I've been writing about conjunto music and sustainability for some time (for example here and here) and most recently have been working on a book project titled Conjunto Music: Sustaining the Texas Tradition, which I am co-authoring with none other than Cristina Ballí.
The book is a very timely and necessary study. It will be first examination of contemporary conjunto culture and sustainatibility and also an addition to the emerging literature on intangible cultural heritage. I am very excited about the project. Cristina and I are bringing two different but very complementary perspectives (she as a longtime active participant and organizer in the RGV and at Texas Folklife, me as a scholar--participant-observer of the musical culture). If you want to hear more about it in detail, just drop a line to either of us!
A major point of the book is that conjunto music culture in Texas is a model of the kind of musicultural ecosystem that can best serve regional, vernacular musics in the current era of intense marketplace competition and cultural homogenization. The conjunto world is, in large measure, a highly local, hand crafted one, despite the mediation of contemporary globalization, and it has consequently remained a very human-scale one.
The development of a sustainable system in which conjunto music has thrived has been carefully crafted in Texas by a diverse array of committed individual musicians, activists, and others in the community through festivals such as the Tejano Conjunto Fesitval en San Antonio (pictured above), apprenticeship programs, and organizations like the Conjunto Heritage Taller in San Antonio.
Conjunto culture in Texas presents a world in which efforts have risen entirely organically from the community itself and from otherwise unheralded individuals who emerged as leaders. In many cases, the efforts have come from what might be considered the most unlikely of sources among working musicians. In all cases it has succeeded despite the absence of large scale support or investment.
Given the general lack of visibility for conjunto at a national level, the success of the highly local efforts within Texas is of great significance.
Of course, it is essential to note that Texas Folklife has been a key participant in this effort since its start in programs like the Big Squeeze, in apprenticeship and community residency programs, in Accordion Kings and Queens, and in many other ways over the past three decades.
One of the best examples of the sustainable structures in Texas are the several conjunto ensemble programs in the public schools. While mariachi education is well established, these conjunto programs are fairly new but spreading rapidly and very popular.
One of the best developed and most successful is in La Joya. In South Texas, the music is so alive that the conjunto program in the La Joya ISD does not even bother to teach accordion! Instead, they teach only tololoche, bass, and drums, and conjunto. The program assumes that great young accordionists will appear each year to center the program. And they are right! This program has been established for several years and is the dominant force in the school with a stunning performing arts center at its heart. The system in this tiny town has worked.
A similar, enthusiastic new program (albeit a small one at this point) which we are studying for the book was launched by former Big Squeeze champion Juan Longoria, Jr., in Los Fresnos High School.
The Big Squeeze showcase is coming to La Joya on February 7 and to Los Fresnos a month later on March 7.
Now Roma High School has unveiled a new conjunto program. And, in a sign of the ongoing shifts in conjunto music, it is fronted by not one but two woman playing accordion! This is a fantastic development, and the new ensemble is right in line with the established success of the other programs.
here is a link to a story about the program: Roma High School Debuts Conjunto Band