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Book salutes music born on the USA-Mexico border

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SAN ANTONIO -- Conjunto is a rare musical treasure that needed to be documented, says photographer John Dyer, whose new book "Conjunto" has just been published.

"It needed to be done," said Dyer, a San Antonio-based photographer.

"This music needed to be celebrated, and the people needed to be spotlighted.

Conjunto is as important as jazz or bluegrass or zydeco. It is that pure, and it grows out of the earth."

Several years in the making, "Conjunto" (University of Texas Press,

$19.95) offers a close look at the conjunto culture in words, song lyrics and photographs.

The colorful 120-page book features more than 50 photographs of musicians and includes lyrics to some of the classic conjunto songs, such as "El Pintor," "Pajaro Negro," "El Burro Pardo" and "Dos Palomitas."

Among the more than a dozen San Antonio-area conjunto artists included are

El Dueto Carta Blanca de Jorge Y Mague; Los Pavos Reales, Eddie "Lalo"

Torres and Salvador T. Garcia; Los Aguilares, brothers Genaro and Emilio; Flaco

and Santiago Jimenez; Mingo Saldivar; Toribio "Toby" Torres; and Lydia


Dyer, who describes himself as "a German Irish from Montana," said he was taken aback when he first heard the music at a Tejano Conjunto Festival concert in the late '80s at Rosedale Park.

"I was pretty much blown away. I was also particularly drawn to the accordion, it was so small and beautiful," he said. "Where I came from, I was used to the older polka accordions, you know, the big ones with piano keys.

"And I was fascinated by the performers and how they looked and how they played."

Dyer said he also learned about the bajo sexto, the other primary instrument in conjunto.

"That's a beautiful hand-made guitar, and I learned that some of the best bajo sextos are made here in San Antonio," he said.

Conjunto music is a folk-based genre that blends the Mexican bajo sexto, rancheras and corridos with German and Czech accordion and dance styles such as the polka and waltzes. It originated in rural agrarian settings along the Texas-Mexican border in the early 1900s; its first-tier pioneers are the late Narciso Martinez and Santiago Jimenez Sr.

Dyer said his book was aimed "at people who have no knowledge of the music, or want to know more."

The book includes informative essays on the magic and allure of conjunto music by veteran music writer Joe Nick Patoski, author of "Selena: Como La

Flor," and conjunto historian Juan Tejeda.

"What really interested me about this book is that it is going to turn a lot of people who don't understand what conjunto is about onto one of the great folk musics of the world," Patoski said.

"Conjunto is still one of the most underappreciated sounds, and this book transcends the music and, hopefully, it will reach a broader audience."

For veteran studio producer and musician Toribio "Toby" Torres, "Conjunto" is "helping pass the culture to new generations.

"Most of the people that are in the book have (made) major contributions to

conjunto. And this book is one form of providing recognition to them," Torres said.

"This music has always struggled to find wider acceptance. Many called it just 'cantina music' in years past. But for many people, including me, this is our

music, this is our culture."



c.2005 San Antonio Express-News

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