What happened to the whoops? Los Texmaniacs do their thing in Kwai Tsing
Suburban Hong Kong audience was politely receptive and there was little of the whooping, hollering and dancing the South Texas ensemble usually whip up
A less likely venue for a South Texas conjunto gig than Kwai Tsing Theatre would be hard to imagine. Fresh from shows in Hawaii and Louisiana, where you would expect a good deal more tequila sloshing about, Los Texmaniacs were clearly finding the motley crowd that had turned out to hear them on a grey Saturday night difficult to gauge.
There was less of the whooping, hollering and cheering that generally accompanies this sort of music, and not a lot of dancing space in the aisles.
However, the audience was politely receptive, and something of the desired Texas dancehall ambience was evoked towards the end of the performance - perversely - by a singalong to an accordion-led version of the Teresa Teng hit, The Moon Represents My Heart.
The band apparently learned this a couple of years ago on a tour of China, but this was their first show in Hong Kong.
Earlier in the show, mindful that this was a World Cultures Festival gig, bandleader and baja sexto player Max Baca offered a short history of the evolution of South Texan conjunto – the word means ensemble – and its now standard instrumental line up of button accordion, bajo sexto, bass and drums
His explanation that the basic rhythm derives from German dance music, played on the accordion, was translated into Cantonese, establishing, interestingly, that the language has no direct translation of “oompah”.
The traditional role of the bajo sexto – a sort of 12-string guitar from Mexico but significantly lower pitched - was originally to supplement the bass playing role of the accordionist’s left hand, and the two instruments were, for a long time sufficient, without further support, for the requirements of dancers.
Over time bass and drums were added, and bands such as the Texas Tornados blended elements of country and rock into conjunto.
Max Baca has been at the forefront of extending that process, and alongside the polkas and waltzes Los Texmaniacs played several straight rock songs, as well as instrumental versions of such country staples as Marty Robbins’ El Paso and Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys’ San Antonio Rose, plus a stomp-through rendition of Bill Dogett’s Honky Tonk.
Baca is an innovator on his instrument. Taking it beyond its established rhythm cum bass guitar role he uses it to play lead guitar parts, employing distortion and feedback in a way that at times recalled Carlos Santana.
Accordionist Josh Baca, the leader's nephew, took most of the solos and there were some stimulating dueling bajo sexto and accordion passages - an abbreviated version of Dueling Banjos included. Georgia, not Texas, it should be noted, is Deliverance country.
Noel Hernandez on bass also contributed some sound harmony vocals, and drummer Cougar Estrada knew when to lay back on the 19th and early 20th century dance rhythms and when to give the band a rock'n'roll kick.
Several of their original songs came from the band's latest studio album, Americano Groove, which features guest appearances from members of Los Lobos and the Texas Tornados, among others. That could be worth checking out.
Los Texmaniacs, Kwai Tsing Theatre. Reviewed: November 7