“The Mexican American Orquesta, Music- Culture, and
the Dialectic of Conflict” by Manuel Peña was published
in 1999 by the University of Texas Press. Mr. Peña has
taught anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin and
music at California State University, Fresno. He is
also the author of “The Texas-Mexican Conjunto.”
The back cover of the book describes the book best where it
states, “Manuel Peña traces the evolution of the orquesta
in the Southwest from its beginnings in the nineteenth century
through its pinnacle in the 1970s and its decline since the
1980s.” The book has a lot of information directly
relevant to my website, as to artists I’ve written articles
about or have mentioned. For example, there’s
a lot of information about the careers of my dad, Lalo Guerrero,
and Don Tosti. There are also references to East L.A.
Chicano artists Los Lobos, Thee Midniters, and Cannibal &
the Headhunters. Artists that I plan to write about are also
featured such as, Little Joe Hernandez, Sunny Ozuna, Manny
Lopez, and Chico Sesma. Another person who gets well
deserved attention in the book is my dad’s late record
producer, Manuel S. Acuña, whom I knew and recorded for on
many occasions. Manuel was an extremely gifted songwriter,
arranger, and record producer. Since the book covers
back to the late nineteenth century, a couple of pages are
dedicated to Tucson’s Club Filarmonico. This is
the band I’ve touched on in reference to Tom Sheridan’s
book, “Los Tucsonenses.” It’s leader
was Fred Ronstadt, the father of popular singer Linda Ronstadt.
Since my experience and expertise
is mainly related to Southern California Chicano music, the
information and quotes from Texas singers Sunny Ozuna and
Little Joe Hernandez were of particular interest to me.
Sunny, who’s first and biggest hit was “Talk To
Me” by Sunny and the Sunglows, went solo after that
record and later formed Sunny and the Sunliners. The
latter band had a couple of hit records, but none of the magnitude
of “Talk to Me.” He later attained a steady
success in the Tejano music world, playing both Mexican and
American music. Mr. Peña calls this hybrid of Mexican
and American music played by the orquestas, which also applies
to Tejano bands, and some Chicano pop groups, the "dialectic
of conflict." The latter phrase refers to the socio-economic,
cultural, and musical conflict between the Anglo and Mexican
cultures in the Southwest, the wavering between acculturation
and ethnic resistance. He also points out that artists
such as Little Joe and Sunny Ozuna found that they could find
a lasting career with a Chicano audience, who are loyal to
their artists over the long haul, unlike the fickle, here
today gone tomorrow, American pop field. This has proven
to be true with California artists such as El Chicano, Tierra,
and Malo. Manuel Peña believes that the Mexican American orquesta's music is neither a Mexican nor an American music.
It was created from the repertoire and style of the Mexican
orquesta and the American dance band and what resulted is
a synthesis of the two.
There is a chapter entitled "The Los Angeles Tradition-
Triumph of the Anti-Ranchero." It points out the
fact that many Chicano artists such as Don Tosti, Eddie Cano,
and Chico Sesma had a distaste, to say the least, for ranchera
music. These artists were more influenced by American
swing jazz and Afro-Hispanic music, later to be known as salsa.
They were more trained and "sophisticated musicians"
who looked down their noses at ranchera music. I'm not
repeating this to denigrate these great artists, it's simply
the way it was. I've heard this personally from Don
Tosti recently. My dad, was an exception to this thinking.
He played and recorded the swing jazz, the Afro-Hispanic,
along with polkas, corridos, and banda music. The book
is divided into three parts; "Origins," "The
Mexican American Era," and "The Chicano Era."
The latter section has four chapters including "The Chicano
Generation" and "Music in the Post Chicano Era."
These chapters get into the Chicano Movement of the 60s and
how that changed Chicano music into a more ethnic, and sometimes
political art form.
Mexican American Orquesta" is 384 pages in length, has
25 photos, and 10 musical scores, including my dad's "Vamos
a Bailar" and Don Tosti's "Chicano Boogie."
There are three photos of Don Tosti. One is a photo
of a sombrero clad Don Tosti during his brief venture into
the world of ranchera music with La Orquesta Muro. The
other two are of his early orchestras. There are also
two great photos of Little Joe and the Latinaires from 1965
and 1967. There is also a 1990 photo of my dad, who
Mr. Peña refers to as a "bimusical eclectic."
That's actually a good description of his music. It
is "bimusical" because it is very much Mexican and
American, with many songs which actually contain both.
"La Minifalda de Reynalda" is a good example.
It has norteña sections, played by Los Hermanos Arellano,
alongside rock & roll sections performed by my rock band,
Mark & the Escorts. His music is also "eclectic"
because he truly wrote and recorded in virtually all genres,
both Mexican and American. "The Mexican American
Orquesta" by Manuel Peña is a result of 15 years of field
research. He interviewed many of the artists and quotes
them throughout the book. I recommend the book highly
to anyone interested in Chicano music. It is available
in hardcover (ISBN-0-292-76586-X) and paperback (IBSN-0-292-76587-8).
You can also order it on line from the University of Texas
or at amazon.com at the link below.