Christmas song with Alamo City flair was shared on Facebook Nov. 1.
By Hannah Norman
A local mariachi violinist has released “San Antonio Christmas,” a music video that celebrates the city’s traditions of tamales, churros and piñatas and a reenactment of Lalo Guerrero’s “Pancho Claus.”
Anthony Medrano, a former student at this college, has played for 20-plus years with Campanas de America, a renowned 12-piece regional mariachi ensemble. Medrano worked with Juan Ortiz, the band’s director, to complete the video, which debuted on Facebook in November.
“I knew I wanted to talk about San Antonio and being a mariachi. … I wanted to reference mariachis and their style,” Medrano said. “It very much symbolizes what we sound like, and how we play like.”
Currently, the music video has 20,547 views and 815 shares and still counting. “San Antonio Christmas” is available on iTunes for 99 cents. The video is posted on the Facebook page of Campanas de America.
The music video incorporates conjunto, Tejano, country and mariachi music with Mexican-style shuffling. Campanas de America decorated a recording studio to look like a Christmas party. A puppet who appears in the video is named Cleofus Tee, and the musician puppeteer is Ronny Tee Gonzales, son of local mariachi Rudy Tee.
“San Antonio Christmas” has been a work in progress for the past two years. Medrano said two deaths in the family initially made it difficult for him to complete it. His cousin died in February 2014 of AIDS, and his nephew died in December 2014 in an accident.
But their legacies inspired him to finish the project.
“I wanted to finish the song because around this time, it’s sort of a symbolic thing to celebrate life at the hardest time,” Medrano said. “My cousin and nephew wouldn’t have wanted to us to stop living.”
With a heavy heart, he recorded the song but hadn’t done anything to push it on social media. As Christmas drew near, he realized it wasn’t going to get anywhere without any advertising.
He directed and recorded the silly and festive music video with Campanas de America at Keith Harter Music, 3477 Northeast Parkway, with production assistance from Viva Politics.
They promoted the video on Facebook Nov. 25. “San Antonio Christmas” is also playing on radio stations KEDA 1540 and 102.3.
“I created this song to have a universal reach. It’s a mix of everything, it’s not just familiar to San Antonio,” Medrano said. “We’re not just Mexico. We’re not just the United States. We’re not just Texas. We’re everything. That’s what we love about the finished product of the song.”
Campanas de America (Bells of America) was founded in 1978 in San Antonio by Juan and Isabel Ortiz. They have performed at the Presidential Hispanic Inaugural Gala, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the White House for President George and Laura Bush and the Hollywood Bowl.
They performed Dec. 7 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts for an Univision event benefiting Blue Santa.
Medrano, 54, still recalls the time when he first became interested in music.
Medrano attended this college from 1981 to 1982 as an undeclared major. He was president of SAC Folkdancers, led by Nelda Drury, founder and lifetime benefactor of San Antonio Folk Dance Festival, and performed with them until 1983.
At 21, he left college to dance professionally with Ballet Folklorico de San Antonio, and became friends with members of Campanas de America, whom the dancers accompanied.
When he quit dancing, he still kept in contact with the musicians through playing basketball together.
Juan Ortiz suggested he learn an instrument.
“He noticed I sat outside waiting every day for them to finish practice and said to me, ‘Why don’t you learn how to play something and I’ll teach you,’” Medrano said. “‘You already know the music because you danced to it.’”
Medrano bought a violin from a pawnshop for $100 and started attending the rehearsals. He was taught how to hold the violin, the bow and other baby steps from Ortiz because he didn’t know how to use the instrument at all.
“Mentally, I made it into a prop to perform with onstage. So that’s how I mimicked what Juan was doing and I would practice daily,” he said.
After only three months of playing, Ortiz told Medrano that he was to perform with Campanas de America for the first time.
“At the time, I only knew one or two songs. But I went to performance and haven’t stopped since then,” Medrano said.
Now, the ensemble is finishing a Christmas CD to release in December. Some originals and covers will be “White Christmas,” “Carol of the Bells,” “Ya Se Acerca La Navidad” and “San Antonio Christmas.”
The band is taking orders now to reserve the CD when it releases. The release date will be stated on their Facebook page within three to four weeks.
For more information, call Campanas de America at 210-530-8519 or visit Mariachi Campanas de America on Facebook.