But on a regular weekday, El Gato is simply Kenji Katsube, a 38-year-old Japanese assistant manager for a trading and shipping firm in Japan.

Katsube learned to play accordion on his own - teachers are few and far between in Japan. And in the eight years he has played Tejano music, Katsube has fallen in love with the contagious rhythms.

"That 'can make everyone happy' beat, melody and harmony may be the main thing I like about this music," Katsube said in an e-mail interview from Japan. "I was born to squeeze out Tejano sound."

It doesn't matter if he is tapping with furious rhythm in "Atotonilco," singing with the forlorn heart of a hopeless lover in "Hasta Cuando" or playing for pure enjoyment in "El Mosquito Americano," El Gato oozes enthusiasm as head man of the Tejano group "Los Gatos del Japan."

Tejano music, once heard only in the South Texas region where it was born, has become an important player on the global music stage. It has swept across the United States, and spilled over to Mexico, Central and South America and even faraway places like Germany and Japan.

"You can find several of Selena's and Flaco's (Jimenez) CDs in almost every record shop in Japan," Katsube said.

That hasn't always been the case. Fewer than 15 years ago, Tejano music was limited to South Texas and a few states with large populations of Mexican-Americans.

But much has changed since the media began paying closer attention to the industry, said Ramon Hernandez, a Tejano music historian. With the printing of magazines like Tejano Monthly, Latin Times, newsletters and news coverage, the popularity of the genre has blossomed.

"From 1976 to 1985, Tejano publications were virtually non-existent. There was nothing major," Hernandez said.

The publications that did exist were published by Anglo editors, and the only way for fans to learn where Tejano bands were playing was on fliers posted in various places.

That changed dramatically once companies like Sony Discos, EMI Latin and other major players of the recording industry began showing interest in the genre. The increased exposure and media attention helped cultivate a new faithful following for Tejano.

"The national distribution was a turning point," Hernandez said.

The information superhighway also has played an important role in the spread of Tejano music. Across the world, fans are booting up their computers and tapping into the Internet to discuss favorite entertainers.

"They get in the network and chat," said Abel Hernandez, a senior software design engineer for a Dallas data communications company.

Hernandez created La Onda Network in August 1995 and posted the original Tejano Music Home Page. The page provides information about the Tejano music scene and is updated several times a week.

The network receives more than 8,500 hits from computer users around the world, including countries like Australia, Sweden, Argentina, Germany, Malaysia and Singapore.

Copyright 1997 Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Some material copyright 1997 The Associated Press