SAN ANTONIO – The familiar sound of the time-honored accordion can still be heard at Lerma’s, the iconic former West Side nightclub that became an historic landmark.
Part of the building is now a classroom of sorts used by Conjunto Heritage Taller, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the art of accordion playing, as well as the bajo sexto.
Conjunto Heritage Taller offers low-cost classes to students of all ages.
One of its instructors is “El Maestro” himself, Bene Medina, who is considered the dean of accordion music.
“We’ve done pretty good, gracias a Dios,” Medina said.
At age 84, Medina radiates a youthful smile as he does what he does best, to the amazement of his students.
Like Medina, many of his students started playing when they were still very young by watching and listening to others.
Fern Lozano was only five years old when he first picked up an accordion.
“I was more of a self-learner,” Lozano said.
He said Medina has helped refine what he’s learned up to now.
Lozano said it’s meant a lot to have Medina at his side with that level of knowledge and history.
Oscar Cantua joined El Maestro’s class as a novice earlier this summer. But, he said it wasn’t until he went on Google that he discovered his instructor was “a big deal.”
“It’s incredibly humbling,” Cantua said.
He said accordion music helps connect him with his cultural roots.
“I still remember songs and I’m like, wait, how do I even know that song? You just been hearing it your whole life?” Cantua said.
Lozano said, “It’s keeping the legacy alive for conjunto music because San Antonio and all of Texas are known for conjunto, Tejano and Norteno.”
But Jaime Guevara, a musician in Houston, has given those genres a new twist by merging them with popular songs in English.
“I just listen to a song, then I think, oh, that would probably sound good in a cumbia or that probably sound good in Norteno,” Guevara said.
He said his new genre has gone viral, getting nods from the original artists, like Anderson .Paak of Silk Sonic.
“I went to check on his Instagram and he did share it,” Guevara said. “I was jumping up and down.”
Guevara’s music is now helping to introduce a new generation on social media to the versatility of the accordion, and why for some like Fern Lozano, “This is kind of like my passion.”