Austin’s conjunto power-couple Sarah Fox and Joel Guzman will bring their Grammy-winning musical talents to Temple’s Cultural Activities Center on Saturday.
Conjunto, Spanish for the word group, informally defines a style of music that emerged from South Texas in the late 1800s. Characterized by the distinctive sound of the button accordion, an instrument borrowed from German settlers, its folk roots are influenced by European polkas and waltzes.
Guzman was raised in Washington state where his father, a migrant worker, performed conjunto music at family gatherings. The elder Guzman taught his son how to play the accordion and instilled a love for conjunto and Tejano music, which led Joel Guzman to his extended Texas family and their musical heritage.
Temple’s legendary Little Joe y La Familia hired Guzman, and he spent several years with the Tejano troupe honing his Latin music skills.
Guzman branched out into producing, working on albums for Ruben Ramos, Latin Breed and Ram Herrera. He encompassed a wider area of musical genres, collaborating with rock and country artists like Joe Ely, Rick Trevino and Steve Berlin.
The daughter of a Mexican mother and a Cuban father, Sarah Fox was influenced by the salsa, blues, ranchera and jazz she heard as a child and penned her first tune at the age of 9.
More than a dozen of her songs have been recorded on the duo’s CD releases and on various soundtracks. In 2000, Fox issued her solo debut CD “Short Stories,” produced by Los Lobos studio maestro Steve Berlin, which combined folk, jazz and her original tunes.
The couple’s own Guzman Fox Records released “Polkas, Gritos y Acordeones,” which they wrote and produced in 2005. Termed a “roots music album,” the CD showcased classic conjunto folk tunes and polkas, and won a Latin Grammy and an American Grammy in the Best Tejano Album category.
Guzman has some accordion mentors, listing Richard Galliano, a chromatic accordion player from France, and Tony De La Rosa, one of the first to use amplification to the previously acoustic-only instrument in the 1950s. De La Rosa, like Guzman, performed on the diatonic button accordion, the smaller and lighter of the non-keyboard squeezeboxes.
Saturday’s concert is part of the Jazz & Blues series, CAC’s Jane Boone said. “(The music of) Guzman and Fox ranges from traditional northern Mexico to Tejano, tropical sounds of cumbia and salsa — even country and jazz. We’re excited to have them on our stage.”
And the essence of each performance is clear: “I’ve kind of pushed myself to pursue music — challenged myself across genres without losing the beauty of conjunto and the soul of traditional music,” Guzman said. “That’s pretty much my story.”