The difference is in the sound but not the spirit behind it.
While their father, iconic Tejano superstar Emilio Navaira, and younger brother, Raulito, performed Tejano music, sung in Spanish, and eventually, country music in English, on major stages nationally and internationally, the second generation of Navaira brothers want to spread “a new wave of Tex-Mex music.”
The band, The Last Bandoleros, which includes another San Antonio native, Jerry Fuentes, and New Yorker Derek James, plays a pop-tinged, country-rock blend, often with a Latin fusion, that gets fans moving and never forgets its roots. The band shares lead vocal duties and four-part harmonies.
“To me, the music is very Texas,” Emilio said. “That’s what it is. It’s Texas.”
The Navaira brothers spoke with Tejano Nation on June 30, on the heels of the national announcement that the Last Bandoleros will perform July 15 – from San Antonio – on ABC’s Good Morning America.
With Emilio back home in San Antonio and Diego at his home base in Nashville, the two spoke about their sound, the legacy of their famous father, their musical goals, and even their relationship as brothers who are just 18 months apart. Emilio, who is engaged, just turned 30, while Diego, 28, is married.
First, Diego wants the fans to know that despite the English music they perform, the style is influenced by a wide array of genres from country to rock and even Tejano.
“I think it is part Tejano, because obviously, we were raised with Tejano music around us with our dad being who he was,” Diego said. “And I think that’s something that spills into our music.”
The Last Bandoleros’ current album, Live From Texas, consists of 10 tunes performed during a December 14, 2019, concert at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, Texas, just outside of San Antonio. Except for a remake of the Texas Tornadoes classic, “Hey Baby, Que Paso,” the songs were written all or in part by the band members, along with some of rock and country music’s top songwriters. The songs don’t fit squarely into any one genre but all share a folksy, pop-rock flavor.
In trying to define the Last Bandoleros’ sound, Emilio asks fans to imagine standing in the center of San Antonio’s historic Market Square where multiple bands play various genres on different stages.
“There’s a blues band playing on one side, a country band playing on the other, a Tejano band over here, and a rock band over there,” Emilio said. “And we’re somewhere in the middle of that. It’s just an amalgamation of all the music that Texans grow up listening to.”
Growing up with their Tejano superstar father meant the boys were exposed to all types of music, especially Tejano, but said their father, who passed away in 2016 at age 53, never pressured them to follow in his famous footsteps.
While some fans did remark that the Navaira brothers should perform Tejano music, their dad urged them to play what they loved.
“He was the one that pushed us, like, ‘You’ve got to follow what you want to do. You’ve got to follow who you are as an artist and what you do, it should be natural,” Emilio said of their father’s advice. “And that’s what happened in Last Bandoleros, because there is some of his music in what we do. And it’s natural, it’s not like us trying to do it, but we’re just doing our own thing. We’re doing our own spin on Tex-Mex music.”
In February 2019, Diego did perform an Emilio tribute concert with the San Antonio Symphony, where he sang his father’s top Tejano hits, also accompanied by his father’s original Rio band, but said at first, he was unsure about the prospect.
“I don’t ever really get nervous performing, but I’m always nervous saying yes to confirm those shows just because still, it’s so weird playing and hearing those songs on stage, and him, obviously, not being there,” Diego said. “But then, once the show’s done, I’m always so glad that we’re able to do those shows for his fans. And also, I don’t realize how therapeutic it is for me as well. So I really enjoy doing those, and hopefully, when things start to get back to normal, we can do more.”
This summer, Diego said he was to perform with David Lee Garza y Los Musicales, a band where his father got his start, at the Las Vegas Tejano music convention. He said he hopes, for the fans’ sake, the show can be done at a later date.
“What’s cool is I was planning on actually jumping on stage with David Lee Garza as well and doing a few of my dad’s early songs,” Diego said. “I think his fans would really enjoy that. And that’s why we do those shows is for his fans. I think he was taken too soon, I mean not only from us as his family, but I think his fans. No one was ready to stop hearing his music.”
Both brothers expressed pride in their cousins, Destiny and Rigo Navaira, and their uncle, Raulito, upon the recent release of Destiny’s debut album, La Preferida, which included a remake of her uncle’s early hit, “Pienso En Ti.”
“They just did a version of my dad’s ‘Pienso En Ti,’” Emilio said. “I thought that was very cool. I love watching my uncle in videos. I think he’s one of the greatest video actors of all time.”
The brothers believe their cousins, like them, also continue the family’s musical legacy, albeit via different genres.
“I’m in contact with them,” Emilio said. “They’re working on a new record right now. They’ll send us stuff and we’re sending them stuff. I talk to Rigo quite a bit and it’s funny because I feel like we’re both doing versions of what we grew up on. It’s just different mediums and different styles of it.”
