Written by Sara Wiseman For the Battle Creek Enquirer
It all started with an accordion. That’s what musician Victor Ballez, 62, says about tejano, a Tex-Mex genre mixture of Latin influences, pop, rock and polka.
The style ignited with the increase of Germans settling in Mexico during the 1800s.
The Germans brought a new culture and a new influence to Mexican music, including the introduction of instruments.
The addition of the accordion to Mexico became a key element in what would become tejano music.
National acts to bring the genre to light include Selena, The Mars Volta and Los Lonely Boys, among many others.
Ballez, originally from San Antonio or the “tejano capital” as he calls it, admits this musical style is unique to Calhoun County. That’s where his band La Maña Loca comes in.
Band members contend that geographical, cultural or lingual barriers don’t restrict audiences in understanding tejano.
“The thing about this music is that you don’t have to understand Spanish or have been raised with it to appreciate it,” Crispin Bocanegra Jr., 50, said.
Most members of La Maña Loca grew up with tejano music. Nick Jimenez, 65, said it was one of those things that was just always around.
Four years ago, after acquiring a studio, Jimenez and Ballez began to bring together a group.
“It wasn’t really playing, it was more like entertaining ourselves,” Jimenez said with a laugh.
The six-piece band is complete with Ballez on the keyboard, Crispin Bocanegra Sr., 77, on the accordion, Crispin Bocanegra Jr. on guitar and backup vocals, Jimenez with lead vocals and percussion, and Joe Sanchez and Tom Sharp on the bass.
“When these guys got together it was never to play out, it was just for fun, to be able to share some time with each other and play music they grew up listening to,” Bocanegra Jr. said. “It morphed into a working band and I think it became much more than they ever thought it was going to be.”
The band sought to channel the influences of popular bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s and to bring a jazzy element into the mix.
The members of La Maña Loca have seen different eras, played an array of instruments and experienced genres from rock to country.
However, only Ballez had previously played tejano. The others quickly overcame the learning curve and synced with the music.
“It was never about being a band or trying to make anything happen,” Bocanegra Jr. said. “I think they realized how much fun they were having and realized, ‘Hey, if we do something with this and take it to the people, they’re going to enjoy it too.’”
Sharing music is something Bocanegra Jr. has always known he needed to do. He said he grew up watching his parents play in a band and quickly learned to play guitar by age 5.
He remembers his father talking him through his hesitance to play in front of people.
“My father told me, ‘Your talent doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to others,’” Bocanegra Jr. said. “That’s when I knew what I wanted to do.”
For a name that translates to “crazy bad habit,” La Maña Loca holds good intentions. The band has committed itself to playing festivals and fundraisers for numerous organizations and would like to play more regularly.
“I think it’s important for the Hispanic community to get out and mingle with their counterparts, get to know one another,” Ballez said. “The music itself is internal, it’s in your heart and it’s a common bind for everyone. We want to bring members of the community together.”
Like the band itself, the audience can’t be defined by ethnicity or age, the members say.
“The audience isn’t necessarily Latino,” Bocanegra Jr. said. “As a matter of fact, it’s probably a smaller portion of the groups that came to watch the band initially.”
According to Ballez, the band seeks to bring attention to a kind of music some think has died.
“We hope that maybe some will follow in our footsteps and continue playing [tejano],” Ballez said.
To them, it’s about upholding a genre and introducing a culture to an entire community.
La Maña Loca agrees that they alone cannot create a resurgence of the genre. To survive as a style, tejano must be discovered and upheld.
“We want to share a culture by spreading the music,” Ballez said.