Dancing Across the Border

Born in Mexico and raised by Celso Pia, sonidero music is taking over Dallas' Latino nightclubs. Is it here to stay?

But to Tropicana's Rojas, the success of Monterrey's Piña holds little significance.

"Celso, he plays Colombian music really well," Rojas says. "But in reality, he copied all the Colombian artists. He's pure covers. What we're doing here is the original." He nods toward a long screen on the wall inside Tropicana showing DVD footage of a crowded sonidero street concert in Mexico City.

Regardless of the origins or degree of originality of Piña's work, the fact remains that Tropicana has only been open about a year--about the same amount of time "Cumbia Sobre El Rio" and the sonidero scene it helped fuel north of the border took root in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Would Rojas be working tonight if it weren't for Celso Piña?

Kids in Monterrey walk past an advertisement for a vallenato band at a now-abandoned Colombian music club.
John Sevigny
Kids in Monterrey walk past an advertisement for a vallenato band at a now-abandoned Colombian music club.
Saul Munoz (top, right) churns out Celso Piña's "La Paz de la Cumbia" in the mountaintop neighborhood of Sierra Ventana. These young men come here to play vallenato almost every day.
John Sevigny
Saul Munoz (top, right) churns out Celso Piña's "La Paz de la Cumbia" in the mountaintop neighborhood of Sierra Ventana. These young men come here to play vallenato almost every day.

Most of the people at Tropicana don't care what the answer to that question is. They're just glad Rojas is here, playing sonidero. In front of the wall screen, Alicia Trundoe, 21, and Joel Santos, 25, twirl to Rojas' cumbia mixes on a red dance floor under a flashing strobe and manic spotlight. Santos, who emigrated from the state of Hidalgo to Dallas about seven years ago, and Trundoe, from Arlington, have been dating for about six months.

"Every time we go out, we go to these kinds of places. I didn't know about cumbia music until we started going out," says Trundoe, who wins hands down the prize for whitest dancer in the room.

"It's got a good groove, this cumbia. I like it."


Rebel With an Accordion

The thing about Celso Piña is he can play anything. Before he formed Ronda Bogotá 23 years ago, he played with three bands that made a living with a repertoire that extended well beyond Colombia's cumbia and vallenato. His early career as a Made-In-Mexico Colombian accordion king was decent, but Celso Piña is no Egidio Cuadrado, the ace accordionist in Carlos Vives' band. Celso knew this, but he also knew he was good, and that Monterrey was the hottest musical place in Mexico. So he called the rockeros and came up with a joyful blend of Latin folk (especially Colombia's), rock and hip-hop. His efforts since then—Barrio Bravo and Mundo Colombia, both available in the United States—are Piña's two finest albums. (If you're a beginner and have no idea what cumbia or vallenato is, get the first Carlos Vives album, 1994's Clásicos de la Provincia. You like it? Good. That's where Piña comes from, though the accordion part of his music has more to do with Cuadrado than Vives.) This ain't pop music; it's the work of a damn good accordion player who has outgrown his own genre and wants to hang with the best of 'em. Add to the mix the rockeros who love him (Café Tacuba, Santa Sabina and many others, rockeros or not, must have their reasons) and you know Piña is onto something. Just listen and let the cumbia eléctrica bug crawl under your skin. It's inevitable. Enrique Lopetegui

Get 'em now:

Barrio Bravo (WEA International, 2001)

Mundo Colombia (WEA International, 2002)

Recommended early compilation:

Mis primeras grabaciones...Mis primeros éxitos (RCA International, 2001)


Where to hear sonidero music:

Thursday: De Cache, 9100 N. Central Expressway, Suite 300, 214-739-5548. Far West (7331 Gaston Ave., 214-367-8800) has a sonidero night about one Thursday a month.

Friday: Club DMX, 10733 Spangler Road, 972-501-9935.

Saturday: Tropicana, 2600 Fort Worth Ave. (inside the Bronco Bowl), 214-943-8088.

Friday-Sunday: DJs at Bailongo (9840 N. Central Expressway, Suite 340, 214-369-3312), Escapade 2001 (10707 Finnell St., just north of Northwest Highway, 214-654-0545) and Far West mix sonidero into their usual playlist.

Where to buy sonidero music:

For the most up-to-date selections, hit the music stalls inside Gaston Bazaar (3035 N. Buckner Blvd., 214-319-7600), Harry Hines Bazaar (10788 Harry Hines Blvd., 214-352-2233) and Bargin City Bazaar (735 N. Westmoreland Road, 214-330-8111).

Casa Latina (5334 Ross Ave., Suite 100, 214-823-5824), a tiny music and western wear shop, offers a good selection.

Best Buy also carries a decent but not-so-current assortment of sonidero.

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