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Sold on Tejano Soul

If Tejano Soul seems to stand out solely among their peers, the reasons are many.

The first is originality. This is evident in the fact that their debut compact disc contains eleven original compositions. Eight of them were written by Noe A. Benitez and two of those were co-written with Manuel J. Hernández for their own publishing company. Furthermore, this dynamic duo also owns their label, Grand Monkey Records.

“Why this name, because Tejano Soul is a kind of fraternity in which we call each other monkeys,” Benitez said with a laugh. “But none is us is the Grand Monkey, it’s just one of our own Tejano idiosyncrasies.”

The only thing they don’t own is the publishing company.This is owned by Christina Martinez Benitez; hence the reason for naming it Ben Mar Music, but it’s still in the family.

This combination gives them the independence and freedom to have 100 percent creativity control of their artistic direction – from lyrics, musical arrangements, trademark, royalty agreements and other legalities to the final product.

However, their most admirable trait is that this group is mostly made up of educated business savvy individuals. Benitez, who plays keyboards is a former school band director, is now a lawyer. Hernández studied computer science at Texas A&I, Johnny Cuellar, the lead vocalist studied kinesiology and did some coaching, but today he is the manager of a credit repair company in Corpus Christi, saxophonist Bobby Salazar is a band director in Rivera, Texas; guitarist J.R. De León holds rank in a major chemical corporation and drummer Jason Macias is a banker at Kleberg Bank in Kingsville, Texas.

Yes a solid think tank of scholars and professionals with music degrees, engineering degrees, business degrees and a law degree make up Tejano Soul.

The only dedicated full-time musician is Adolf Alonso, the bass player, plus contributing musicians Vic “Nash” Espinoza, guitar; two-time Grammy award winner Michael Aguilar and Adam Mosqueda on drums. And our readers are reminded to please note that Alonso, Aguilar and Mosqueda are former La Mafia musicians.

This combination of skills and education coupled with musical talent is what puts this band a couple of notches above other Tejano recording artists and why their tenacity and perseverance has garnered them airplay in the unlikeness of places. “What is also unique is that in spite of our short existence, ‘Solo Por Ti’ is getting airplay in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Peru and as far as Spain,” Benitez said during an interview at the Margo Morones owned Tejano Music Store, a division of The Embroiderers in San Antonio’s Market Square.

“This is an unprecedented measure for a new and independent Tejano Artist of today and a feat I accomplished by e-mailing an MP3 of the song to 100 romantic music genre radio stations right out of www.tunein.com.”

This makes them true Tejano music ambassadors in every sense of the word. Thanks to the World Wide Web, this transcending of their music has resulted in the acquirement of new friends that now cherish their music in many countries and on a global level. A recent look at www.reverbnation.com also revealed that Tejano Soul is now the ‘Number 6 Hottest Artist” in the nation. In addition, they are getting airplay on Tejano internet stations such as www.chicanoexpress.com and www.picanteradio.com plus terrestrial radio stations such as Magic 104.9 in Corpus Christi and KEDA, Radio Jalapeño in the Alamo City. Hence, it shouldn’t be long before KXTN, KSAB and other stations wake up and add Tejano Soul to their playlist/rotation.

A listen to their “Unprecedented” debut CD will also reveal five other radio-friendly tunes, worthy of airplay and are potential Top Ten material – songs like “QueDaria,” “DejameSer,” “No Quiero Saber De Ti” and especially “Sombras Del Ayer” and “Necesito.” The latter two greatly reflect the 1980s “Houston Sound” when La Mafia ruled and some musicians spun off into Xelencia, La Fiebre and solo careers.

“That’s because I grew up listening to La Mafia’s international cumbias and they were our greatest influence,” Benitez added.

“We were both followers of that sound,” Hernández stated. “During the recording, we also used Grammy winning accordionist Marcos Hernández — who played with Chente Barrera and Ram Herrera – to also give our CD a San Antonio taste. So blending that with the Houston sound is unprecedented.”

Benitez hails from Roma, Texas and followed the crops with his parents all the way to Salinas, California while Hernández was born in Nebraska and reared in Asherton, Texas. Both were born to migrant workers so as Benitez said, “we understand the music from the Chicano migrant worker aspect and the fact that Tejano music (shifting to Spanglish) es la música del trabajador.”

Forty-year-old Hernández was 18-years-old when he joined the Asherton, Texas-based Tejano Breed band and recorded for ROD-VEN Records before joining Xelencia, with whom he recorded the 2006 “”Greatest Hits” CD.

Cuellar, who hails from Sarita, Texas, grew up singing in Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Choir and school choir.

“I was thirteen, when my sister Rita formed DulceVenganza and pushed me to learn how to play keyboards,” Cuellar said. “Next I learned to play guitar and later I fell in love with the bass.”

In high school he formed Valente, which underwent several name changes before settling on Brisa Latina. However, Cuellar says being the band leader ate up a lot of his time and energy so when Hernández placed a newspaper ad soliciting musicians for Tejano Soul in 2004, he was the second to response for the position of bass player. The first was Jacob De León, followed by Salazar and Benitez.

Once they met, started rehearsing and performing, they played a lot of local gigs and Hernández simultaneously performed with Xelencia and Tejano Soul for five years.

Needless to say, Tejano Soul’s forte is their original material and Houston-sound musical arrangements. And because the majority of the band is made up of a solid think tank ofscholars and professionals that run this band as a solid formed tight-knit organization. In fact, the band even has a ‘mission statement’ – “To preserve our Tejano Heritage through our Music.”

In closing, if anyone wants to get sold on Tejano Soul, all they have to do is to listen to their “Unprecedented” CD. For more information and bookings one can call Noe at (713) 820-0168 or Manuel at (361) 522-7847.