It came as no surprise that on Friday night, a plebeian crowd congregated at the House of Blues in Anaheim to unwind, get inebriated, and sing along to the tunes of Ramón Ayala, the King of the Accordion. Historically, musica norteña/conjunto norteño--combining strings, percussion and the accordion--has been the sound of Mexico's working class, the common folk, especially men. In generations past, it was played exclusively at bars in the motherland, as men drowned their sorrows of love lost, or from juke boxes in SanTana cantinas, as immigrants reflected on their mortality. And although the venues and generations have changed, it is evident the timeless themes of Ayala's songs resonate for his fans just the same.
Ayala burst onto the scene in the '60s, playing the Mexican cantina circuit as part of numerous musical groups, most memorably Los Relampagos de Norte (the Lightning Bolts of the North) alongside Cornelio Reyna. A few years later, the group broke up for reasons never fully understood, and from the '70s onward, Ayala and Los Bravos del Norte set the bar for norteño music. His is a norteño of love and despair, and drinking (the first two often the catalyst for the latter). This three-night gig at the HOB was heralded as Una Noche Romántica con Ramón Ayala (A Romantic Night With Ramón Ayala) to tie into Valentine's Day . . . because there's no better way to say ,"I love you" than to serenade your lady in the presence of a music king while enjoying a couple of Coronas. Ayala's music was initially near-exclusive to the cantina venue, a place a man would never, ever, ever take his respectable girlfriend or wife; these places were reserved for mistresses and waitresses--often one and the same--so respectable ladies were limited to listening to the flutter of Ayala's accordion on vinyl tracks as their husbands cured hangovers.
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Chick fight! Toward the end of the concert, one of the HOB security guards I had befriended said to me, "Dude, you just missed a girl fight outside!" and so I curiously stepped outside. When Downtown Disney security staff saw me with pen and paper, one of them stepped in front of me and firmly said, "What are you doing?" When they saw I had a camera, they gathered around me. Umm, okay, I was just being nosy and was going to laugh at the drunken, Lycra-dressed fembot being spoken to by police, but now I'll write about your Gestapo-ish behavior at the order of the Mouse. P.S. Come on, Latina ladies! We're better than that! No fighting one another. Now, slapping your man because he was flirting with another woman? Acceptable.