Exploring the Rio Grande Valley through music: Playlist #4

In this fourth playlist for Neta, I wanted to create a unique mix that included songs to play at parties, as well as rare songs that reflect this season. I included Tejano, norteño, and conjunto songs that go as far back as 50-plus years ago and some that go back only a few years. Even within these three forms of music, you will find that there are so many distinct and diverse sounds to be found here. Happy New Year to everyone!

To listen to this playlist on YouTube, click here.

1. “La Chispita” by Los Donneños

Los Donneños were a norteño conjunto duo composed of bajo-sexto player Ramiro Cavazos and accordionist Mario Montes. They were given the name “Los Donneños” by Falcon Records founder Arnaldo Ramirez due to both of them living in Donna at the time of their first recording in the late 1940s. They originally questioned the name since they were originally from Mexico, but it caught on in a big way and Cavazos, who is 90 years old and jams out at his store in McAllen, still uses the name Los Donneños. I wanted to start of this playlist with a banger and this is a great one. This is by far the most experimental and wild instrumental I’ve heard from Montes and Cavazos. Montes goes on some dazzling accordion runs in this. Great track to play for your New Year’s Eve get-together.

2. “Brincando Cercas” by Pedro Ayala

“El Monarca del Acordeón”, Pedro Ayala was similar to Los Donneños in that he was originally from Mexico but relocated to Donna, Texas. Along with Bruno Villarreal, Narciso Martinez, and Santiago Jimenez, Sr., Ayala was one of the first conjunto accordionists to record music in the first half of the 20th century. Like a lot of conjunto instrumentals in those days, the track has an eye-catching name that makes you wonder why Ayala picked that title. With no lyrics, and just Ayala playing his progressive accordion style, it remains a mystery.

3. “Limbo Cumbia” by Leti y El Conjunto Central

Leti y El Conjunto Central are from Odem, Texas, but have played in the Rio Grande Valley many times. I’ve seen them at the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival in San Benito and at the “Conjunto of the Year” Award Show in Mercedes in previous years. I remember first hearing “Limbo Cumbia” — a conjunto cumbia interpretation of “Limbo Rock” — on KMBH-TV’s local television program “Acordeones de Tejas”, and just loving it. Talked to Leticia about it after I heard it and she credits her father for coming up with the idea in the middle of the night, after he woke up suddenly. So catchy and relaxing, one of my favorite conjunto tunes in recent years.

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4. “Las Nubes” by Little Joe y La Familia

Little Joe is from Temple, Texas, but has been stopping by and playing in the Valley since the 1960s. Since that decade, he has played here in the Valley, countless of times every single year. He has a strong fanbase here in the Valley that has been following him for decades and absolutely believes in him and his music. He’s even having a New Years Eve dance-party in Pharr on Dec. 30. Joe really broke out in the 1970s, when he became one of the iconic Tejano singers during the Chicano movement of that era. This song became an anthem for the Chicano movement, and was used as the final song for the documentary “Del Mero Corazon”. One of the most beautiful and enduring Tejano songs of all time.

5. “Esta Noche La Paso Contigo” and “Un Año Más De Carino” by Beatriz Llamas with Conjunto Bernal

Beatriz Llamas recorded in the Valley for the label Bego, which had its offices based on S. 17th St. in McAllen. Known as “La Paloma del Norte”, she frequently collaborated with Conjunto Bernal, who were known as the most popular and best conjunto of the 1960s. She became the first woman to be inducted into the Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame and Museum in San Benito, and as recently as 2015 performed at the Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio. She plays two songs here with Conjunto Bernal, and the latter song is an especially lovely take on a classic ‘New Years’ standard:

“Un año más de cariño,
Que nos hemos entregado,
Y te pido que este nuevo,
Sea mas que el año pasado…”

6. “El Coco Rayado” by Ruben Vela

Ruben Vela of Santa Rosa, Texas is one of the most beloved accordionists in the Valley. Vela started playing in the 1950s and had a successful career for decades. When it appeared his career was slowing down, he released this power cumbia in the 1990s and it immediately became a hit. It was played at so many places in the Valley during the 1990s and is now taught to students at conjunto programs at several high schools here. It’s still a popular song to play at parties and get-togethers. It led to several sequels like “La Papaya”, “Las Toronjas”, “La Guayaba”, and finally “Los Melones”. But the one that continues to be the most popular of the bunch remains “El Coco Rayado”.

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7. “Un Año Más De Carino” by Chano Cadena y su Nuevo Conjunto

Chano Cadena is from Alice, Texas, but has been stopping by to play music in the Valley since the 1950s. He was in Pharr earlier this year, and I got to see him perform over the year at the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival in San Benito. One of the true pioneers of conjunto music, and one of the few conjunto musicians today that can still play that classic conjunto style that was popular in our area in the 1950s. Here he plays his own take on “Un Año Más De Carino”.

8. “Sleepwalking” by Esteban Jordan and Oscar Tellez

The great Esteban Jordan of Elsa is best known for otherworldly skills on the accordion but in this rare track, he showcases his guitar skills playing the Santo & Johnny classic “Sleepwalking”. Fans of “La Bamba” remember this song at the end of that film. It’s such a great and dreamy track to play this time of the year. Accompanying Jordan is Oscar Tellez, an incredible bajo-sexto player who played with Flaco Jimenez for decades. Lovely song to end this playlist with.

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Listen to our other playlists:

Playlist #3

Playlist #2

Playlist #1

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