Assisted Listen: Emilio Navaira, King of Tejano Hundreds gathered at a vigil Monday night for Emilio Navaira, the man known as "the King of Tejano Music," who is in a coma after a bus accident and may not survive. Reporter Ramiro Burr offers a quick guide to Navaira's singular genre.
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Assisted Listen: Emilio Navaira, King of Tejano

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Assisted Listen: Emilio Navaira, King of Tejano

Assisted Listen: Emilio Navaira, King of Tejano

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ALISON STEWART, host:

Hundreds of people gathered at a vigil Monday night in San Antonio for Emilio Navaira, the man known as "the King of Tejano Music." He is lying in a Texas hospital bed in a coma as of this morning, March 26th. Navaira suffered severe head injuries when his tour bus crashed on Sunday. He may not survive.

He has been described as having the same level of love and admiration as Selena, whose murder in 1995 revealed to those unfamiliar with Tejano music the huge impact these artists have on their fans. In this edition of the Bryant Park Project's Assisted Listening series, it is the work of Emilio Navaira. Here to help guide us through is Ramiro Burr, a music reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the author of the "Billboard Guide to Tejano and Regional Mexican Music." Ramiro, thank you so much for being with us.

Mr. RAMIRO BURR (Music Reporter, San Antonio Express-News; Author "Billboard Guide to Tejano and Regional Mexican Music"): Absolutely. A pleasure to be with you.

STEWART: You were at the vigil on Monday night. Could you describe the scene for us?

Mr. BURR: Certainly. It was the south end parking lot at the Alamo Dome in downtown San Antonio. It was approximately 700 people, everything from little kids to senior citizens, as well as about - more than a dozen artists, from David Lee Garza to Michael Salgado to Stephanie and a few others. Everybody testifying one by one onstage what a kind and passionate, giving person Emilio has been in their lives.

He's very modest. He and his brother, his little brother Raul, exude that common-man demeanor, that everyday-guy approachability. They don't hide behind a facade of security guards and managers. They do have security guards, of course, but they're very approachable, and that resonates with the people of South Texas.

STEWART: Well, you've been kind enough to pick out three songs we can listen to and you're going to guide us through them. This song is called "Sensaciones." What should we listen for in this song?

Mr. BURR: The opening, the thrill, the opening rush of the music as it climbs up. That was new back when the song came out more than ten, twelve years ago.

STEWART: All right, let's take a little bit of a listen to Emilio Navaira's "Sensaciones."

(Soundbite of song "Sensaciones")

Mr. EMILIO NAVAIRA: (Singing in Spanish)

Que sensaciones siente mi corazon, Ahorita que estas conmigo. Unas sensaciones de gran pasion, Y amor, por ti, amorcito.

Mis sensaciones estan llenas de amor, Pasion y mil caricias, Las siento en mi alma, por toda la piel, El fondo de mi corazoncito.

Que sensaciones me das...

STEWART: Now, Ramiro, when this song first came out, how was it received?

Mr. BURR: It was well-received. That was his first big hit. He's coming on the scene in the early '90s, young face, going solo for the first time and he had the look, he had the talent, and then he had the music. So it was a, you know, a great moment in time for him.

STEWART: Now, during his career, did Emilio ever try to cross over?

Mr. BURR: Yes, he did. In the mid-'90s, '95-'96, he released two country albums, "On the House" and "Life is Good." They were produced by Gary Beckett, a top-known producer in Nashville. He had a couple of hit singles. They landed on the Billboard Charts and I think that, by any definition, when you get on Billboard, that is the definition of crossover success.

STEWART: Now, the next song that - one of the next songs you picked from us is really - it's a beautiful love song called "Juntos," which means "together." Let's take a listen.

(Soundbite of song "Juntos")

Mr. NAVAIRA: (Singing in Spanish)

Acuerdas en el altar, Cuando juramos hasta el morir, Y ahora que estoy muriendo, Y tengo miedo dejarnos ir.

Nuestro amor siempre sera, Y no me olvido de aquel ayer, Comprendo? sigues viviendo. Sigues tu vida. Te esperare.

Juntos, siempre juntos Alla en el cielo, yo te he de ver...

STEWART: So "together, always together" - beautiful love song. You said he had a country - a couple of country albums and the Tejano music. I'm really sort of moved by how diverse his career has been.

Mr. BURR: Yes, actually, now that I look back at it, I'm a little amazed, too, that he was able to maintain a dual career for a few years.

STEWART: When did he get started? How did he get his start?

Mr. BURR: He grew up in San Antonio on the south side, attended McCollum High School. He liked music. He got a music scholarship to what was then Southwest Texas State, which is now Texas State in San Marcos, about 30 miles north of San Antonio. He got his start with a band called David Lee Garza y Los Musicales, a little band from Poteet, Texas, about 30 miles south.

As a lead singer in '87-'88, and in '89, he went solo. And his little brother Raul, who's a little bit bigger than he is physically, was just in his late teens, but he took him along with him and it was part of the package. When you see the two together dancing on stage, the fans go wild.

STEWART: And I can imagine the live performance is a big part of creating the fan base.

Mr. BURR: Absolutely. They - as I said, they exude that charm. They're both good-looking. They dance onstage. They sing great songs, original songs. And they're very approachable with their fans, so that's what resonates with the folks.

STEWART: We're talking to Ramiro Burr, music reporter for the San Antonio Express-News. He's giving us a bit of an Assisted Listen about Emilio Navaira, who unfortunately is in a coma right now, "the King of Tejano Music."

And finally, you talked about, you know you make it when you get to the Billboard Charts, but I think you know you've made it in music when one of your songs becomes a catch phrase.

Mr. BURR: That's true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Tell us about this track that you have picked for us, "Como Le Hare."

Mr. BURR: "Como Le Hare," that was at the peak of the mid-'90s when he was super popular that song came out. It's a lovely polka. The catch phrase, "como le hare?" in English translates to "how will I do it?" The guy's talking about how he messed up in his relationship and he's trying to get back.

So he's singing, "How will I do it? How will I do it?" And just like "Sensaciones," it has a very catchphrase appeal to it, where anybody can hum along, sing along, whistle along. It stays in your head.

STEWART: Ramiro Burr, we're going to leave with this song, "Como Le Hare." He wrote the "Billboard Guide to Tejano and Regional Mexican Music," a music reporter for the San Antonio Express-News. Ramiro, thanks so much for helping us today.

Mr. BURR: Absolutely. You're welcome. Thank you.

STEWART: And let's listen to a little bit of Emilio Navaira's "Como La Hare."

(Soundbite of song "Como La Hare")

Mr. NAVAIRA: (Singing in Spanish)

Ogame dicito. Quiero explicarle. Quiero que me digas como le hare. Para que me entienda,

Esta muchacha quiere se mi amiga Y yo no quiero ser. Es muy dificil, estando yo con ella...

STEWART: Thanks for joining us for the BPP today. We're always online at npr.org/bryantpark. Please come visit us. I'm Alison Stewart.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

And I'm Rachel Martin. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

Mr. NAVAIRA: (Singing in Spanish)

Luego me abraza, Me siento muy contento. Me dice "tu eres mi amigo," Y se me acaba la fe.

Como le hare? Pa' decirle que la quiero? Como le hare? Hay diosito. Tengo miedo. Como le hare Ser su amigo? Ya no puedo.

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