefully and you can hear a polka, with electric bass taking the place of the tuba.

These days, conjunto music, like zydeco, is as popular as ever in Texas. Young accordion stars wield their instruments like lead guitars, spinning, stomping and dancing across the stage.

'Queen Of The Accordion'

While it's mostly men behind the squeeze box, there are female stars, too. One of the first (and still one of the best) is Eva Ybarra, known as "Queen of the Accordion."

Ybarra is just over 5 feet tall, and if you didn't hear it, you'd never believe that such a voice could emerge from such a small package.

Ybarra started singing and playing conjunto in the ice houses of San Antonio when she was just 15. It was shocking: Teenage girls weren't supposed to play the accordion with lusty abandon in the early 1960s; they weren't supposed to play it at all.

On one occasion, after some of the audience shouted out "Eva!," the other members of her band left Ybarra stranded in a dark parking lot. Being a curiosity was one thing; outshining male musicians was another. Her mother had to pick her up.

"My mom said, 'You don't have to play the accordion, I'm going to buy you a piano,' " Ybarra says. "And my dad said, 'Don't listen to your mom. Your key is the accordion.' And, you know, my dad was right."

Polka Today

If conjunto and zydeco are still attracting plenty of talented young Texas accordion players, German and Czech polka, the wellspring, aren't doing quite as well. While there are still German and Czech communities in the Texas hill country, they are no longer bound together by language. Their children and grandchildren mostly listen to rock or country, but there are exceptions.

Fort Worth has a young accordion star named Ginny Mac, and accordionist Chris Rybak hails from Hallettsville, Texas, near Shiner and Yoakum. Rybak is Czech; his family has been in Texas since 1880. He got his first accordion at age 12.

"I never actually took lessons for the accordion," Rybak says. "I started playing by ear. My dad had a polka band and still does, and the biggest training I had was just going to the dances and listening on the sidelines."

A Texan Mix

While a band along the Texas border can make a living playing only conjunto, and a band in Houston can do the same playing only zydeco, a young German or Czech accordion player is wise to play a broad repertoire.

Rybak, a young husband with a 3-month-old baby girl, plays traditional polka, of course. But he also plays zydeco, conjunto and country, multiplying his chances for work. He makes solo albums, spends a few weeks in the summer playing festivals in Italy, Austria and Germany — it's not a bad life.

Rybak plays a Roland digital accordion, a new kind of accordion which allows him to shade the sound in different ways. At times, he can make it sound a little violiny, or fiddly.

This coming weekend in Houston is the biggest accordion festival in the state. Many of the state's best accordion players — young and old, including Rybak — will gather for the Accordion Kings and Queens competition.

Their loyal followers, hundreds of German Texans, Hispanic Texans, Cajun Texans and just plain old Texans, will dance, all together, in front of the stage.


Full audio of the story available at the link, there are also links to some music tracks of the various performers mentioned, and to a video about the Accordion Kings and Queens Festival.

(The author doesn't distinguish Cajun from Zydeco, but otherwise, it's a nice article.)

~ Becky in Long Beach

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Subject: RE: NPR: Accordions in Texas
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 04 Jun 11 - 01:55 AM

I missed this today. Thanks!


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Subject: RE: NPR: Accordions in Texas
From: open mike
Date: 04 Jun 11 - 11:56 AM

I love the way they considered accordions a disease or infection! I once saw a documentary on Link T V about an accordion player in south america...the instrument he played was German, as I recall.
Colombia pulsates with the sound and rhythms of its popular music, called Vallenato; and at its heart is the accordion. Meet Pacho Rada. He's ninety-three years old, and a pioneer figure of Vallenato. He's also the patriarch of his rural town, Santa Marta, where he lives in a run down tin shack. This film zooms in on Rada's life, and out to embrace an entire vibrant musical scene. It may be called "The Devil's Accordion" but it's Squeezebox Heaven!

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Subject: RE: NPR: Accordions in Texas
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 04 Jun 11 - 12:01 PM

I guess Wade Goodwyn thinks he's the height of sophistication, comparing accordion music to a disease. Yuck yuck yuck!

I estimate the 90% of today's popular music deals with white men feeling sorry for themselves. Another 7% is black men feeling sorry for themselves. The remaining 3% is shared among the rest of us.

I'm not surprised that when NPR encounters music which is for happiness, for sharing, for dancing, for having a good time and few beers, that it just doesn't know what to say.

And how are they going to cope when they learn that cupcakes are making a big comeback?

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Subject: RE: NPR: Accordions in Texas
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 04 Jun 11 - 12:55 PM

The Accordion Kings and Queens Festival is today in Houston. It's run by Texas Folklife, out of Austin. (See also Miller Outdoor Theatre, the venue.)

The NPR article has the contest thing a little confused -- the finals for "The Big Squeeze" contest for young players are at the Kings and Queens festival, but the festival itself is not just a contest. The Big Squeeze process looks like it goes on for a few months at several venues around Texas every spring, auditioning players. In 2009, Kat posted a note about a documentary that was made about it: The Big Squeeze -Docu

The Texas Folklife Festival at U.T. San Antonio is next weekend (June 10-11), but that's different.

~ Becky in Long Beach

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Subject: RE: NPR: Accordions in Texas
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 04 Jun 11 - 01:01 PM

Leenia - you never know the motives behind the cupcakes!

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Subject: RE: NPR: Accordions in Texas
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 04 Jun 11 - 10:52 PM

Desert Dancer, you are 100% correct.

I do find that info thought-provoking.

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Subject: RE: NPR: Accordions in Texas
From: katlaughing
Date: 05 Jun 11 - 12:10 AM

I missed it, too, and meant to catch it. Thanks!

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