The story of the American music scene has not been completely told because of the absence of in-depth published research on the Mexican-American music experience, says Dr. Manuel Pena, music professor at California State University, Fresno
But Pena is helping complete the picture with his latest book, Musica Tejana (Texan-Mexican Music), recently published by the Texas A&M University Press.
The book is a scholarly research that presents and analyzes the development and history as well as social and economic implications of this American regional form of Mexican music that Pena says is distinctively American.
“Tejano music is ranked among the most important regional styles in the United States, right up there with country, bluegrass and down home blues,” Pena says.
He writes that “tejano music is not one single music but several musical and musico-literary genres, ensembles and their styles.” It includes two major regional ensembles — the conjunto (accordion-based) and the Texas-Mexican version of the orquesta (Mexican-American dance band).
Created by Mexican-Americans in Texas, Tejano music has been spread throughout the Southwest including a strong presence in central California where agriculture has historically attracted Texas immigrants, says Pena.
The music has been most notably popularized by such artists as the late Selena, Emilio Navairo and five-time Grammy award winner Flaco Jimenez, who is in town for the 10th Annual Nortefio/Tejano Festival Saturday, June 19.
The event is held at the Fresno Convention Center’s Exhibit Hall and annually sells out — testimony to the music’s influence in this area, says Pena.
This week, Pena is promoting the book by joining forces with Jimenez who, like Selena and Navairo, is one of the book’s subjects. The book is available at the Kennel Bookstore on campus.
Pena and Jimenez will be at Borders Books in the River Park Shopping Center Saturday afternoon from
1 to 3 p.m. to promote the festival sponsored by Radio Bilingue, Inc. which has tapped Pena’s expertise for its annual workshops on Tejano music.
Jimenez won his most recent Grammy earlier this year for the CD “Said and Done,” a crossover into country western music, one of the topics Pena addresses in his book.
Pena describes Jimenez as an innovative accordionist and musical ambassador who was one of the first to crossover from the Mexican music scene to the English market.
“Although he was not the first to attempt it, he is known for having popularized the fusion of conjunto and country-western styles,” Pena writes of Jimenez.
Pena’s scholarly work is intended primarily for college courses and researchers but is expected to attract the attention of Mexican-Americans and other music aficionados.
“With the recent interest in world music, and the current popularity of the Tejano sound, this book could well attract a significant audience,” said John McDowell, a professor of folklore at Indiana University who reviewed the book. However, he cautioned that the book “may be too narrow in focus to reach a truly broad cross-section of readers.”
But music journalist Ramiro Burr, a syndicated columnist for the San Antonio Express-News in Texas who specializes in Latin music and is author of the new book, “The Billboard Guide to Tejano and Regional Mexican Music” by Billboard Books, said works like Pena’s and his own fill a void.
“This is the first time this music has ever been documented,” he said. “It’s important to remember that the artists in Tejano/Conjunto/Norteno have made important contributions to the American music landscape.”
Burr said the history of a culture or of a country is incomplete unless it includes the participation and contributions of everyone.
“These books will help make complete the American music picture,” Burr said.
Pena has taught at Fresno State since 1981 as well as the University of Texas at Austin where he received a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology and folklore. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Fresno State.
Many members of Fresno State’s music faculty have national and international reputations as performing artists and teachers and are well known for their scholarly research, articles and books.
Pena maybe reached at (559) 278-7190.