Wednesday, July 2, 2008

[Country Roads] 100% Norteño

In the July 2008 issue of Country Roads

One of the few things I have lamented about life in Louisiana is the lack of really good authentic Mexican food. My wife lived in San Luis Obispo, California, before moving here, and would talk dreamily about TA’s Burritos—mission-style monstrosities stuffed with beans and rice and salsa. I figured it to be just nostalgia talking until I went out there to visit her family and had one of these fabled burritos. I was a changed man, and needed ready access to this food in my life. I figured it was a lost cause here until I spied La Tiendita in a strip mall off Siegen Lane.

My curiosity led me through the door, right to a plate of perfectly seasoned chicken tacos and some of the best salsa I’ve ever eaten, all washed down with a medio litro of Coca-Cola in a heavy glass bottle imported from Mexico, still containing the real sugar sweetness that is shockingly absent now in the American version. The staff speaks a minimum of English, the TV is always on Univision, blaring out soccer games and over-the-top musical programs featuring cowboys in glittery matching outfits, singing accordion and trumpet accented ballads about love and murder. I have always wanted to witness one of these concerts because they seem so perfectly formed, so complete in their presentation and reception. I realize that many cultures greet the presence of curious newcomers with an arched eyebrow, but I wanted go past that and see what the reality of these shows is really like.

On my way out of the grocery store connected to the restaurant, I saw my opportunity to find out—a flyer announcing Mexican group Acorralado (meaning “cornered”) playing at the 415 Club in Port Allen that very evening, “100% Norteños” added under their name. Norteño is one of the more popular forms of music in Mexican communities on either side of the border, featuring a polka–style beat and predominance of the button accordion and the bajo sexto, a large twelve-stringed guitar with a deep tone that helps maintain the rhythm of the band. The instrumentation differs from banda and Duranguense styles of popular Mexican music, which rely on brass sections to carry the song.

I pulled into the parking lot of the club, a large disco on Lobdell Highway and saw the members of Acorralado huddled around their van, looking resplendent in matching black hats and outfits. I could hear that beat blaring on the stereo inside. A young man rounded the corner and I asked where the entrance was. His first response was “There is a Mexican band here this evening,” making sure I was in the right place. Once I assured him that is exactly what I was there for, he showed me around the corner to the entrance.


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