As told to Katy Vine.
Marco Cervantes: Álvaro, I think what you do with punk, conjunto, and norteño is genius. Being able to mix those musical forms in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, that gets people moving, gets people energized, and respects all of those genres—that’s a really difficult thing to do. When did you decide to make that mix happen? When did you say, “I’m going to make these things work together”?
Álvaro Del Norte: Right after high school, I was kind of going through this identity crisis, and I was trying to figure out who I was and where I came from. Growing up, I hated all the music that my parents played. It was all conjunto, norteño, cumbia, mariachi music, and all that. In high school, I got into punk rock. But eventually I was like, “I’m going to do something different, something original, something that’s never been done.” So I took a semester of accordion.
MC: The culture here is very rich and allows for that type of experimentation. While deejaying I play mostly hip-hop, and I throw some reggae in there, but I found that I could get the crowd really going with the cumbias, and throw some norteño in there too. And it was like, “Okay, this is working.” And it was working in San Antonio, specifically.
ADN: My understanding was that not too long ago, the San Antonio music scene was bigger than Austin’s. But then Austin became the “live music capital of the world.” So all the touring bands go there, all the cool kids go there. San Antonio ended up getting overlooked for the longest time. But in a way that preserved our culture, because we weren’t affected by a lot of out-of-town influences, you know? But now I feel like everybody wants to come and experience it, so it’s like a catch-22.
MC: I feel that, man. There’s a lot of people coming in from out of town, and they’ve got a lot of questions about San Antonio music. The sound that has remained here has become really interesting to folks.
Want to hear more of Cervantes and Del Norte’s conversation? We’ve provided a few audio clips for you below:
LISTEN: Cervantes asks Del Norte to explain how his particular mix of punk, conjunto, and norteño developed:
LISTEN: Del Norte and Cervantes compare San Antonio’s unique mix of cultures and the music that results from it to New Orleans:
LISTEN: Noting San Antonio’s similarity to New Orleans as a city with musical heritage, Del Norte argues for the need to change the city’s busking laws:
LISTEN: Del Norte and Cervantes discuss one of their hometown heroes, rapper Carlton Zeus:
LISTEN: Del Norte and Cervantes reflect on iconic San Antonio music such as conjunto and Chicano soul:
LISTEN: Del Norte and Cervantes note—with surprise—a resurgence of norteño in the younger San Antonio generation:
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