A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from August 18, 2007
Mexican Polka (Conjunto)

"Mexican Polka” is another name for the accordian-driven music of conjunto.


Polka: History of Dance
Polka
Polka is defined as a vivacious couple dance of Bohemian origin in duple time; was a basic pattern of hop-step-close-step; a lively Bohemian dance tune in 2/4 time.

The polka was originally a Czech peasant dance, developed in Eastern Bohemia (now part of Czechoslovakia). Bohemian historians believe that the polka was invented by a peasant girl (Anna Slezak, in Labska Tynice in 1834) one Sunday for her amusement. It was composed to a folk song “Strycek Nimra Koupil Simla (Uncle Nimra brought a white horse).” Anna called the step “Madera” because of its quickness and liveliness.

The dance was first introduced into the ballrooms of Prague in 1835. The name of the dance (pulka) is Czech for “half-step”, referring to the rapid shift from one foot to the other.

In 1840, Raab, a dancing teach of Prague, danced the polka at the Odéon Theatre in Paris where it was a tremendous success. Parisian dancing teachers seized on the new dance and refined it for their salons and ballrooms. According to Cellarius, the famous French dancing master of the mid-nineteenth century: “What young man is there, although formerly most opposed to dancing, whom the polka has not snatched from his apathy to acquire, willy-nilly, a talent suddenly become indispensable?”

Austin American-Statesman (8-18-2007)
AUSTIN MUSIC MEMORIAL: Camilo Cantu: 1907-1998
Accordion legend’s ‘Mexican polka’ legacy lives on
Camilo Cantu strived to keep conjunto traditions alive
By Michael Corcoran
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Saturday, August 18, 2007

That Austin accordion great Camilo Cantu is still revered 44 years after he retired from a performing career is a testament to his legendary skill and influence. Cantu, who died in 1998 on the day before his 91st birthday, was never recorded, and his tunes, all instrumentals, didn’t have names. But he was a believer in passing down the tradition and so his music lives on with Johnny Degollado, who usually records one Cantu song per album in tribute.

“He didn’t care about getting credit,” says Degollado, who had Cantu’s permission to claim authorship of songs Cantu had written years earlier. “He told me that if I hadn’t recorded those songs, no one would ever know they existed. He said, ‘They’re your songs now.’ “

Cantu taught Degollado, “El Montopolis Kid,” everything about the button accordion, including the craft of repairing and tuning them. For years Cantu did landscaping at the University of Texas to pay the bills, but at night and on weekends he’d hole up in the workshop of his home in South Austin fixing accordions. “If someone brought Mr. Cantu an accordion with a broken reed, he’d charge one dollar to replace it,” says Degollado, whose going repair rate is $15 a reed. “A dollar was a lot of money back then.”

When the Austin Music Memorial opens on a terrace at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in March 2008, the project will stumble out of the gate if the man they called “El Azote de Austin” ("the Scourge of Austin") is not among the maiden inductees. During the 1940s and 1950s glory years of traditional Mexican conjunto music (also known as “Mexican polka"), Cantu was to Central Texas what Santiago Jimenez Sr. (Flaco’s dad) was to San Antonio and Narciso Martinez was to the Rio Grande Valley: simply the best. When he and his trio played in San Antonio or the Valley, Cantu earned the “Scourge” nickname by dusting all comers.

“The style of accordion playing was so unique back then,” says musician J.J. Barrera, who was Cantu’s neighbor in the ‘90s but never heard him play. “I have a tape of (Cantu’s 1940s contemporary) Jose Reyna, and his playing sounds nothing like you hear today.”

Cantu’s home base in the early years was a slab of concrete in Del Valle rimmed with Christmas tree lights. “There wasn’t much to La Polkita — it wasn’t even a building — but it was where you wanted to be every Saturday night,” Degollado says. A 1942 performance by Cantu at La Polkita inspired a 7-year-old Degollado to learn the squeezebox. “I just stood there, watching Mr. Cantu’s fingers move and that big sound from the accordion,” he says. “I was hooked.”

The two had an almost father-son relationship, with Cantu showing Degollado such guarded secrets as the “sordita” tuning, which made for a fuller sound.

Born in Hidalgo, Nuevo León, Mexico, Cantu immigrated to Lockhart as a boy and started playing a keyboard accordion. But when the two-row button accordion came out in 1925 and revolutionized conjunto, Cantu switched to the button style.

Phoenix New Times (9-12-1996)
Serrano Hot
Sizzling new releases from the Latin district of World Beat
By Chris King
Published: September 12, 1996
(...)
The bata are to Yoruba worship what the accordion is to conjunto--signature and spirit. Conjunto is probably the best-known of all Latin-American musics—Mexican polka, si?—and of all conjunto players, Flaco Jimenez should need the least introduction. The only bad thing I can say about the man’s music is that it’s pimped some tawdry products.

Google Groups: wi.northeastern.talk
Newsgroups: wi.northeastern.talk
From:
Date: 1999/10/09
Subject: Re: MOB’s back in town!!!!

Here in Grand Chute it is ‘parks day’ or something and I briefly heard the Conjunto music coming from across the way at the market. 

Conjunto music is Mexican polka… brought down there originally by German emigre’s from Wisconsin and hereabouts.  grin

Fox News (10-15-2006)
Tex-Mex Singer Freddy Fender Dies at 69
Sunday, October 15, 2006
By LYNN BREZOSKY, Associated Press Writer

SAN BENITO, Texas — Freddy Fender, the"Bebop Kid"of the Texas-Mexico border who later turned his twangy tenor into the smash country ballad"Before the Next Teardrop Falls,"died Saturday. He was 69.
(...)
Fender was born in 1937 in San Benito, the South Texas border town credited for spawning the Mexican-polka sound of conjunto. The son of migrant workers who did his own share of picking crops, he also was exposed to the blues sung by blacks alongside the Mexicans in the fields. 

YouTube
Slideshow - Buck Owens - Mexican Polka

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Saturday, August 18, 2007 • Permalink