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TejanoPalooza: a family musical affair

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent


Yvonne Ramos-Ybarra may be the current face and voice of Grupo Fuego, a popular Tejano band—but her hyphenated last name also joins two Midwest legends of Tejano music whose influences are literally instrumental in continuing another generation of the genre.


Those generations will perform together for the first time on the same stage on Saturday, Aug. 3, during TejanoPalooza, a benefit concert at the International Boxing Club, 525 Earlwood Ave., Oregon, Ohio. Admission is $10. The concert begins at 8 p.m.

Michael Ybarra and
Yvonne Ramos-Ybarra

The concert is a fundraiser for the boxing club’s programming and will feature Rubén Ramos, Joe Ybarra, and their children: Ms. Ramos-Ybarra and husband Michael Ybarra, both members of Fuego.


“With our two families now merged into one, and now we get to share a stage,” she said. “For us, it’s not just about that stage. It’s almost still like a celebration of our families joining together. It’s going to be great. I’m excited.”


The four have never been on the stage at the same time—even after decades of the two children performing with their musical fathers—and sometimes one child performing with the other’s dad in special situations.


“Saturday will be a first. I’m extremely excited,” said Ms. Ramos-Ybarra, calling it a role reversal.


“I think it’s going to be a heck of an experience,” echoed her husband. “It’s kind of like a reunion, because we did a lot of shows with Yvonne when I was playing with my dad, and even her father, back in the 1990s. It’s going to fun, a bit of a reunion like that.”


“With our two families now merged into one, and now we get to share a stage,” she said. “For us, it’s not just about that stage. It’s almost still like a celebration of our families joining together. It’s going to be great. I’m excited.”

She explained that as a teenager, Joe Ybarra would invite her to leave the crowd for the stage and sing with his band. Now her band will be sharing the stage with him, all these years later.


“It’s one of the biggest blessings ever, really and truly it is,” she said. “It’s never just Joe. It’s Joe Ybarra. His first name can’t come without his last name, he’s so well-known. That’s how people know him. To Michael, he’s just dad. But he idolizes his father.”


A Father-Daughter Bond through Music

But Ms. Ramos-Ybarra also is finally able to step from the shadows of her famous father, the legendary Rubén Ramos.


“I can’t go anywhere with my dad without him knowing a million people,” she said with a laugh. “For the longest time, when I was singing with him, I didn’t have a name. I was just known as ‘Rubén’s daughter.’ That’s why I started singing with Michael. I needed to do that and make a name for myself.”

Yvonne Ramos-Ybarra

But the biggest smile during Saturday evening’s performance may belong to Rubén Ramos, while watching his daughter step into her own spotlight. Ms. Ramos-Ybarra sang the national anthem at last Sunday’s Toledo Mud Hens game—and when she left the field, her father was the first to greet her.


“My dad is always right there, cheering me on,” she said. “He’s just the peppiest person ever, spreading joy and cheer everywhere. Can you imagine being awakened for school every morning by someone with that cheery energy?”

Long before she took up vocals, Ms. Ramos-Ybarra was a classical pianist. Her grandmother had a similar unrealized dream and bought her a piano as a present when she was just six years old. She took lessons until the age of 19.

“I guess she was going to live vicariously through me,” she said.


Ms. Ramos-Ybarra explained her father had plans for her to play keyboards in his band at a young age as a result. But her mother stepped in, fearing a Tejano music influence would prevent her from studying classical piano.


“She was really adamant and put her foot down, making sure it would be two separate things,” she said. “It’s exactly what would have happened. I would have wanted to go do that [play Tejano music].


While she received instruction from a piano teacher, Ms. Ramos-Ybarra also learned a lot of musical lessons from her father while practicing at home.


“But playing piano, that’s where I really saw the father-daughter bonding, because he would stand next to me at the piano and he was very meticulous about timing and my dynamics,” she recalled. “He really wanted me to view it as musical as I could, not just hit a bunch of notes. He wanted me to feel the music, understand it.”

Two decades later, Ms. Ramos-Ybarra now definitely understands what her father was trying to teach her at the piano—and brings it to her stage performances through her vocals.


“When you’re young, you don’t understand what it means to sing from the heart,” she said. “It takes some growing up and going through heartache and disappointment—and that’s where you learn it from. But he always stood with me, with that metronome and was really adamant about that.”


Ms. Ramos-Ybarra recalled a time when she was 14 and her father’s band was practicing a new song to be played at a quinceañera, to be sung by the sister of the honoree. But the young woman could not attend the basement practice sessions, so her father recruited his teenage daughter.


“He heard me sing in my room and didn’t give me a choice,” she recalled.


A bit shy at the time, Ms. Ramos-Ybarra refused to leave the kitchen and join the band in the basement. So her father rigged a long microphone cord and made her sing from the kitchen instead so the band could keep practicing. It turned out to be the very first time she sang with a band.


“It was quite by accident, but I’m sure my dad would have gotten the idea later on,” she said. “I take great pride, all these years later, that it’s just not getting up and singing. It’s about understanding what I’m singing and putting everything into it.”


It’s fairly common for little girls to idolize their fathers while growing up. One would think that would be especially true for the daughter of a man who plays in a band professionally. Not so, according to Ms. Ramos-Ybarra.


“It was just so normal, it wasn’t anything big,” she admitted. “Then when I started playing with my dad and seeing the dynamics behind all of it—the effort that goes into keeping a band together and then sustaining it for a long time—I saw he’s a great leader because he cares about people and what they want to hear.”


