The belt-buckled Bronco are an enduring staple of Grupero music, with swooning fans the world over — including Iowa

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Guadalupe Esparza of Grupo Bronco in 2004 at a concert in the Quad Cities. Photo by Tar Macias / Hola America ©2004
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By Kembrew McLeod

This article was originally published in Little Village Magazine.

When Bronco takes the stage at the Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines, the iconic Mexican group will weave into their live show a tapestry of musical influences imbued with layers of cultural history. Originally hailing from Apodaca in the northeast state of Nuevo León, this five-piece grupero ensemble has been around since the mid-’70s, when they were known as Los Broncos de Apodaca. Since then, they have continued to be fronted by founder José Guadalupe Esparza. 

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Tapestry is a useful metaphor for the music played by Bronco, whose songs echo those kinds of textile designs that contain rich, complex patterns and imagery, laced with meaning. In short, Bronco builds on several resonant musical traditions to create something unique, joyful and moving, with a driving beat that you can dance to. 

“Bronco has been part of Mexican and Latin American popular culture since the 1980s,” journalist Tar Macias observed. “I’ve been aware of them since their popular song ‘Sergio el Bailador’ released in the late ’80s. … Like any artist, Bronco has had to reinvent themselves to stay relevant throughout the years. But their popularity is rooted on their long artistic trajectory and their many hits.” 

The group has been part of the soundtrack of Macias’s life since he moved with his family from Mexico City to Moline, Illinois on July 4, 1987 at the age of 14 (he is the fifth generation in his family to live in the U.S.). Since he began working in the communications industry in the ’90s, Macias has interviewed Bronco frontman Esparza three times, most recently in 2018 as the publisher of “Hola Iowa” and “Hola America News”

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“They are very popular internationally and with the Spanish-speaking audience in the U.S.,” Macias said, contextualizing Bronco for English-speaking readers who might not be aware of the group. “I would say they are like a popular country band that has stayed relevant for almost five decades.” 

One of the prominent styles that the group incorporates is Tejano, which translates roughly as Tex-Mex, a hybrid musical form that evolved from crosspollinations that flowered in the wake of immigration, colonization, and (eventually) commercialization. The roots of Tejano can be traced back to the 1830s, when large numbers of Germans and Czechs migrated to Texas and Mexico, bringing with them accordions and the “oompah oompah” polka beat. 

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This cultural hybridization also occurred in Iowa and other neighboring Midwestern states, which produced their own distinctive regional blends that incorporated country and folk, which are sometimes referred to as “Dutchmen” style. In the case of Tejano music further south, it melded traditional regional genres like mariachi, ranchera, and corrido with the elements of European folk music favored by Germanic and Polish settlers. 

By the ’70s, performers such as Freddy Fender and Flaco Jiménez introduced country, rock and other contemporary influences into the mix—setting the stage for groups like Bronco. With their matching jumpsuits, synthesizers and regular appearances on a popular telenovela, *Dos mujeres, un camino*, Bronco can hardly be characterized as a traditional folk group, but their music teems with aural echoes of the past. Instead of holding tightly to the “authenticity” of their roots, an impulse that can turn musicians into museum acts, Bronco gravitated to what made modern crowds move. 

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“They have never been shy to explore many genres in their style of music,” Macias said, “even collaborating with many other popular artists in pop music like Cristian Castro, Julieta Venegas and Ricardo Montaner. I recently read they would even consider recording a Reggaeton song, but in their style. I don’t know if I can visualize that, but I wouldn’t doubt they could pull it off. They always had.”

Father Guillermo Trevino, Jr., pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in West Liberty, Iowa, has been a huge Bronco fan since he was a toddler. They have remained part of his life into adulthood, when he was once asked to bless the band when he was invited on their tour bus. Born in 1986 in San Antonio, Texas, he moved with his family to Moline at the age of 3, and while growing up he saw Bronco on Univision broadcasts of *Dos mujeres, un camino*, watched their music videos, and heard them on the radio throughout the Nineties. 

In an interview with Hola America News, Guadalupe Esparza of Grupo Bronco in 2004 in the Quad Cities Photo by Tar Macias / Hola America ©2004

“They transcended music by being on a soap opera, and their music videos in my opinion were ahead of their time,” Father Guillermo said. “They stood out and were just top of the line for that era. That’s why Bronco were so big at that time.”

“As a little kid,” he continued, “they were always my favorite band, even though when I was little and I didn’t really know what they were saying in their lyrics, aside from stuff about, like, horses and cowboys. But it was just the great beat that I always enjoyed. It’s easy to dance to, and as a person that isn’t really a big dancer, it’s an easy beat to move around to because it’s just very catchy. I almost enjoy the beat as much as the lyrics, so that’s half the fun for me.”

The bookkeeper at Father Guillermo’s church is a huge music fan who has turned him on to more Spanish-language bands, and he has attended performances with her and other concert buddies in recent years. This is an example of how music can bring people together, Father Guillermo said, because he has made friends with folks on social media that he has met at those shows, many of whom are looking forward to seeing Bronco on Aug. 4. 

“There’s several people that want to go—some from my church and some that aren’t church members but are like, ‘Next time, Father, let us know and we’ll travel together!’ So I’m making some new friendships and stuff. For the Bronco concert, it looks like several people are going to travel from all over Iowa to Des Moines.” 

The last time Father Guillermo saw Bronco live, in Davenport, he wound up meeting his childhood heroes after hanging around after the show while trying to get a photo of himself in front of the tour bus. He got to talking to the band’s driver, who told him, “This bus has been all over the Americas—North, Central, South America,” which speaks to Bronco’s widespread popularity in the Spanish-speaking world. 

“I didn’t ask to get on the bus,” Father Guillermo said. “I just wanted a picture of me with the bus as a keepsake, and the driver was willing to do that. But then he said, ‘You can get on the bus and say hello to the group.’ So, I got on the bus. I was on the verge of being starstruck because you know, they were my favorite since I was little! And then they go, ‘Well, Padre, can we get a blessing for the road?’ Because they had another concert later that same day. So, I did the sign of the cross and did a quick prayer for safety on the road and that everything goes well.” 

Guadalupe Esparza of Grupo Bronco last October in Ralston, Nebraska. Photo by Erika Macias / Hola Iowa

In recent years, more Iowa music promoters have begun to cater to a growing population starved for artists like Bronco, which means that Father Guillermo and others no longer need to drive to Chicago and other major Midwestern cities to see live music. In return, he and other like-minded fans try hard to support Spanish language musicians when they visit this state, in part because it reminds them of who they are and where they come from. 

“Seeing bands like Bronco brings a little of our culture to us here in Iowa,” Macias said. “And the nostalgia factor is certainly a factor for the people in Iowa to see these bands that they grew up listening to.” 

“I think that promoters realize just how much the population has grown,” Father Guillermo added, “even if maybe it’s not like Los Angeles or Texas or Florida. In West Liberty, yes, we’re just a little town, but we always get a festival in September, and they bring in bands as well—maybe not as famous as Bronco, but they still have a fiesta and people come from all over to listen, so hopefully this music thing keeps growing here.”

Kembrew McLeod first got into Tex-Mex music thirty years ago when he stumbled across the Texas Tornados—a supergroup that included Flaco Jiménez, Augie Meyers, Doug Sahm, and Freddy Fender—which sent him down several musical roads.

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