Musical Identity

In this day and age, there are so many cultures and traditions fused together. Through migration, people have contributed to the change and evolution of music as if worlds collide harmoniously in melody.

It is without a doubt that music and dance play an important part in our lives when it comes to fun and entertainment. But for many, it is something much greater. It is an integral aspect of their daily lives that influences and fulfills their very being.

Such is the case of the Tena family. For José Tena, who has been a ballet folkloric dance instructor for over three decades, music and dance have surrounded him most of his life. Presently, he teaches at NMSU, leads the Ballet Folklorico de la Tierra del Encanto (Land of Enchantment Folkloric Ballet), and takes great pride as a dual language instructor at the charter school, Academia Dolores Huerta. Working with students ranging from 6th to 8th grade, provides him the satisfaction of knowing he is making a positive difference in his students’ lives. Through music and dance, he is able to teach them about tradition, history, culture, self-esteem, working with others, and perhaps most importantly, gives them a sense of self-worth and purpose.

“Here at the academy, it doesn’t matter what your ancestry is, what matters is the student’s will to learn,” explains Tena. The academy offers specific instruction of Mexican music and dance, while also incorporating the history of tradition and culture, in addition to the academic core classes. “It helps them with their identity; it’s an encounter with their roots,” says Tena.

A children’s bilingual book was recently published about José. “The Man Who Set the Town Dancing / El hombre que puso a bailar a todo el pueblo,” depicts the color, music and folklore of the Mexican heritage and dance. José expresses that what he does for a living he does not think of as work, but rather as his contribution to the community.
José and his wife, Lucy (also a dancer), introduced their two children to music and dance from the age of six. Rocio, their youngest daughter dances folklorico and plays the violin. While their son, Gabe Tena, has followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a leader and teacher in his own genre. Gabe has excelled and demonstrated his talents through music. Although he embraces and understands his roots, Gabe has also evolved and found his niche in the community and his love for ska music.

Ska music began in Jamaica, with influences of Afro-Caribbean beat, jazz, and rhythm and blues. The movement began in the late 1950s, when Jamaica was regaining its independence from Britain. The music was a reflection of the country obtaining its freedom and independence. For those who began this genre, it was an expression of that specific time, place and progress. It was directly linked to their cultural identity and sense of worth.

Gabe admits that many people don’t know what ska sounds like and his goal is for the world to hear their music. Along with the six other members of the band, The Casual Friday’s, Gabe plays ska, punk and reggae music. The group has been playing together since 2004 and their future endeavors include recording an album this winter and finishing a line-up of live performances through-out the Southwest.

Although the first instrument Gabe learned to play was the saxophone, he was forced to learn how to play the guitar after a band member left the group and they couldn’t find a replacement. In approximately four months Gabe was on his way to start as lead guitar player of the band, but most importantly he was able to keep the band together. Today, Gabe offers private lessons in guitar and saxophone and also composes music for the band. His fulltime job however, is as a care-giver at Tresco, Inc.
Undeniably, music and dance have a positive influence on individuals of any age, but research shows that they have a greater impact when talents are explored in children early on. Gabe and Rocio both credit their parents for instilling in them the sense of pride for their culture while allowing them to explore their own unique passion. “The influence of music and dance helps children know themselves, but what is most fabulous, is that they learn where they want go with their lives,” concludes José.

Music and dance are two elements woven into the very fabric that makes up the Tena family and everyone has their own talent, their own creativeness and unique form of expression. The Tena’s are a testament that finding out what our talents are, is the key to finding our direction and purpose in this life-time. And, like the Tena’s, seeking our passion and doing what we love will further allow us to share our talents as contribution to society.

For information on contracting The Casual Friday’s, please call Gabriel Tena at 642-6378.

For information regarding Ballet Folklorico de la Tierra del Encanto contact José Tena at 639-0885.

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