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Meet the 2021 Artist Teams

By Pete Breithaupt


The 2021 Apprenticeship Program features an impressive roster of mentors and apprentices all deeply committed to keeping their communities and art forms creatively resilient. Read below to learn more about each artist team. Follow the hyperlinks included throughout the text for more information about the artists and examples of their work.


Mentor Dr. Sreedhara Akkihebbalu & Apprentice Aruna Kharod

Mentor Dr. Sreedhara Akkihebbalu (Left) & Apprentice Aruna Kharod (Right)

Shavano Park & Shertz

Bharatanatyam (classical Indian dance)

With a pedigree that consists of training from illustrious gurus in various regional Indian dance traditions, an extensive professional career as a performer, choreographer, and teacher, and formal study of Sanskrit literature and philosophy, Akkihebbalu is uniquely positioned within the sphere of bharatanatyam. He is also a physician and certified yoga therapist. Formally trained in Indian aesthetics, literature, and music, Kharod shares Akkihebbalu’s commitment to exploring non-canonical Indian literature, storytelling traditions, and folk and classical musics through bharatanatyam.   

Watch Akkihebbalu perform a solo dance that tells the story of a South Indian medieval saint, Nandanar.
Watch Kharod share about her experience as an Artist-in-Residence at the Blanton Museum of Art and demonstrate characteristic movements of bharatanatyam on CBS Austin’s We Are Austin.

Mentor Sonny Mehta & Apprentice Danish Parbtani

Mentor Sonny Mehta (Left) & Apprentice Danish Parbtani (Right)



As the Artistic Director of the trailblazing ensemble Riyaaz Qawwali, Sonny has been performing professionally for over 20 years, using and transforming qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional music, to bridge ethnic and religious divides. Under Sonny’s instruction, Danish not only is increasing his fluency in the technical aspects of the vocal art form but learning how to adopt new poetry to fit within the context of long standing qawwali repertory.

Watch a recent Riyaaz Qawwali performance in Houston. Sonny is leading the group, and Danish is singing in the chorus (second row, stage left).

Mentor Mario Ramirez & Apprentice Jose Dominguez-Leal 

Mentor Mario Ramirez (Right) & Apprentice Jose Dominguez-Leal (Left)

San Marcos

Danza Azteca

Having apprenticed with 2017 Apprenticeship Program Artist Mentor Evelio Flores, Ramirez is leading Dominguez-Leal through the conceptual, physical, emotional, and spiritual components of danza Azteca, a form of kinesthetic prayer practiced by Indigenous communities of Texas and Mexico that is rooted in notions of communal reciprocity.

Watch Ramirez (playing the drum) and Dominguez-Leal (in the red jaguar headdress regalia) perform with Danza Ollinyollotl at the 2020 Sacred Springs Powwow.

Mentor Mona Wilson & Apprentice Lindsay Gary

Mentor Mona Wilson (Left) & Apprentice Lindsay Gary (Right)


Zydeco Dance

From Russia to South Africa, Australia to Houston, TX, Wilson - affectionately known as the “Queen of Zydeco” - has traveled the world performing and teaching zydeco dance. Sharing Creole heritage and family roots in Cade, Louisiana, Wilson and Gary recently discovered that they are distant relatives. The artist team is dedicated to preserving the history, techniques, and cultural significance of zydeco dance.

Watch a clip from Wilson’s instructional DVD that features live music by renowned Zydeco accordionist Andre Thierry.

Visit Gary’s website to learn more about her wide-ranging work as a performer, scholar, multidisciplinary artivist, and social entrepreneur.

Mentor Max Baca & Apprentice Hunter Chavez

Mentor Max Baca (Left) & Apprentice Hunter Chavez (Right)

San Antonio & Schertz

Conjunto Bajo Sexto

A Smithsonian recording artist, leader of Grammy Award-winning conjunto band Los Texmaniacs, with over forty years of experience who first cut his teeth with “Tex-Mex Accordion King” Flaco Jiménez, Baca is bona fide conjunto royalty. Already an accomplished performer on accordion, Chavez is honing his skills on bajo sexto under Baca’s expert guidance.

Watch the official music video for “Mexico Americano” performed by Los Texmaniacs from Cruzando Brothers, the band’s latest album for Smithsonian Folkways.
Watch Chavez perform in KUTX’s Studio 1A with 2015 Big Squeeze winner Rito Pena.

Mentor Dan Shores & Apprentice Joshua bradley

Mentor Dan Shores (Left) & Apprentice Joshua Bradley (Right)

Wichita Falls

Cowboy Metal Working

A sought-after bit and spur maker, respected jeweler, and life-long rancher with deep family roots in north-central Texas, Shores is a prominent figure in Texas’ cowboy arts community. Both committed to what they call the “cowboy way of life,” Shores is teaching Bradley, who is already a fine woodworker, the intricacies of silversmithing. 

Visit Shores and Bradley’s respective websites to see more of their work.

Mentor Eva Ybarra & Apprentice Iliana Vasquez

Mentor Eva Ybarra (Right) & Apprentice Iliana Vasquez (Left)

San Antonio & Rio Grande City

Conjunto Bajo Sexto

Ybarra - the “Queen of Accordion” and 2017 NEA National Heritage Fellow - is one of only a few professional female musicians in conjunto music. Since their 2016 Texas Folklife apprenticeship, Ybarra and Vasquez, a rising performer and scholar of conjunto, have fostered a profound relationship. Turning their focus from the accordion to the bajo sexto, Ybarra is continuing to mentor Vasquez on her way to becoming a standard bearer of conjunto while challenging the musical form’s entrenched gender norms.

Watch Ybarra’s recent performance at the Library of Congress.

Mentor Ed Poullard & Apprentice Craig Jones

Mentor Ed Poullard (Left) & Apprentice Craig Jones (Right)

 Beaumont & Houston

Cajun/Creole Accordion Building

A former apprentice and multiple-time mentor of Texas Folklife’s Apprenticeship Program, Poullard is the central caretaker of Creole musical traditions in Texas. A passionate accordionist, active DJ in the Houston area, and high school welding instructor with a rich family history in the Creole community, Jones is determined to carry on Poullard’s legacy and join him as one of Texas’s few - if not only - Creole accordion builders.

Read this feature on Jones and his students’ annual pumpkin horseshoe fundraiser for Dickinson High School’s welding program.

Watch Poullard perform with 2016 Apprenticeship Program Apprentice Daniel Chevalier.


Header Image Caption: 2021 Texas Folklife Apprenticeship Apprentices. Clockwise from upper left: Lindsay Gary, Danish PParbtani, Iliana Vasquez, Hunter Chavez, Aruna Kharod, Jose Dominguez-Leal, Craig Jones, and Joshua Bradley