conjunto tejano and norteño
Over the past century, closely related musical styles developed on the Texas and Mexico sides of the Rio Grande River. The award-winning band Conteño, hailing from the border city of Brownsville, Texas, is taking the dance music of their community back to its roots, playing both conjunto tejano and norteño, a move both innovative and reverent.
Conjunto (“group” or “ensemble” in Spanish) first emerged at the end of the 19th century, when the button accordion was introduced by a new wave of European immigrants, displacing the violin from its central place in Mexican dance music. By the 1930s, the conjunto style led by accordion and the 12-stringed bajo sexto developed, keeping communities on both sides of the border dancing to a distinctive Tex-Mex mixture of rancheras, polkas, waltzes, cumbias, huapangos,and schottisches. Starting in the 1950s, new forms of popular music led to national and regional variation, producing norteño (from the Spanish word for “north”) in northern Mexico and conjunto tejano in Texas.
Brothers Juan Longoria Jr. and Federico Longoria formed their first band as teenagers in 1998, inspired by the example of their father and uncles, who have performed for decades as the popular regional Mexican band Los Halcones Del Valle. From the beginning, the brothers “wanted our music to represent where we’re from,” their roots in Mexico and also their tejano pride. At first the brothers called their band Los Potrillos (The Colts), but early on a fan referred to their unique mix of conjunto tejano and norteño traditions as “conteño,” and the name felt right; when they released their first album in 2008, they officially became Conteño.
The members of Conteño are all second and third generation conjunto tejano and norteño musicians, “proud to be able to represent both” sides of their border heritage. Joining Juan Jr. (accordion and vocals) and Federico (bajo sexto and first voice) are their cousin Romulo Longoria III on percussion, saxophone, and vocals; their friends Rafael Garcia Jr. on bass and vocals and Rudy Herrera Jr. on drums; and Juan’s 15-year-old son Juan Longoria III on saxophone and bajo quinto.
Conteño was named the “Most Promising Band” by the South Texas Conjunto Association in 2011. Bandleader Juan Longoria Jr. was the inaugural winner of Texas Folklife Resources’ Big Squeeze accordion competition in 2007 (five years later his son was a semifinalist), and he recently established a conjunto program at Los Fresnos High School, where he teaches music. The ensemble’s most recent recording, 2016’s Instrumentales Recordando Nuestras Raices, is a joyous exercise in, as the title suggests, remembering their roots in the instrumental dance music of earlier generations, when “you sang your song with your instrument.”