Sour Notes

The battle for tejano’s soul—and its fans—heats up.

A RIFT IN THE TEJANO music industry means that fans will have two awards shows this year instead of one, and what had threatened to escalate into a courtroom battle will now be settled in the marketplace. At odds are the Texas Talent Musicians Association (TTMA), which honors and promotes only tejano musicians, and the Tejano Entertainers and Music Association (TEMA), which wants to recognize all members of the industry as well as other Chicano entertainers. Both groups want to reverse a recent slump in record sales, increase tejano’s visibility and appeal, and win the hearts of tejano fans. The point of contention is how.

The central figure in the controversy is 52-year-old Rudy Treviño, who co-founded the TTMA in 1980 for the purpose of staging the Tejano Music Awards. The first show, in 1981, filled about 1,350 seats in San Antonio’s Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, but by 1995 the gala had grown so large that it moved into the Alamodome, where it has drawn between 26,000 and 38,000 fans each year. Despite the TTMA’s success, however, critics complained that the awards overlooked the independent labels that had nurtured tejano’s growth in favor of the major labels, which cherry-picked the top indie acts. Some top tejano bands, including Houston’s La Mafia, boycotted the show.

Treviño says that he wanted to help solve that problem by organizing package tours of tejano artists across the Southwest, which would allow independent labels to expand their reach and broaden the industry’s appeal. But the TTMA board, he insists, instructed him to “stay focused on the awards,” so last July he quit and formed the TEMA. The TTMA promptly filed suit and sought a temporary restraining order, charging Treviño with misappropriating intellectual property—a mailing list and other papers—to stage a “mirror show.” Treviño got the order lifted, and then the TTMA backed away from its suit. “We’re probably just going to let it sit there,” says TTMA director Robert Arellano. “We were never concerned about competition; we worried that people would be confused by the names.” Says Treviño’s attorney, Ric Navarro: “We’re close to resolving this so that each side does its thing, and whoever the public thinks does a better job wins.”

The TEMA did its thing on February 27, when it held an awards show in the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium. More than four thousand fans who had attended statewide promotional dances picked nominees in fourteen categories; later this year the winners will headline a tour across the Southwest. That event was preceded by an all-day Fan Fest at San Antonio’s Mercado and the TEMA Music Makers Awards, which honored songwriters, producers, and sidemen. Meanwhile, the TTMA Tejano Music Awards, whose winners are chosen by fans and industry insiders, is planned for March 20 at the Alamodome. The TTMA will also sponsor various promotional events before its show, such as its Fan Fare at La Villita. It’s clear that both groups are gearing up for a war of attrition; only time will tell, however, who will come out on top.

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