I love ethnic dance music. I first discovered conjunto music while attending the annual Folk Alliance International conference in Kansas City several years ago. The Texmaniacs were playing one night and there was not any room for any more people in the large main ballroom in Crown Center. People were going crazy over the music and a lot of people were dancing wherever they could find room.
Conjunto is Mexican heavily influenced by German and Polish dance music and it is meant for parties. The Texmaniacs are a band of Mexican Americans who learned to incorporate the instruments that you might expect to see in a polka band and their lead player plays an accordion like no person should be able to play it. There is no sitting down when they are playing.
By the way, there is a huge conjunto festival that goes on for several days in San Antonio, Texas, in the spring and I believe that it will be live this year. I plan to make the trip down there for the music.
Cajun zydeco music is like conjunto in that it is also meant for dancing. I was at a natural resources conference in Fort Collins, Colorado, on the university campus and we were fortunate that they had scheduled Queen Ida and Her Zydeco Band to entertain. It had nothing to do with our conference. It was just a regular university cultural program and she and her band performed from an open-sided trailer on the lawn.
Zydeco is also something that you cannot sit down for. We stomped that grass down pretty much that night. Being Colorado, it was like I was surrounded by a bunch of hippies and their families.
So it should not have been a surprise to learn that Klezmer music is in the same context as the ethnic dance music genre. I do not know why I thought that if it were Jewish or Eastern European music that it had to be somber. On the contrary, apparently the Jews from my old country area of Poland really loved to dance.
If you catch some Klezmer bands on YouTube, you may find that they also play music that must be danced to. No sitting. It is just as crazy as conjunto and zydeco and while I am trying to learn a few Klezmer tunes for the violin, I have seen virtually every instrument used to play the music.
I am not sure why the Nazis killed off as many of the Klezmer players as they could find. I read that the Nazis tried to eradicate the music and the musicians. Maybe the Nazis are just a boorish bunch of people. They cannot make the music and enjoy the dancing themselves, so they kill the players to erase the fun that the dancers were having.
The good news is that Klezmer music is enjoying a tremendous rebirth around the world. I have enjoyed YouTube videos of Klezmer bands from Poland and Jerusalem and I hope that there is some Klezmer action around here. I even found a video of an Asian band playing Klezmer.
This is music that might include guys balancing a whiskey bottle on their heads while they dance and taking a sip every now and then and performing some acrobatic moves to show off. I would not want to take a chance on wasting any of the whiskey and I really do not appreciate drunks at a party any way, but the idea is that the music can be that intoxicating.
If you know of any Klezmer performances in the region, let me know about them.
In the meantime, I’ll keep practicing a few tunes on my violin and I’ll plan to attend the conjunto festival in San Antonio. It just seems that we should have some of that conjunto, zydeco and Klezmer music here in the Kansas City area. Maybe we do and I’m not aware of it.
Matt Nowak is a hobby violin player and lives in Lansing.