Five relatives, influences of modern Tejano music

Lisette Oler

Tejano music originated in South and Central Texas and mixes Eastern European folk music with traditional Mexican music. It has many popular forms, all with their own distinct sound, but they share and borrow from other genres to create something new.

Tejano music is not complete without polkas. When settlers from the Czech Republic, Germany and other Eastern European countries immigrated to Texas, they brought their polkas as well. The word polka stems from the Czech word for half because the dance that accompanies the music uses half-steps. Polkas is a fast, steady 2/4 with eight bar phrases. The influence of the European polka with traditional Mexican music created the genre now known as Tejano music. The polka rhythms and sounds can still be heard in songs such as “Viva Seguin” by Arriba
El Norte.

While all types of Tejano music are dance-oriented, cumbia’s dances are more closely tied to its music. Originally a courtship dance practiced in Colombia, this style took Americans by storm in the mid-20th century. Since then it has been incorporated by Tejano bands around Texas and the United States. Traditional cumbias include the drums and claves, a pair of wooden sticks that when struck together produce a hollow sound, but today’s cumbias add in guitars and accordions. Selena Quintanilla-Perez was well known for her cumbias, such as “Techno Cumbia.”

When German settlers introduced the button accordion in the late 19th century, the introduction gave girth to Mexican conjunto, or conjunto tejano. A conjunto band consists of the button accordion, the bajo sexto, drums and an electric bass. Flaco Jimenez is the most widely known conjunto
musician with songs such as “El Guero Polkas.”

Unlike cumbias, boleros are slow, played in a 3/4 time signature with a dance following suit. The Cuban bolero influenced Tejano boleros more than Spanish boleros. Though they fell out of popularity in the 1980s, the 1991 album “Romance” by Luis Miguel led to a reappearance of the songs in
Tejano music.

In the same way polka came from Eastern Europe, the ranchera comes from traditional Mexican folk songs, consisting of themes about patriotism and nature. Getting its name from the ranches in Mexico where they began, they are not ballads like corridos, but share similarities of instrumentation and sometimes rhythm. Violins, trumpets and guitars are prominent in this type of Tejano music. “El Rey” by Jose Alfredo Jimenez is one of the most popular rancheras of all time.