Reviewed by Belinda Acosta, Fri., Dec. 2, 2005
Photographs by John Dyer, with essays by Joe Nick Patoski and Juan Tejeda
University of Texas Press, 121 pp., $19.95
Don't let the stylishly somber cover fool you. Inside John Dyer's lithe book are vibrant, living portraits of some of the greatest conjunto and Tejano music legends captured in their element on stage, in cantinas, in living rooms, and in their back yards. The old-timers are included, of course: Valerio Longoria, Henry Zimmerle, Johnny Degollado, as well as performers lesser known to the casual fan, like Lupita Rodela. Alongside legendary singer-songwriter Lydia Mendoza, Rodela is one of a handful of featured women. "All the early conjunto greats are dying," Juan Tejeda writes in his preface. His deeply personal, insider description of conjunto music is both tutorial and reluctant eulogy for a tradition whose future sometimes appears tenuous. Yet, the book resonates with something rare in this day and age: dignity. Smartly, key figures behind the music are also included. The striking portrait of bajo sexto-maker Alberto Macías silently speaks to the value of craft and tradition, passed down from his father, now passing to his son and grandson. An introduction by Joe Nick Patoski gives a historic and personal take on the music. Delightful close-ups of graphics that adorn cantinas face each portrait and select song lyrics with brief synopses appear throughout. Tejeda's amazingly distilled captions are perfect; the photos do the talking. While not an exhaustive scholarly work, Conjunto is a stunning album that conjunto music fans will relish. More importantly, it will entice those unfamiliar with the form to discover the music for themselves.