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Yaqui Chairman Yucupicio inducted into Tejano Hall of Fame for decades of musicianship

The Tejano Roots Hall of Fame is honoring Peter Yucupicio, chairman of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, for his decades of playing bajo sexto with his family's band, Los Hermanos Cuatro.

There will be an induction ceremony on Jan. 8 in Alice, Texas, for Yucupicio, who has played with the group since the 1960s.

En español: El presidente Yaqui, Yucupicio, entra el Salón de la Fama de Tejano por décadas de maestría musical

Yucupicio said he was “honored and surprised” but believed the hall of fame was choosing to “recognize me for my longevity.” He first got into the music style when he went down to Guadalupe, Ariz., in the summers for his parents to work in cotton fields. Yucupicio’s relatives would have parties at his grandmother’s house, and he said these were chances to watch his uncles perform Tejano songs.

His uncle Gavi played bajo sexto, or "sixth bass" in English, and was part of the original family band that Yucupicio and his older brother, Albert, loved seeing. Albert urged him to learn the bajo sexto while he learned the accordion, and Yucupicio started learning the 12-stringed instrument at the age of 10. After Yucupicio’s younger siblings learned guitar and drums, they started performing at small events by the time he was 13.

Tejano music has been popular among the Yaqui for as long as Yucupicio can remember, he said. It has a festive sound led by the accordion and backed by bajo sexto and usually percussion, and it needs just a handful of musicians to form a band, or conjunto. Yucupicio said he especially likes how “simple” a group can be.

“When I think of Tejano itself, it’s very not only beautiful but very simple. You don’t need a lot of room. You don’t need a 12-piece band out there. It’s basically four instruments,” he said. “You don’t need a stage. Sometimes off of a porch in a backyard, sometimes right on the dirt — that’s the way people like it in my village — and you throw a dance out there.”

Yucupicio said it took him a while to learn the bajo sexto and to sing at the same time, but once he and Albert got almost all their other brothers and sisters to learn to play, they started singing mass at Santa Rosa church in the Old Pascua Community. They also performed at Picture Rocks before being asked to play at weddings then other small gatherings.

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When they were asked to play at their first wedding, they learned music for dancing, which Yucupicio said included corridos and cumbia, but he remembers Albert saying “there’s a lot of good music coming from Texas.”

Yucupicio named Conjunto Bernal, Tony de la Rosa and Esteban Steve Jordan as some of the greats who influenced him.

“In our prime, when we were learning, we were just learning everything from Steve Jordan to Conjunto Bernal to Little Joe, everything,” he said. “ And that’s where we started liking a lot of the Tejano music.”

He describes the style of Los Hermanos Cuatro as “regional conjunto,” and said the songs they perform, which he said most every Tejano band plays, include “Un Rinconcito en el Cielo,” “Volver, volver” and “Un Puño de Tierra.” They also play cumbia, ranchera, bolero, corridos and huapango, he said, musical styles that have origins from different parts of Mexico and Latin America but share sounds with Tejano, or “Texan” in Spanish.

The Tejano Roots Hall of Fame is in Alice, Texas, just outside Corpus Christi, the birthplace of the “Queen of Tejano,” Selena Quintanilla, but Yucupicio said it has a big following in Tucson and Guadalupe too.

“I was surprised and honored and humbled at the same time that they would even consider anybody this far,” he said. “But Tejano’s everywhere...it’s almost like the second home of Tejano music here in Tucson.”

Yucupicio's chosen instrument resembles a cross between an acoustic guitar and a cello, with a fat body, and is held like a guitar while playing, unlike a larger stand-up bass. The bajo sexto is tuned an octave lower than a 12-string guitar, in intervals of fourths. Tejano music is a fusion of Spanish/Mexican vocal styles and melodies from corridos and mariachi with the 3/4 time rhythms of German and Czech polkas and waltzes, which came from 19th century immigrants from Central Europe to Texas and northern Mexico.

Los Hermanos Cuatro still perform almost every weekend, he said, mostly at house parties but they also continue to do weddings. Once in a while a family member might request them to perform at a nightclub or bar, but each week they usually show up at small private events in Tucson, Guadalupe, a few times in Mammoth and throughout Southern Arizona, he said.

“We have a great following from our Yaqui people,” he said. “The Yaqui people have kept us busy for more than 50 years with quinceaneras, weddings, everything.”

The band has performed for years at Tucson Meet Yourself and last year played in a Christmas party for the town of Guadalupe and the Yaqui. They do concerts at Casino del Sol and with popular Tejano artists like Ramón Ayala. Once in a while, he said, they might also be requested to go out of town.

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“We’ve been busy,” he said. “The Tejano music is well and alive in all the Yaqui communities from Guadalupe to Marana to here in Tucson, in all the villages throughout Pascua Yaqui land, it’s very much alive.”

Yaqui culture is very strong, he said, and Tejano has become a part of it. On some nights during holy weeks, they play the accordion, and Yucupicio has played during ceremonies despite giving up music for Lent in the past.

Tejano is “grassroots,” Yucupicio said, and has gone with Yaqui culture very well, saying it's “the way we’ve been partying in our tribe forever.”

It’s also special that Tejano “survived the neighborhood,” Yucupicio said, but “the sound of the live conjunto group is still alive here in Tucson.” There are only a few Tejano groups performing in Tucson, he said, and most of them are Yaquis.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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courtesy Daniel Buckley

Yucupicio performing at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference in 2016.

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