“Conjunto” is a “conjunction” of Mexican music with other traditions, such as Anglo-American fiddle music, swing, rhythm & blues, and rock & roll. Conjunto is also called Mexican Polka.
See also Norteño and Tejano.
The Roots of Tejano and Conjunto Music
The musical traditions of the Tejanos of South Texas and Norteños of Northern Mexico have been influenced not only by the mother country, Mexico, but also by their Anglo-American, African-American and immigrant neighbors like the Czechs, Bohemians, and Moravians as well as the Germans and Italians. Industry, especially brewing, in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, was developed in part by German immigrants; and the distributors of German-made accordions aggressively marketed the loud, sturdy little “boom boxes” as far back as the late 1800s.
Norteño/Conjunto accordion pioneer Narciso Martínez learned many tunes from German and Czech brass bands. He’d listen with a friend who had a good ear and memory. The friend would whistle the tunes to Narciso when they got home, allowing Narciso to transpose them to his accordion! Anglo-American fiddle music, Swing, Rhythm & Blues, and later Rock & Roll and Soul, were widely enjoyed by Tejanos. Dances by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys were advertised in San Antonio’s Spanish-language daily paper La Prensa in the 1940s and were well attended by Mexican-Americans. In the 1940s, the Pachuco movement (which originated in El Paso and spread from there to Los Angeles) had its musical roots in the swing and jump music of that era. Listen for a bit of the Bob Wills influence on Beto Villa’s recording of “Pachuca Blues”; and for the Pachuco and Rock influence check out Freddy Fender as Eddie Con Los Shades and Mando Marroquín singing with the Conjunto Bernal. The Tejano orchestras, although inspired by the famous orchestras of Mexico, Cuba, and the Anglo world, included in their repertoires the popular folk dances of the region, especially polkas, waltzes, redovas, and rancheras along with the danzones, mambos, boleros and other Latin American dance styles.
Handbook of Texas Online
TEXAS-MEXICAN CONJUNTO. The Texas-Mexican conjunto, a genre of música norteña, has evolved since the turn of the century as an important musical form developed by Texas-Mexican working-class musicians, who adopted the accordion-the main instrument in conjunto music-and the polka from nineteenth-century German settlers in northern Mexico. The conjunto grew out of the cultural links between Texas and northern Mexico at the end of the nineteenth century, when inexpensive one-row accordions became readily available. Tejano musicians took up the accordion as a solo instrument and used it at rural social events such as the fandango, a combination of dancing, eating, gambling, and other merriment, which remained a part of Tejano working-class life to the end of the nineteenth century. In the late 1890s the musicians began to pair the accordion with the tambora de rancho (a homemade goatskin drum) and later the bajo sexto (the twelve-string guitar).
Narciso Martínez has been called the “father” of the modern conjunto for promoting the accordion and the bajo sexto and for his unparalleled creativity as an accordionist. Martínez, also known as “el huracán del valle” (“the hurricane of the Valley”) for his musical virtuosity, became a wizard of the two-row accordion in the 1930s. Santiago Jiménez, Sr., of San Antonio was another outstanding accordionist of this formative period. He contributed one innovation to the conjunto by adding a tololoche (contrabass), which, however, did not become a standard feature of the ensemble until the 1940s and was replaced with the electric bass in the late 1950s. Valerio Longoria, one of the foremost conjunto musicians of the 1940s and 1950s, combined his vocal talent with his accordion playing, and his repertoire increased interest in accordion-accompanied singing. Tejana singers also came to the fore in the 1930s with Lydia Mendoza. Female duets, which were popular by the early 1950s, were often accompanied by the increasingly popular accordion. One record featured Martínez on accordion with Mendoza and the famous Tejana duet Carmen and Laura as vocalists.
The vocals Longoria incorporated were called canciones rancheras (“ranch songs”). They became standard features of the conjunto. Rancheras are still sung in the slow (waltz) or fast (polka) tempo. Longoria shaped the modern conjunto in several other ways. He added the bolero, previously considered a part of “genteel” music because of its regal pace. This addition resulted in more intricate singing because vocalists in the bolero were required to use harmony and rhythm with more acumen. Also, the conjunto audience’s acceptance of the bolero signified growing musical sophistication. Longoria altered the accordion’s reeds to give it a distinctive sonido ronco (“hoarse sound”) and was the first to use drums in the ensemble, a change considered the most “radical innovation” in conjunto music. With these alterations, as well as the addition of amplification, the modern conjunto was established as a four-instrument band: accordion, bajo sexto, electric bass, and drums.
Since the 1960s the Texas-Mexican conjunto has grown in prominence among Hispanics throughout the state, particularly in Austin, San Antonio, Alice, and Corpus Christi.