But the one important thing Ms. Ramos-Ybarra stated she inherited from her father is the heart of a musician.


“When you can get that dance floor packed, it’s just a great feeling because you know that something you are doing is making them happy,” she said. “It’s that little bit of satisfaction that makes you realize what you’re doing. It’s addicting.”


25 years after that first singing performance, Ms. Ramos-Ybarra explained that she now appreciates everything her father accomplished—especially when on the stage together.


“I still have those sentimental moments even now when my dad will grab a guitar and I will sing with him,” she said. “Those moments mean so much to me now. It’s taken me to grow and learn to understand that.”


A Famous Father Takes His Son on Stage

Michael shared a similar upbringing, learning Tejano music at the feet of his father Joe, who was a national act in the late 1980s and 1990s. Michael started playing in his dad’s band as a teen.


“If it wasn’t for my dad who pushed me and gave me the opportunity to perform and be able to play, and experience so many different venues that we played in,” he said. “There were just so many states where we performed. Everything I have experienced I owe and am thankful to my dad.”

Joe and Mike Ybarra


Michael even moved to San Antonio for a few years to play Tejano music professionally and “spent a zillion hours in the studio” recording music.


Joe Ybarra first formed a band in 1969 and spent more than three decades on the music circuit, traveling the country. Now 68, the elder Ybarra has been semi-retired from the Tejano music scene for a few years. But his 42-year old son coaxed him to come back.


“I said ‘Dad, you still got it in you. Let’s record a couple songs and see what we can do,’” Michael recalled. “Let’s get you back on the stage—and here it is happening all over again. He’s getting back in the studio and we’re working on one of his songs, getting ready to be released.”


Father and son spent time in the studio doing the final remix for the song, which was released to Midwest Internet Radio this week. Michael joked that his father still has an incredible amount of energy to share with an audience.


“It’s hard to keep up with him. We just had a heck of a practice,” he said. “He really beat us up pretty good, so he’s still got it. My dad is just driven. Music is his passion.”


Michael started playing with his father at age 13, starting with the saxophone. He later switched to keyboards. But unlike Yvonne’s father, who plays just about every instrument outside the accordion, Joe Ybarra is strictly a singer.


“As the years progressed and I watched him play some pretty huge venues across the Midwest, I was like ‘Wow, this is my pops. This is cool,’” Michael said.


During the heyday of Tejano music, a ten-day tour of Texas turned into two months. Opportunities to add concerts to the schedule came up continuously as they played across the state. A young, upcoming singer named Selena made $400 per concert as the opening act for the band at a handful of venues.


“We had a booking agent who kept getting shows. When you’re hot, you’re hot and that’s the time to capitalize on it and make your money,” Michael said.


But there will be three generations who take the stage on Michael’s side of the family Saturday night. His son Michael, Jr., 22, is Fuego’s drummer. Mikey, as he’s called, made his debut at age six as a substitute drummer in his grandfather’s band.


Grupo Fuego and the Future

Fuego has been together for nearly three years, but Ms. Ramos-Ybarra has been its lead singer for just over a year. The band is set to release its first CD sometime in the fall, but has two songs getting heavy airplay on Internet-based Tejano music stations.


“We know that we are growing, because we can tell by our Facebook page,” she said. “It’s amazing to me that the states of Washington and New Mexico seem to be where we’re getting a lot of our attention.”


Ms. Ramos-Ybarra was invited to try out for the band by its keyboardist and leader, Michael Ybarra. But she explained he “had an ulterior motive”: the two had known each other for a long time because of their Tejano titans for fathers and had a “mutual crush” on each other. They’ve now been married a little over a year.


“The one part was he needed a lead singer and the other part was he was trying to be fresh with me,” she joked. “As we shared the stage, it was amazing how it just became comfortable. We both come from the same background. We both come from the same type of life. We both share much in common and refreshing; I don’t have to explain it.”


“See what I do to keep my band going? I marry the lead singer,” Michael joked. It was like Ozzie Nelson marrying his lead singer Harriet Hilliard, to become Ozzie and Harriet.


The band was originally founded in Michigan. Some of its current lineup hails from Saginaw, Pontiac, and Lansing, and tours the Midwest. One guitarist is from Toledo and the bass player is originally from Archbold. The band has played the Ohio State Fair and on Aug. 24 will make its first-ever appearance at the 2013 Latinofest in downtown Fostoria.


“It’s always a surprise trying to figure out where we’re going to go next,” said Ms. Ramos-Ybarra with a laugh. “But it’s hard to make it a full-time thing, so we all do have our other jobs. The market in the Midwest doesn’t support it yet, but I see that changing.”


For example, Ms. Ramos-Ybarra is a full-time Mary Kay representative, while her husband is in business development, recruiting new employer clients for a personnel agency.


Ms. Ramos-Ybarra describes Fuego as “progressive Tejano” because it incorporates modern influences into its playlist. For example, she sings a Spanish-language version of a popular Beyoncé song.


The band’s current single “Ni Lo Digas Jugando” currently is making it through Tejano Magazine’s Top 20 chart. The band members hope to do a more extensive touring schedule after the CD release.


“We hope it can turn into something, but we have our regular lives, our regular jobs. It’s a hobby and we have a passion and desire for it—and it’s a family thing, which makes it more unique,” said Michael. “It’s a great thing we’ve got going. It’s a great family of people that are making this thing happen here.”



Copyright © 1989 to 2013 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08/06/13 20:25:15 -0700.




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