“I’m going to be 73,” contemplated Santiago Jiménez Jr. on Monday. “Conjunto music will be here long after I pass.”
For decades, San Antonio’s accordion king has guarded genre tradition like the crown jewels. While his brother Flaco Jiménez “can do it all,” lacing the squeeze box into jazz/country/rock, the younger instrumentalist preserves the legacy of their father, Santiago Jiménez Sr., a conjunto pioneer. Forcefully plucked strings and tight-walked bass anchor frothing, rippling accordion swirls. It’s a formula garnering him Grammy nominations and a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship.
“I always wanted to be like my dad,” proclaims the Sunday co-headliner. “I would stare at him playing, and then he’d get on me for breaking his accordion while I tried playing it.”
Since Santiago and Flaco’s 1961 collaboration El Rey y el Principe de la Musica Norteña, and the former’s solo work including 1989’s Familia y Tradición to Corazón de Piedra three years later, Jiménez prefers the simple, jovial conjunto lineage traced by his father that deviates from Norteño music and modern fusions.
“My grandfather would take my dad to New Braunfels where he heard polkas and German music, and that’s where it began,” explains Jiménez. “I didn’t like going to school because I just wanted to practice and play what my dad played.”
Growing up in the predominantly Latino Westside of San Antonio, Santiago witnessed conjunto’s mainstreaming.
“Amazing to see how conjunto music has grown from polkas in New Braunfels to younger people embracing it, dancing to it, and hearing it on radios like Austin’s KOOP to keep it alive,” he awes. “Like my father said, ‘You either play it right or don’t play at all.’”– Alejandra Ramirez