Antonio Tanguma, Jr. on his music, life, career and
filming the Diatonic Curriculum for AccordionLife.com
Interview by Ricardo Hernandez
Photos Courtesty of Antonio Tanguma, Jr.
Featured in the 2016 Fall Issue of Accordion Life Today.
Antonio Tanguma, Jr. is a graduate of Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, UANL, one of the best universities in Mexico and Latin America. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Music and Instrumental and is currently working on his Master’s in Psychology. Antonio is an accordionist, singer, composer and arranger. He has joined the Accordion Life team to bring diatonic courses in all levels to the online community of AccordionLife.com. We had the opportunity to interview Antonio during his trip to Spokane in September. His story is his own to share. This is his way of life.
Where were you born?
I was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, on the 25th of December of 1984.
What do you do for a living?
My job is music; I give classes, I’m a teacher. There are two universities in Monterrey; the Universidad Autonoma of Nuevo Leon and another. I teach specialized classes and, in addition, I’m an accordionist. I commit myself to presentations, recording albums. I’m a composer and I assist in productions for some groups. Then I also make arrangements.
How and when did you get started playing music? What role did your family have in that?
My first contact was…I don’t remember this. It’s what I have been told, right? Because I think I was two or three years old. It was like the first exposure and I didn’t play anything, or maybe it was earlier, right? But it was my first exposure with the instrument. My grandfather played it, my father also. He had a music group and, well, I would listen to them rehearse every afternoon and such. That was my first contact. I didn’t play or anything. At five years of age I started to play the drums. Eh, I started to get some rhythms, well, because I liked it. And that’s how I got started, first with the drums. Ten years passed. At 15 years of age I started to. One day my father went to play Las Mañanitas for my grandfather at the cemetery, and, well I went. And after that, I started to, it rose in me, I don’t know. It was like something, I don’t know, special. I arrived there and my uncle, he had his accordion as well, and with my dad’s, came to the piano accordion. I started with the piano accordion, with a Hohner with five registers, as I remember. I completely started to play these two pieces, El Cerro de la Silla and Claudia, two schottisches. That’s how I began, let’s say from 12:00 pm and until about 8:00 pm I was playing, with both hands, these two pieces. Later, as time passed, within a week I was learning. During this time there was no YouTube. There was nothing like that. So, I learned by ear. And later, I began to study a little more, to earn my degree in music. It went more or less like that.
What styles of music do you play? Tell us about them.
I play Norteño music; well those are my roots, my family legacy. It’s been 104 years of music. Well, 104 years within three generations. We spoke about that, my great-great-grandfather played the violin. We’re talking about the end of 1700, approximately. Well, then in the question of music, there are many years of music. Well, then, in addition to Norteño, I play Cumbia, I play Jazz, Bossa Nova, Blues, Classical, Baroque, Tango, some Electronic, and everything, everything that can be played with an accordion. I try to achieve success over each genre. Each genre has its uniqueness, its notes, its style. Well, I like it all. Obviously I am committed to Norteño music, but I also play … whatever musical piece. I enjoy all music and likewise, I play all types of music.
You play the left hand. This is not common among diatonic accordionists. Tell me about this.
Since early on, they showed me, but between brief periods. Because the day I picked up the accordion my uncle encouraged the bass notes. He taught me the positions only, and later after that I continued. Then came a time when I was able to fully play bass notes. Since then, I was able to play bass notes. Then I grabbed the accordion with buttons or diatonic and with bass notes. There are many ways to play the bass and with different levels. Let’s say I am at a level more or less pro because sometimes I really enjoy the left hand, or I can play a melody. Well, then that’s how it goes.
I understand you have competed internationally. Tell me about that.
Yes, in 2012, here in Spokane, I came to compete and I placed fifth worldwide. It was awesome. It was an experience very awesome. I had never competed anywhere before. Something else that happened that was very special was that the fans were chanting, “Mexico number one,” but the judges, well, they placed me fifth. For the fans, I was number one. It was an awesome experience. Maybe, later, if there is time, since we have many projects, but maybe later I can enter one or two more competitions. I am 31 and I believe they have an age limit up to 35 years of age. But, I will try first place in other competitions. In this sense, I have a belonging there. That was awesome.
How did you become affiliated with Hohner?
Well, to begin with, following the website, Reyes Accordions, I met my good friend Gilberto many years ago. I believe greater than 14 years ago. It’s been a long time ago. First, by way of his webpage and after became friends. Once in a while we would speak by phone like that. And we would coexist in the forum and such. Later, we had the opportunity to meet and came here to Spokane. We ran into one another and here we hung out, and he liked my manner of playing. Apart from that, I’m always appreciative for the support I have received, like a friend. And now I have been invited to become part of the Hohner family. It’s a dream, an honor for me that a brand so recognized, worldwide, has noticed me. Well, it’s something for which there are no words, just appreciation and to return the support with everything; playing music, taking the music and accordions to every part of the world and demonstrating the quality of the instrument. I have always enjoyed Hohner. I started with Hohner and I tell you it’s an honor that they are so supportive and I have been included to be part of their family. And it was Reyes, it was he that invited, and for that I am forever grateful.
