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Lydia Motion

Strachwitz has gathered the largest collection of Tex-Mex 78s in the world. He has now donated these to The Arhoolie Foundation, a charity aimed at documenting, disseminating and presenting traditional and regional vernacular musics. And it was through collecting these 78s that Chris first became aware of Lydia.

"I was picking up all Mex 78s at the time, especially on Texas labels and was especially intrigued by the then current popular conjunto music - or norteno as it is called on the Mexican side - the accordeon-driven duets. One of the labels I liked most was Azteca, featuring the Mendoza sisters who sang in a marvellous duet style - I think I may have heard them on a radio programme driving through Utah and Colorado - and the announcer said the dueto was Dueto Monterrey. Later, after I acquired those LPs, I discovered that Dueto Monterrey was Lydia and her sister Maria. This was really after Lydia's heyday as a soloist, but by then I had found all these other 78s also by Lydia on Falcon and Ideal and, of course, met the man who was still recording her: Jose Morante in San Antonio. He ran the Norteno and Sombrero and Lyra labels. Texas has always had a lot of dancehalls, dancing has been big there, that's one reason so much good music has come out of there."

"I was aware of how famous Lydia had been but I was also aware of the fact that in vernacular music you are on top for a while and then someone else takes over. It is really a cruel scene, especially for these artists who grew up at a time when there was very little money in this biz. They made a living while they were hot but it was rough. The Mexican music biz on the US side did not get really big until Los Tigres del Norte made it in the '70s. It's been a major biz since then, but just as tough for the lesser stars as ever. My recordings of Lydia never sold a lot, neither the one new recording I made, nor the reissues. Perhaps I didn't help matters by putting such funky old pictures on the cover! But I discovered that Lydia's LPs on all labels never sold much - only to a hardcore fan group. I still have never found a copy of the LP on Firmamento - a Houston label!"

If the Arhoolie albums and Chulas Fronteras could prick my interest in distant New Zealand, I'm guessing they made a big splash amongst Hispanic America. "The reissues actually did bring about some stir of interest in the older music - mostly from young students who found the records in Tower Records or such, and bought them for their parents from Texas who perhaps used to talk about the old artists and Lydia. Chulas Fronteras did amazingly well as a 16mm film because it came out in the 1970s when there was almost nothing available on Tex-Mex culture. Yet at the time there was considerable interest in 'Chicano Pride' and its related movement. We sold enough copies to libraries to break even. I believe I sold over 100 copies of the 16mm film at almost $900 each."

This feature first appeared in fRoots 261, March 2005


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