At the southern border of the United States these days, images of impoverished families fleeing desperate circumstances only to find themselves in more misery fill our news feeds.
But there is more to the border than pain and anguish. It has also long been the source of an incredible cultural ferment that has nurtured the musical life of America and Mexico. European influences have melded with traditional Mexican music to create a powerful and distinctive sound that has touched hearts and moved feet for generations.
Ensemble Iberica will celebrate this diverse heritage when it presents vocalist Mireya Ramos and the group Los Texmaniacs in a program called “La Frontera” July 16 and 17 at Musical Theater Heritage in Crown Center.
Locally based Ensemble Iberica is dedicated to Latin music of the New World and Old. Founded by guitarist Beau Bledsoe, the organization also brings to Kansas City extraordinary Latin artists from around the world.
“When I program tango, fado or flamenco, there’s always a full house,” Bledsoe said, “but the stuff I really care about, Mexican music, is a harder sell.”
People think they know what Mexican music is, but according to Bledsoe, most Americans have no idea of its rich diversity.
Los Texmaniacs, for example, perform conjunto music, a genre that originated in south Texas at the end of the 19th century. It draws on European and Mexican influences.
“The main reason I’m programming it is because of what’s going on with the border,” Bledsoe said. “It’s always been this fault line of cultures that rub against each other. There’s an enormous German and French and European influence there, and everything gets mixed up and it’s all very interesting. You have the German accordion in conjunto. And the bajo sexto, a stringed instrument, which was devised to give that oompah oompah sound so prevalent in German and Central European traditional music.”
Ramos is a classically trained vocalist who is a rising star in the world of ranchera, a style closely associated with mariachi.
“Her last recording won the Latin Grammy in the ranchera category,” Bledsoe said. “She’s a big deal. She’s one of my favorites. I really look up to her and respect her very much. We’ve brought her in about eight times. We go to the Folk Alliance conferences together. That’s one way we all know each other, late night jam sessions at the Folk Alliance conferences.”
Los Texmaniacs, a quartet comprising accordion, percussion and various guitars, are Smithsonian Folkways recording artists. The Houston Chronicle calls the San Antonio-based group a “Texas treasure” and “ambassadors” for conjunto. Bledsoe promises they’ll be playing lots of polkas.
“As far as bringing in guests, this is probably the biggest program we’ve ever done,” Bledsoe said. “All six are Grammy-winning authorities in their respective genres.”
Talking with Bledsoe, one senses his deep love for Mexico and his desire to spread the word about the musical riches of our southern neighbor. In addition to providing a good time, Bledsoe says he hopes the concert will create “empathy for your fellow human beings.”
“I’ve been going down to Mexico since my early 20s, and I’ve always been fascinated by the regional differences in the music, all the different instruments,” Bledsoe said. “Mexico is still my favorite country, outside of my own, and the one I feel closest to. We’ve always been in this cultural love embrace with Mexico, like it or not, and I hope to share that with Kansas City.”
7:30 p.m. July 16 and 17. MTH Theater, 2450 Grand Ave. $25-$30. 816-221-6987 or www.ensembleiberica.org/concertseries/lafrontera.
You can reach Patrick Neas at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.