Sunday, August 14, 2011

Air Accordion - or Acordion al aire

Note: Performances from greats (pictured here) like Ramon Ayala, Raulito, Estevan Jordan and Flaco Jimenez have helped make the accordion part of Tejano, Mexicano, Chicano culture. It's part of our roots and an instrument which we have learned to dominate and enjoy. Is it little wonder some of us break out in air accordion routines? It's part of our roots, raices, and we are proud of our link with this instrument.
I have often marvelled at the fun people have "playing" air guitar.

This activity mimics dance and rock 'n' roll as a person - usually a guy - pretends to play a guitar while heavy-metal-style electric guitar music is heard in the background. The person gyrates wildly on the stage (floor?) as his fingers and hands strum through imaginary parts of the song - including riffs and solos. The performance usually involves exaggerated strumming and guitar-picking motions at times coupled with lip-synching.

I can relate to air guitar, having been around for the birth of rock 'n' roll and enjoyed the heavy metal and punk rock era. I understand the energy rock music generates. I can see where a person can just be taken away by the sound electric guitar and how a person would want to be able to play that instrument with the efficiency professional rock musicians do every day. And, so, air guitar was born.

Growing up Mexicano, Tejano, Chicano, air guitar didn't really make the rounds at our parties until the late 20th century. We Mexicanos, Tejanos, Chicanos were way ahead on that simulated playing an instrument notion, ese (dude). I mean, don't get me wrong, we love rock 'n' roll and heavy metal and can jam to Jimi Hendrix as well as Santana, but our raices (roots) are too strong to just settle for that.

In the 1960s and to this date, most Mexicanos, Tejanos, Chicanos grew up with the sound of the accordion accompanying a conjunto or banda. The sounds of Tony de la Rosa, Estevan Jordan, Los Relampagos del Norte, El Indio, Flaco Jimenez coming from our radios graced our automobiles, living rooms, backyards and patios, and dance halls more frequently than any other sound.

The songs these and other bands played were as electrifying to us as any punk rock tune or classic Santana ballad. This music was ours, combined from the meshing of cultures that settled our beloved Texas and refined in the farm fields of our nation and in neighborhood cantinas and dance halls. The sound took the Mexican corrido (ballad) and the European (mainly German) guitar instrument the accordion to interpret the melody that accompanied the legendary lyrics that were an integral part of communication within our culture.

So, it was not unusual at pachangas (parties, gatherings)for some of us, as we were listening to a tune by Tony de la Rosa, Paulio Bernal or any other top conjunto to break out in our own air accordion (el acordion del aire) routine. We'd be sitting there, drinking beer or other beverages, eating barbacoa (barbecue) and charleando (chatting) with our families and friends when one of us just couldn't take it any more and we had to break out into a air accordion routine.

Granted, this air accordion routine is not a pretty site, but no one seems to mind. It involves (usually a man) standing up and starting to strut around the floor (dirt or otherwise, his arms shoulder length, his hands facing toward his body at about chest level and his fingers moving wildly as he hits the keys of an imaginary accordion hanging from his neck. The routine also involves lifting the heels of your boots or Los Chucks (old-style black Converse tennis shoes)up in the air while you prance around on your toes and do a little dance a la Raulito fame (Emilio Naivara's brother) and slowly making a circle (a la washing machine like in the Selena movie) while those around you whoop and holler and sing the song you are trying to perform on your air accordion. Raulito's famous air accordion routine now includes a shuffle that he performed during George W. Bush's fund raiser for his presidential bid. Ese (That) Raulito. Wow.

So, I've been thinking. They have national air guitar festivals and competitions. What would it take to have an air accordion competition? I know, I know, we Mexicano, Tejanos, Chicanos think that contest stuff is below us. When we perform we do it spontaneously and with gusto. We do it because it's natural and we don't want to perform for anyone but ourselves and our families. It's kind of like the grito. It just comes out - naturally - when we hear a song by Vicente Fernandez, Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Michael Salgado or Ramon Ayala or from a group like Intocable or Solido.


That reminds me of one time when I heard the grito and saw the air accordion routine performed together by more than 2,000 people. It was at Fairgronds Field in Robstown, Texas. The Coastal Bend Aviators were playng a baseball game against another minor league team when the PA announcer started playing Ramon Ayala's "Tragos de Amargo Licor (Drinks of Bitter Liquor - I know, it's not the same in the translation). Almost instantaneously, the mostly Tejano crowd of men on a Thirsty Thursday promotion rose to its feet, joined in the chorus of the song as others let out a grito and some did their air accordion routine. Here's the chorus:

Tragos de amargo licor (drinks of bitter liquor)
Que no me hacen olvidar (don't help me forget)
Y me siento como un cobarde (and I feel like a coward)
Que hasta me pongo a llorar
(and I break down and cry)

Truly, it's a moving song. The air accordion routine, the gritos and the community chorus that night were inspiring. It touched to the nerve of what it is to be a Tejano, Mexicano, Chicano in America. We have our own music and we use the accordion. It's unique and it's ours. We don't need no pinche (sorry) contest to let us know we're good at it. We're Tejano, Mexicano and Chicano and we have the American right to party like we want to...(simulate air accordion routine here accompanied by a chorus of gritos).

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