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Cumbia: How Colombia made Selena a star

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For beginners, Friday’s Échale Series show at the Pearl featuring Austin-based Master Blaster Sound System and Mexico’s Los Master Plus will be a fun introduction to the electrocumbia/hip-hop style, but also a good excuse to figure out how the genre came to Texas and developed into cumbia tejana.

“Everybody calls Selena La Reina del Tex-Mex, or La Reina del Tejano, but what did Selena do?” asks A.B. Quintanilla III, Selena’s brother, bassist for Los Dinos and leader of Kumbia King All Starz. “She did mostly cumbias and some norteño and mariachi, and pop in English. My father is one of the first ones who would say, ‘Tejano is what made your sister!’ and I’m like, ‘Dad, ‘Como la Flor’ is not Tejano, it’s cumbia!’”

Cumbia tejana is a reality, and an easily identifiable one at that: those keyboards, that sentimental singing, the romantic lyrics. From a commercial standpoint, cumbia tejana (which was a key, if not the key, component of the Tejano boom of the ’90s) indirectly started with Mexico’s Rigo Tovar, whose Matamoros Querido (1971), recorded in Houston, launched a style that influenced the generation of musicians that would form La Mafia, Tejano’s biggest act until the Selena explosion. Even though conjunto musicians like Valerio Longoria and Santiago Jiménez Sr. were among those who recorded cumbias in the past, La Mafia’s Estás Tocando Fuego (1991) was the album that launched the cumbia tejana trend.

“Before that, [Tejano musicians] would add maybe one cumbia as a filler, but we felt very strongly about the pop element,” said La Mafia’s Armando Lichtenberger Jr. After recording “No Lo Haré” on 1990’s Con Tanto Amor, for the next album La Mafia went all out. “[In Estás Tocando Fuego] we had six polkas and four cumbias, which was something unheard of. Look at Selena’s albums after Fuego, and there’s plenty of cumbias. But before Fuego, you won’t find a Tejano album with more than one cumbia.”

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