The following is a story about the conjunto from Japan, "Los Gatos". I want to thank a reader, Lazaro Flores, for giving El Mesteño a plug on the La Onda Network chat line. Kenji "El Gato" Katsube read the note about El Mesteño and sent us an e-mail wanting to know about the magazine. El Mesteño now travels to the other part of the world, Japan.
El Gato recently sent us some photos from the conjunto festival in San Antonio and a profile of Los Gatos written by Billy Barnes.
In 1992, musicians from Osaka, Japan's city of industry, and Kyoto, it's cultural counterpart, formed one of the countries first conjunto groups. At that time, the core members were already playing various styles of world music around Kyoto University together in a local band known as "The Gamblers." To avoid confusion with Ruben Naranjo y Los Gamblers, the band decided to call themselves "Los Gatos." This name was derived from Kenji Katsube's nickname, "El Gato."
Originally a rock guitarist, Kenji "El Gato" Katsube got his first dose of the accordion sound in 1975 while listening to a recording by Ry Cooder featuring Flaco Jimenez on accordion. From that day on, Kenji's affection for conjunto music began to grow. In an attempt to begin his own conjunto band, he began searching for accordion players that were interested in this Tex-Mex style of music. Nobody stepped up to the call. Frustrated and determined, Kenji decided to learn the instrument himself. He purchased a Hohner Corona II accordion and began teaching himself by listening to various conjunto recordings. The more he played, the better he got. The better he got, the more he knew he was born to it.
Hajime "Santa" Matsue, reputed as a "string genius" and the finest bajo sexto player in Japan, joined Kenji. Basically, there were two events that spurred Hajime's interest in conjunto music. First was the purchase of a legendary "Macias bajo sexto" by chance. Second was his first trip to Rosedale Park in 1994. He still recalls being knocked out by the powerful charm of pure conjunto music. At that time, the group's interests began to lean toward "del Valle" style conjunto, the most popular among the genre. On stage every year since 1994, Hajime loves staying on long after the festival has finished in order to hang out with the local musicians and absorb the culture and their music.
Keiichi "Spock" Tanaka, the singing drummer, has the cool voice. Noriyoshi "Onorio" Imamura's bass makes a strong combination with him. The emergence of Los Gatos on the Tejano Music scene created a new sensation. Their initial popularity may have come partly out of sympathy from the American natives whose backgrounds have very close ties with Asia. Tony de la Rosa, recording producer for "Los Gatos" and famous conjunto artist stated that , "Meeting with Los Gatos is the highlight of my recent career."
The band has released three albums. The first, produced by Salome Gutierrez on the Tejano Star label is entitled "Estilo Tejano", includes their theme song, "El Gato Negro." The second recording, "Tony de la Rosa presents Los Gatos", contains a version of Daniel Garzes's "El Mosquito Americano", in both Spanish and Japanese. Their most recent release is "Son Mentiritas". The second and third recordings are available on the Hacienda label. While the band maintains that they are enthusiastic traditionalists when it come to conjunto, they don't shy away from innovation. Combining music knowledge with electronic technology, they are working to bridge the gap or valley so to speak, between hip hop, drum'n bass and the conjunto style. Juan Tejeda has dubbed the concoction "teconjunto".
Kenji "El Gato" Katsube: Accordion, Vocals