By Rachel Buck
“Everyone in my family plays music. It’s a thing you do, you know. I’m the youngest in my family, and everyone was always playing music, so I was constantly picking up on things. The drums came easy to me,” Meave said.
The 58-year-old hasn’t stopped writing and performing Tejano music since then and will be rewarded for his efforts on Aug. 12. Meave is one of six individuals receiving Michigan Heritage Awards at the Great Lakes Folk Festival in East Lansing.
LuAnne Kozma, assistant curator of folk arts and associate coordinator of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program, said, “The MSU Museum’s Michigan Heritage Award program honors people who continue folk traditions of their families or communities through practice and teaching.”
Guillermo Martinez of Kalamazoo—who performs with Meave in their band, Los Bandits de Michigan—will also be receiving an award.
“While (Meave and Martinez have) both played for national audiences and with national performers, as well as produced four original recordings, Rene and Guillermo both are being recognized with this award for their enormous contributions to and impact in Michigan with Michigan audiences,” Kozma said.
Meave is excited about receiving the award and performing at the festival in August.
“I think it’s great that people are willing to acknowledge our culture,” Meave said.
History and Heritage
Meave works hard to preserve his culture and celebrate diversity.
“I think that when we forget where we came from—and we have a tendency to do that—and I think that if we start celebrating more cultures, we’ll see that we have more in common than we don’t,” Meave said. “Music soothes the soul, when you’re happy or when you’re sad, and I find that the type of music we play is very conducive to dancing, and people like to dance.
“To me, it’s very important that we continue, because it also talks about the tradition of where we come from. That’s why other cultures I celebrate also, because you get to see how people make and create what they do from music, to food, to clothing and to everything else.”
In 1976, Meave started teaching himself how to play guitar, and has only received two official guitar lessons in his life. After moving to Plainwell six years ago, he learned how to read music at a local music store.
Shortly after meeting Martinez in 1987, Meave and Martinez began performing a show together called Culture Sensitivity Through Humor and Music, designed to raise awareness and sensitivity towards people of various backgrounds and cultures. These performances developed their band, Los Bandits.
The band is signed with independent La Blanca Records, has released three CDs and is currently working on a fourth. A documentary on the band, “Los-Bandits, More Than a Tex-Mex Band,” will also be released soon.
Meave has released one solo CD, “Men In Love,” and is currently working on another.
Los Bandits have also received several awards including the Tri-State Latin Music Award, Committee to Honor Cesar E. Chavez Distinguished Aguila award, Song of the Year in the Tejano Midwest Awards, and recognition by the state of Michigan for Tex-Mex music contribution.
During the past 21 years, the band has traveled to several states including Texas, Florida and Washington but now focuses only on the 12 states of the Midwest.
The band has performed with various other bands including Los Lonely Boys, performers of the hit song “Heaven.”
While Meave loves playing music, he loves writing the songs more than anything else.
“What inspires me are stories. This is why, outside of Tejano, I tend to lean towards country, because it’s story-telling,” Meave said. “In our culture, things used to be passed on from generation to generation by being around the table and the kitchen and stories being told. To me, that’s perfect for writing.
“The primary force behind the band is writing, and I’m a writer before I’m anything else; so is Guillermo. What we tend to do is go in different directions (in the winter). I spend a lot of time in Nashville, quite a bit trying to write.
“Writing’s a passion. You make a living, but it’s a passion that you have to have to do that kind of thing. I need the time to do that.”
The band comes back together and begins performing again each spring.
Although Meave was raised in Texas, he admits that a majority of the songs he writes are about the Midwest.
“Probably 90 percent of the songs we’ve written have been about Michigan or the Midwest,” Meave said.
The band’s style of Tex-Mex is also more centered around Michigan culture rather than the South.
“Well first of all it’s the accent (that makes it different), very much the accent. Secondly, the story in Texas is more oriented towards cowboy and more oriented towards the ranch, whereas here it has more of a tendency to be oriented towards the family settling down and families working. It’s life in another world.”
Aside from performing with his band, Meave also mentors young artists, including three people who have received record deals.
One of the most successful young artists is country-singer Frankie Ballard, winner of Kenny Chesney’s Next Big Star competition in 2008, and producer of “Tell Me You Get Lonely” and “A Buncha Girls,” both reaching the Hot Country Song’s top 40 last year.
Ballard will also open for Luke Bryan at this year’s Allegan County Fair on Sept. 10.
“It was around 2005 when I met him,” Ballard said. “He saw me playing sideman in a blues band and told me I looked out of place. I told him I was a country singer and he helped me step into my own voice.
“We started writing songs and playing out. He also introduced me to every one of his contacts in Nashville. He spent a lot of his time and money pushing me to really chase my dream.
“We had a lot of inspiring conversations back in those days.”
Outside of music, Meave works for InterCare where he educates farm workers on health care and preventive care to keep farm workers cognitive of issues and help get them into health clinics. Meave also enjoys gardening, running, camping, and cooking.
Los Bandits’ first performance of the season was May 3 at the Cinco de Mayo festival in downtown Kalamazoo.