What has been a highlight of your career?
Presently, my success is in being a music teacher in Mexico. There I have my place. Also with the worldwide competition we can say that I have a place there. Currently I am composing a few pieces and little by little they are coming together. The fans ask for them during my exhibitions. They are my personal instrumental compositions, and now I am also working with vocal music. Well, now I have those highlights, and in Monterrey I am the professor, the first to graduate with a degree in music and people seek me out. I am inundated with this.
Another highlight is fan exhibitions and I think I have been achieving success with it. Coming in fifth place worldwide is also an honor. Also being with Hohner, these are some of my highlights. I continue to travel around the world with Norteño music, my music and the music of my grandfather, the legacy he has left us. And that is what I have achieved until now. God willing, I will carry on my efforts to continue to gain new success.
You’ve recently begun working with accordionlife.com to produce online courses for the diatonic accordion. How does this program work and what will the students learn?
This program, honestly, is very good. It is something that covers everything clearly. I think that if I had found something like this when I started, this would have taught me very fast. Even so, I learned very fast, thank God. And getting back to the question, this is a program that helps the person who knows nothing, and is at zero. They will be learning different techniques, rhythms and music also. We will have them working with different levels and different music. I think that this is the best program for learning the accordion.
You have a song that you perform where you actually swing the accordion like a lasso over your head while playing it. How did you come up with that idea and how did you perfect it?
That show, my grandfather started it, when he reached his point of drunkenness and he’s cutting it up. As it says in Mexico, cutting it up, right? And he would do it. Little by little people would ask for it. I got the idea from him. Nobody in the world does that. That is unique for us. And for me, I really like to do it; I love entertaining people. I’m always looking for something more to offer. Because I realized that you have to entertain. Whether playing, singing or doing some show. But always taking care to be a show of quality, a real show. So that they do not say it’s recorded, or something like that. But they used to tell how my grandfather did it; my grandmother told me, my father and such. And one day I tried it. He used to do it with a slower piece. Well I wanted to raise the difficulty so I got hold of El Circo, El Circo Polka. I then I tried it for the first time and it went well. I don’t practice that show. The people say, “ah, he must spend hours and hours practicing.” I don’t practice at all. I only tried it the first time. I said, I will try it to see if I get and I did. That’s it. Apart from there, I do not practice any portion of that. And when I play it like that among the fans, and I do that show, that is how I do it. Or rather I put on the accordion and dance, and sometimes, when I am excited because the fans encourage me, then I do it. That is, swing the accordion. Swing or flourish like the charros swing a lasso and get the reaction. Well, I swing the accordion, as the lasso.
Tell me about your most recent concerts, performances and travels?
Right now, before coming here, I was in Campeche, with the people there of Campeche, there in Mexico. That was a success there to tell the truth. We are always received well, thank God, everywhere we go. And, right now, we have a tour. We return to Nuevo León, in Monterey. I say Nuevo León, there. A suburb of Nuevo León and then on the 12th we travel to Apollonia, Kraków, Czech Republic, some other European countries. We travel playing music, our music, our Mexican Norteño music.
Is the diatonic the only instrument you play?
I play the accordion piano, that’s what I started with. The diatonic accordion, the chromatic accordion, also a little the piano, a little percussions, eh, a bit of the bass. I know some instruments. Let’s say that since I already know the theory, I can apply them all the same. It’s only the techniques change. But, sure I play some instruments but I, my strength is in the accordion.
Where did you study music?
I first studied, as already commented before, at home. Let’s say I am self-taught because only two pieces my uncle taught me. Apart from that everything I heard, everything I played I learned little by little. Also, my dad would occasionally show me some things but very slowly. There was another gentleman named Calin. Well, my uncle first, my uncle mainly. My uncle and I were there chatting and we got started. Later my father would show me a few things as well as Calin. This Mr. Calin one day, while teaching me, he played the saxophone and showed me a music sheet. And there he showed me some scales and other things as well. There was when I understood a little about scales — majors and minors and stuff like that. As time passed, a gentleman, Doctor Jesus Ancer, gave me a scholarship to study at Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León in music and there I started my degree in music. I did not know how to read or write music, nothing, nothing, nothing. I started at zero. I knew how to play but not read nor write music. There I learned. Later I changed from the accordion to the chromatic accordion, one with five rows. And there I studied everything and, thank God, I graduated. There I played with the symphony. It was my final exam and all. It was awesome there. I have learned in many locations, as they say schooled on the streets, in the school also. But a lot of what you learn is on the street. It’s during events, with fans when you have them close by, when they ask you play something, it forces you to learn. Between the school and the streets are different. The scene at school and in the public, but if one is dedicated to the music you have to learn both. Because there are people that just learn in school and they are thrown into the public and they get scared. So, you have to have both. You have to play for the fans and not have fear, right? But I say what has been my role to play, right? Well I always love music. I love the accordion and my way of life.
YOUR TURN: How has the accordion impacted your WAY OF LIFE?