“Aside from their stuff is a little more traditional and in Spanish, I feel like we’re both sort of doing the same thing because we grew up on the same stuff. So I think that it’s cool that we’re both kind of carrying on our dads’ legacies in our own way.”
THE BOND OF BROTHERS
Working together as brothers has not proven too difficult for Emilio and his younger brother, Diego, who find that most of their battles center around music.
“Diego and I, we’re only 18 months apart so I don’t know life without him,” Emilio said. “So we’ve been kind of, or we’ve been super close this whole time and I think what’s funny is we don’t normally fight but what we (do) fight about is music stuff…But we might fight once a year maybe.”
Diego agrees with his brother and said except for one instance when they were in their young teens, the two have not had any major blowouts.
“There’s been one time, I can recall, we were maybe 14 or 15 years old, and we were rehearsing in our dad’s garage with another rock band we had,” Diego said. “And I believe I socked my brother.”
“I was a mean kid,” Diego jokes. “But I was probably right, just for the record, I was probably correct.”
Emilio responds in a joking manner: “My words are vindictive and Diego just uses his hands sometimes.”
In all seriousness, Diego says the two mainly fight about music as that is what they hold dear.
“But no, Emilio is spot on,” Diego said. “As adults, we’ve hardly ever fought or get into any confrontation, but when we do, it’s in the recording studio or in a writing session. And I think it’s because we’re both so passionate about music.”
THE LAST BANDOLEROS
The Navaira brothers’ way to spread the Tex-Mex sound and culture that they love is with The Last Bandoleros, a band who has already experienced major exposure and experiences.
The group was noticed and admired by rock icon, Sting, with whom they subsequently toured in the spring of 2017 on his “57th and 9th” Tour in North America, Europe and South America. The band has also toured with The Mavericks, Dwight Yoakam, and Los Lobos. Signed with Warner Music Nashville, the Last Bandoleros were described in late 2017 by Rolling Stone as “a group who vie for the title of most thrilling new live band.” The band released an EP in 2017 and singles in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, Diego sang lead on “What Would You Be Doing,” which was a poignant tribute to his father.
As current touring is halted due to the pandemic, The Last Bandoleros currently reach their fans via social media and a live weekly show at 7:30pm CST every Wednesday on Facebook called, “Around a Neon Cactus,” where they welcome special guests and perform. During one late April episode, the band jammed with reggae-pop artist Shaggy of “It Wasn’t Me” fame.
Emilio admitted that some of the band’s brushes with fame and major celebrity can leave him in awe but more gratifying is the respect earned from these successful musicians.
“It’s very surreal sometimes and a lot of times I’m saying, ‘Pinch me, is this real?’ because we’ve done some crazy things,” Emilio said. “But … it’s really, really cool and gratifying knowing that people of this caliber, your Stings and your Shaggys, are excited about what we do musically. And for me, I think that that is – more than just hanging out and partying with them – is something that sort of makes you feel good about what you’re doing.”
He adds that the band’s role as ambassadors of Tex-Mex music makes these experiences even better.
“I also love it because we’re bringing South Texas music to people that normally wouldn’t hear it,” Emilio said. “So that in itself, that’s the most satisfying part to me. It’s bringing our culture to people that normally wouldn’t listen to it or have any idea what it is.”
This introduction of Tex-Mex music to the masses is what Emilio and Diego hope to accomplish on a national stage this July 15 when they perform on “Good Morning America.”
“We love embracing our culture and where we’re from and I think the way we do it, I think that’s an easier way for maybe people to discover something they didn’t know before,” Diego said. “And then maybe from there, they’ll pick up an Emilio album or a Selena album. Then, they’ll discover Tejano music. I think we always love doing that and embracing where we came from.”
Emilio agreed and goes further to stay that introducing Tex-Mex music to the world is the goal.
“I want (fans) to tune in to watch us on “Good Morning America,” because, like we’ve been talking about, like Diego said, we love embracing our culture and we love bringing it to people that don’t understand it or normally wouldn’t even give it a chance,” Emilio said. “So I think that what’s very cool about this is that we’re going to do it in San Antonio. We’re going to show the U.S. how to live with our music, how to move to it, what it sounds like, what it feels like, what it’s like to be in South Texas. We’re going to put that on a national platform. That’s our goal.”
Emilio added that he wants mainstream America to watch “Good Morning America” on July 15 so that they can experience the joy of the Tex-Mex experience.
“We want everyone to understand what’s going on here in South Texas and that it’s fun,” Emilio said. “And come and join the party, we’re waiting for you.”
A live stream concert and a new studio album is in the works for The Last Bandoleros and fans can visit the group’s Facebook page and website for the latest updates. Watch “Around a Neon Cactus” at 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday for performances and laughs with Emilio, Diego, and The Last Bandoleros.
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