Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Stock Up on Stocking Stuffers: Part I

Editor's Note: Leading up to Christmas day, La Bloga-Tuesday presents "stocking stuffer" ideas. Inexpensive gifts of great value make the best kind of stocking stuffers.
Review: Juan & Armando Tejeda. Raíz XicanX. Digital recording.
Michael Sedano

Season’s spending decisions begin to take serious measure of one’s resources. At the same time, people you love answer “nothing” when you ask. One thing most people don’t need is more things. Music is one of those you can have your cake, and eat it, too, things. Believe me, I know.

I’ve spent the past months digitizing my vinyl record collection. Cardboard cartons of albums are heavy masses of treasure and memories. I don’t need those things, the albums, but yes to the memories. So a big Yes! to the music things, especially yes to unique collections of up-tempo happy musica, like Raíz XicanX from primo hermanos Juan and Armando Tejeda.

Raiz XicanX (link) offers multiple pleasures as music and performance.

First, music you’ve never heard before but sounds like music you’ve heard all your life. Chicano music.

This is good stuff, a musicologist’s delight. That’s the Raiz part, a tour of Los Tejeda primos' artistry comprising these classic musical styles. As the website for the album describes, "a collection of 17 love songs to and from la Raza that range from original indigenous cantos and corridos to traditional Conjunto Tejano, to blues, boleros, country, cumbia, rock, and jazz."

In the middle of the playlist comes the XicanX sound that makes a listener sit up and take notice with a big grin on their face.

The album closes with more roots music, an exquisite arrangement of the classic folk tune “La Llorona,” and like a bookend, a closing canto to the composer’s other daughter.

The opening track is a chant, the perfect beginning to an album with “Raiz” in the title. Imagine you’re around a campfire and someone starts thumping a two-beat rhythm on a drum, rattles on dancers’ ankles pick up the beat, a reed flute sounds three notes signaling a change to a relentless five-beat drumming chant, “ma ya quetz zal li”.

The last embers of indigenous campfire fade and the listener sits in a barracks during WWII, following the journey of the composer, Frank Tejeda, from San Antonio to Camp Bowie to the bloody Italy invasions accompanied by Longoria in the song. A different Longoria, Felix, was denied burial in his hometown Texas cemetery—whites only, sabes? That Longoria, and the river crossing are the subject of anonymous' “To Brothers Dead.” Tejeda’s corrido, like the poem, mourns the lives left behind in a senselessly-led attack.

The acoustic sound and easy rhythm of the next songs places a listener on a Saturday night in a lonely settlement somewhere in the vast south Texas llano. Maybe you’re in the Texas chapter of Annie Proulx' Accordion Crimes, a great novel whose Texas conjunto chapter visualizes gente gathering from miles around for dance, drink, and the local musicos, some Mexican hands who own an accordion, a drum, a bajo sexto. Their music mixes up styles from the locals as well as European immigrants. The muchachos can play it all.

Tonight's dance starts with a fast one, “La Piedrera/La Barranca Polka Medley,” at a gentle kind of fast because the viejitos are out dancing to some old favorites, tunes from when they were young. Then the conjunto slows it down just a little with a schottische, "El Senderito Schotís". Slower now, “Luzita Mazurka” segues into a waltz, “Ausencia Valz,” then wham!

“Barbacoa Blues”. He coulda had menudo but he got some cabeza instead. That’s where the viejitos went, back to their tables to eat while the young people take over in the studio. Bluesy hard beat gets everyone tapping their toes, nodding, and smiling at the English lyric of Chicano food, “put some meat inside,” with a Raelettes chorus for a few measures, and heavy guitar. Vocal backgrounds are by Juan Tejeda.

Raiz XicanX is a musical treat that arrives loaded with listenability and history. Juan and Armando Tejeda offer a musicology lesson in musical foundations of conjunto music. That’s why it’s called “Raiz” que no? New roots, too, are here. Dig that delightful genre explosion of diversity in tracks 12 through 14, until the closing three tracks bring you back to las raices with a tropical tambor-heavy El Canoero, a virtuoso interpretation of “La Llorona,” and the closing chant.

Raiz XicanX is a thing that isn't a thing--download it onto your thing that plays music, at this link, where you can listen to samples, and click to download individual songs or the full CD.

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