Limelighter Notes
The long-awaited column by Alejo Sierra

Nearing the Fall Equinox, the music and entertainment calendar gets even busier. And it’s not as if it hasn’t already been a jam-packed summer for Latinos in the spotlight on stages around the state and across the country.

In Houston, an early heat season excursion to the terminally sophisticated Cafe Elyseé uncovered Don Roberto Zenteno, a quintessentially hip band leader and horn player extraordinaire who played the famed Warwick Hotel regularly in its heyday, back on stage with his ravishing daughter Norma, an accomplished musician herself. The senior Zenteno, returned after a mild stroke, is another one of those unsung heroes who deserves at least an urn of ink if not buckets, particularly in light of the swing-lounge resurgence.

Of course, Norma along with her collaborator-sibling Javier, in several guises--one being the rock-tinged incarnation “Raised by Wolves”--often go without the recognition due them as the seminal music veterans that they are.

In the audience at Elysee, Mike Ramirez, original member of the West coast combo, Chavela y Su Brown Express, tapped time to timeless cumbias and mambo standards. Ramirez now orchestrates staging and production for Los Tigeres del Norte, the reigning norteño kingpins who packed the George R. Brown Convention Center during a Houston stopover.

Los Tigeres shared major bills in Mexico this summer with Houston’s La Mafia, the Grammy Award-winning sextet that has successfully bridged tejano and international sounds since 1988. Attendance at La Mafia’s Mexican dates consistently surpasses the 35,000 mark.

Closer to home, La Mafia scored a historical first when Mando Lichtenberger, producer and a founding member of La Mafia who keeps a low profile on the keyboard and accordion while steering the group to its current superstar status, agreed to loan his golden Grammy statue to the Houston Hard Rock Cafe.

Organized around the Grammy installation, a private, winners-only concert showcased La Mafia in peak form. With newcomer Brian Doria on percussion and Lorenzo Banda trading shifts with Mando Lichtenberger on keys and accordion. Word has it that Lichtenberger will be giving up his 17 year seat on the Mafia runaway train to concentrate on production and management.

Meanwhile, Oscar De la Rosa, the ever-charismatic Mafia front man, shed a tear as he dedicated a song from the new CD, En Tus Manos, to his mom, who was among the close friends and family along for the event. Outside, the star-tracker klieg-lights announced to the world that La Mafia had, in fact, arrived. Never before in the history of the Hard Rock had an artist or group given up a Grammy for display.

Mafia stops in recent weeks included the A.S.C.A.P. Awards in Miami, the annual “Placita Olvera” festival in Los Angeles to celebrate “el diez y seis” (Mexican Independence officially on September 16th), the New Mexico State Fair in Albuquerque and will include the upcoming Texas State Fair to be held in Dallas on October 5th.

Regionally, the tejano industry gathered in San Antonio in mid-July at the height of the now waning Texas summer to honor its own during the Pura Vida Music Awards, a glitzy affair staged at the Majestic Theatre. A baroque throw-back to over-the-top art deco, the famed playhouse was host to stars like Little Joe and Ruben Ramos as well as newcomers such as Elida y Avante and Bobby Pulido.

La Mafia walked away with the prize for Best Tejano Music Video and a special “Decade Award” for setting industry standards across the board. Obvious odds on favorites were Michael Salgado, La Diferenzia and Elida Reyna.i

Los Palominos, touring steadily behind their last record on Sony Discos, were handed a “You Got It Award” recently in Corpus Christi at the annual Johnny Canales music industry awards. Work on their next release begins this week at Houston Sound Studio, the facility built by La Mafia in the North Houston neighborhood where they are based. Being produced by Mafia’s Lichtenberger, the new Palominos CD should ship within four to six months.

Houston Sound, a highly sought, state-of-the-art studio was host to actress Goldie Hawn and beau Kurt Russell this summer when Hawn needed a studio to master a sound track for a TNT film she directed.

Hollywood manifested itself again in Texas when Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marin, Culture Clash, Giselle Fernandez and a host of other Latino luminaries landed in San Antonio for the annual Latino Laugh Festival. A backstage blow-up ensued when an angry Abraham Quintanilla confronted popular comic Carlos Mencia on a slew of Selena jokes. Touchy, touchy, touchy. Apparently, Big Papa didn’t take too kindly to the cutting edge comedy and forced an apology from the upstart comedian.

On a happier note, Culture Clash later debuted in Austin as the “Chupa This Comedy Fest” headliners. Credit the Latino Arts Consortium of Austin director Tomas Salas and the Chicano/Latino Film Forum for a modest yet ragingly successful show. Richard Montoya, Herbert Siguenza and Ric Salinas scored big their first time out in the capital city with well-timed wit and an array of new material.


Alejo Sierra
P.O. Box 6065
Austin, Texas 78762