Accordion Dreams, the newest documentary from acclaimed filmmaker Hector Galán brings the rich and diverse history of Texas-based Mexican-American Conjunto music to the forefront. With its roots in the traditional polka rhythms of Central Europe the button accordion travels with the German settlers to the rolling hills of Central Texas, where it is adopted by native Mexican-Americans and becomes the focal point of the wildly successful Texas Conjunto music. Accordion Dreams is presented on PBS by Latino Public Broadcasting, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide a voice for the diverse Latino community throughout the United States. Accordion Dreams will premiere nationally on Thursday, August 30, 2001 at 10 PM (ET) on PBS (Check your local listings).
Narrated by Texas-based singer/songwriter Tish Hinojosa, Accordion Dreams captures the history and impact of the European button accordion on the development of a uniqe American musical genre called Conjunto, a word that literally means, "harmony/union" in Spanish. The film features exciting performance footage, archival footage/photos, and heartfelt interviews, weaving a character driven story that entertains as it educates.
With Accordion Dreams I wanted to literally follow the button accordion's journey from Europe to Texas and explore its major role in the creation of this musical expression called conjunto-that is native to Texas," says Galán. "To do this, we focused in on Central Texas, specifically the city of New Braunfels, which was settled in the late 1800's by German immigrants."
Featured in the documentary is Pearly Sowell, a German descendant who strive to maintain the German traditional music handed down to her in an environment that is rapidly changing. Baron Shlamaus, a historian and head of the New Braunfels conservation sociey, sheds light on the early beginnings of the accordion, its arrival in Texas, its Polish/Czech influence, and its impact on the Mexican communities of Texas.
The documentary also examines the Italian immigrant community's impact on the popularity of the accordion in the United States. Eddie Chavez, a prominent accordion historian, whose book, The Golden Age of the Accordion, is considered one to the most comprehensive writings on the subject, reminisces with fondness about the "Golden Age" when the accordion was at the top of its popularity in mainstream America, and acknowledges that it is today's conjunto musicians who are "keeping accordion music alive."
As the Mexican-American farmworkers community has made its way from coast to coast with seasonal harvest work, awareness of this particular type of music has reached a much broader audience.
"Wherever there is a Mexican-American presence in the United States, the strains of the button accordion can be heard-whether on Spanish language radio or live performances," says Galán. "This is a music so rooted in the culture that it has survived the test of time and is enjoying a resurgence among Mexican-American youth. They have taken the music of their past and embraced it. To Mexican-American youth with Texas connections, the button accordion is what the electric guitar was to rock-n-roll during its renaissance in the 60's. The same thing is happening today."
Accordion Dreams also takes a fresh look at women in conjunto musicians because the music was often associated with cantinas or dancehalls and not "appropriate" for women. Featured artist Eva Ybarra managed to overcome the barriers that existed against women in conjunto music and has become one of the legends of the genre.
Today, more women accordionists-among them fifteen-year-old Victoria Galván and twenty-year-old Cecilia Saenz-are challenging old stereotypes and taking the music to a new level.From lively polkas to smooth waltzes. Accordion Dreams captures an exhilarating musical style that is rapidly winning fans worldwide.
"This film is going to dispel any misconceptions people may have about accordion music," adds Galán. The documentary looks at today's young rebel accordionists who have expanded this musical style to the
ringes of rock, blues, and pop, while paying homage to its pioneers and legends. Representing the latter are Flaco Jimenez, Oma and the Oompahs, Tony De La Rosa, Valerio Longoria, Ruben Vela, Paulino Bernal, Eva Ybarra. Among the former are Albert Zamora, up and coming accordion whiz Jesse Turner, and fifteen-year-old sensation Victoria Galván.
A comprehensive, interactive Accordion Dreams website will be launched on the August 30th broadcast date on the PBS Website at www.pbs.org.