When German immigrants remembered to pack their accordions for the long trip to central and south Texas in the 1800’s, conjunto music was born. A hybrid of German polka and Mexican folk music, conjunto continues to pack Texas dancehalls to this day. “Accordion Dreams” traces the history of the music, from the early innovators to the present-day players trying to connect with a young audience raised on modern pop.
The instrument itself, with its squeezebox and three rows of buttons, seems an unlikely basis for the passionate love of conjunto on display here. Actually, it seems impossible to play, and even those skilled in the accordion arts appear to be at a loss when it comes to explaining their skill. When asked how she knows which buttons to press, one rising star shrugs and acknowledges that it just sort of comes to her. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the people who like this music like it an awful lot; as Mark Rubin of the Bad Livers explains, conjunto has an honesty and authenticity lacking in much contemporary fare.
While fans of conjunto music will no doubt find much of interest in “Accordion Dreams,” the uninitiated (including your humble reviewer) are likely to be a bit bored by the end. The talking head interviews tend to be repetitive – there just doesn’t seem to be that much to say on the subject. There is ample performance footage, some of it quite lively, but to be honest it all sounds pretty much the same to my untrained ears. Sure, it’s peppy and upbeat and probably fun to dance to if you know how, but somehow the excitement never quite translates to the screen. “Accordion Dreams” is a worthwhile historical document, but those seeking out the appeal of conjunto are advised to put on their dancing shoes and experience it in person.