Tejano Music History
Photo courtesy Tejas Records

The Evolution of Tejano Music

In the 1690s Spain settled the area that is now known as Texas . In 1718, San Antonio was established as a midway point to the missions of east Texas.

In 1749, Spain settled the area we now call the Rio Grande Valley, thus was born the Tejano ( a Texan of Mexican heritage). Because of the remoteness of South Texas at the time and its proximity of Mexico, Tejano culture was very much tied to the Mexican states of Nuevo Leon and Tamalipas. These ties continue today and are a strong influence on the Tejano culture.

In the 1850s Europeans from Germany, Poland and Czech republic migrated to Texas and Mexico. Bringing with them their style of music and dance. They brought with them the Waltz, Polkas and other popular forms of music and dance. However it was not until the Mexican Revolution ( 1910-1917) that forced many of these Europeans to flee Mexico and into South Texas, that their musical influence was to have a major impact on Tejanos. At the turn of the century, Tejanos were mostly involved in ranching and agriculture.

It was a rough life, but one of pride. The only diversion was the occasional traveling musician who would come to the ranches and farms. Their basic instruments were the Flute, Guitar and Drum. and they sang songs that were passed down through the generations from songs originally sang in Spain and Mexico. One of these musicians was Lydia Mendoza, who became one of the first to record Spanish music as part of RCAs expansion of their popular Race records of the 1920s. As these traveling musicos traveled into areas where the Germans, Poles and Czechs lived, they began to incorporate the ump papa sound into their music. Narciso " El Huracan del Valle" Martinez known as the father of conjunto music, defined the Accordions role in conjunto music.

With the accordion, drum and the bajo sexto, a 12 string bass guitar from Spain, Tejanos now had a sound they could begin to call their own. In the 1940s, Valerio Longoria introduced lyrics to conjunto music. Further establishing the Tejano claim to this new sound. Tejano music did retain some of its roots in the old European styles, Polkas and Waltzes were still popular , also popular was the German habit of dancing in a circle around the dance floor. It can also be noted that Country Western is also danced in the same manner, but ONLY in TEXAS.

In the 1950s, Isidiro Lopez further revolutionize the Tejano sound by taking out theflowery Spanish that Valerio used and used Tex-Mex instead. This created a newer sound and took us one step closer to the sound we have today. In the 1960s and 70s Little Joe and the Latinairs, later renamed La Familia, The Latin Breed , and others infused the orchestra sound into the Tejano sound. Taking their influences from the Pop, R&B and other forms of music. In the late 70s and early 80s, Brownsville Native Joe Lopez y El Groupo Mazz introduced the Keyboard sound to Tejano. This was influenced by the Disco sound of the era.

In the last Ten years or so there has been a rebirth of the accordion sound in Tejano Music. The Accordion has gone from an almost forgotten instrument to a "must have" instrument.

Groups like Los Chamacos, Eddie Gonzalez y Vida, La Tropa F and all the groups hitting today have the accordion .

In the 1980s, Little Joe proved to Columbia records that there was money to be made in Tejano Music. Major corporations have followed and Tejano is enjoying the recognition it had been denied for decades.

Will Tejano change? Of course it will. Will it go out of style? NO WAY. Tejano music is fan based and fan driven , it reflects their likes and dislikes.

As long as they put out Beer Drinking songs, Love songs, Tear Jerking songs and old Dancing songs. There will continue to be Tejano music, because Tejano is the music of the Heart.

As for my sources I will cite Galan, Acuna, My father Cesario"Challo" Leal Jr. (1924-1992) He was a DJ for KBOR in the 1950s and owned El Patio Mesquito in the 1950s & 60s in Olmito, Texas where many of the old time greats got their start or fine tuned their art. Among them Ruben Vela, Freddy Fender, Ramon Ayala, Gilberto Perez, Narciso Martinez, Chuy Villegas (father of Linda V and the Boys) the list goes on.

by Martin Leal
Texas History Teacher
Brownsville I.S.D.
B.A. History

Here's a very good video on the history of Tejano Music: Songs of the Homeland.

Here's another version of Tex-Mex Music origination; Tex-Mex Sound