El acordeón y yo

My love for the accordion has been with me for about twenty years now. It’s funny because in my last post about learning extremely relevant vocabulary through Mexican music I stated that I’d been listening to these beats for over twenty years, but I tend to forget how old or young I am. My focused attention toward norteño, banda*, tejano, etc. adds up to twenty years on the nose.

I can’t really put a date on the day I first tuned in to Ramon Ayala’s accordion playing. What I remember is that it took my breath away while I was driving, which is as dangerous as you might imagine, and I pulled my car over to the side of the road to finish listening to the song. It was Rinconcito en el Cielo. It was an earth-shattering moment in my life. The next accordion player to really grab my attention was Ricky Muñoz of Intocable in songs such as No Te Vayas. However, earth-shattering moments are rare, and I never had to pull my car over again to catch my breath.

Over the following years, I studied the music by listening to it (obviously) and reading about its history. I collected albums and attended a conjunto festival in San Antonio, TX, where I saw Flaco Jimenez play. Later, I saw Ramon Ayala live, though every time Intocable has come to New Mexico, something has prevented me from going to see them. I’m sad about that. I’ve seen a number of other bands live, though, including Conjunto Primavera. It’s been great fun learning about some of the older musicians, too, who aren’t featured prominently on the local Mexican radio stations any longer. By older, I mean bands such as Conjunto Bernal. Not that long ago, I ran across a video in which Ramon Ayala and Paulino Bernal were playing together, and then Ricky Muñoz made an appearance near the end. I think it was a birthday celebration, but I can’t find the video — if I do, I’ll post it. This is incredible because these men represent three generations of accordion players. Muñoz is a gen-Xer, Ayala a boomer, and Bernal a silent gen. There are, of course, millenials now playing the accordion, but there is so much wealth to be found in the parents and grandparents and greats that originally impacted my life so much. And by the way, as it turns out, Señor Bernal now mostly plays praise songs on the accordion because he’s a Christian; so is Señor Ayala. They both have testimonies circling the internet.

One date night when my husband and I had been drinking at the local Socorro pub, he ordered me an accordion on his phone. Just like that. Just ordered it. That was…I don’t know, 2013? There was a live band at the pub complete with an accordion player, though I believe they were going for the Celtic sound. The accordion was still of the Norteño variety, that is, a three-row diatonic. Soon, my accordion was shipped and I’ve been struggling to learn to play it ever since, though I never really went all-in until recently.

Being an obtuse intellectual, it’s difficult for me to grasp music, which seems to be something you get naturally or you don’t. However, anyone can learn music, and you can’t fault me trying. Little by little, I’m learning my favorite songs, which has given me an entirely different perspective on musicianship. I love Ramon Ayala and still would call him the king of accordion, as he was the one who drew me into the magic of the norteño sound. But after trying to learn songs, I find Muñoz’s playing to be impossible to replicate. There is something almost unearthly about his playing, something intangible that I can’t attain to at all. On a recent Twitter post, he says in answer to the question If you could speak to your accordion, what would you say?: “I always speak to her and it is something too intimate….” That…definitely comes across. I can imagine myself talking to my accordion and either being verbally abusive to it or turning the scene into a Johnny English moment because…I can’t help myself. I’m always more comedian than artist. In case you want to see the Tweet for yourself, here it is:

*Banda is brass band music; I love it, but it doesn’t always or even usually have an accordion.

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6 comments

  1. I’m obtuse, but not an intellectual, so I get music easily. It’s very contextual. Once you’ve been steeped in a certain genre for a while, the instinct for it is overwhelming. I could easily write a decent early-aughts era metalcore song in a few hours if I had all the right equipment, etc., though making it something great is another matter. You might be at that stage with your specific genre (Mexican accordion?). You don’t need to be proficient at playing it, just having that trained ear for recognition.

    But, writing a good pop song, or jazz, or classical? I wouldn’t know where to start. Music is weird.

    1. I’m maybe not an intellectual, just a fancy way of saying that the ways of artistry are beyond me because I overexamine the world. But yeah, I have recognition. I can even pick out accordion styles when the accordionist is teaming up with another band. And I can tell (most of the time) if the band is from TX, MX, or NM. NM isn’t big in the scene, but they do have their own music industry that produces some of the traditional songs.

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