The accordion love of Amanda Reyna

Amanda Reyna

Amanda Reyna and her accordion are crowd favorites in the Indianapolis Latin music scene. Over the last year Reyna's norteño flavored band Escolta 13 has become a familiar name on concert bills at local clubs like Chispas, while also building a fan base across the Midwest.

Escolta 13's quick rise in Indy's Latin music ranks is due largely to the ample charisma and instrumental proficiency of Reyna. I recently met up with Reyna before a headlining gig at Chispas nightclub where we discussed her love for all things accordion. 

NUVO: How did you get started playing the accordion?

Amanda Reyna: It all started when I was 12 years old. When I was young I used to watch my grandfather play the accordion. I also had a cousin who played the accordion and I started messing around with my cousin's accordion - pushing the buttons and making noise. There are two types of accordions, button and keyboard. I started out playing on a keyboard accordion. I played the keyboard accordion for about a year, but I really wanted a button accordion because that's the kind that all the accordion players in Mexican regional music and norteño music played. I was like "they're playing the buttons. I want to play the buttons too!"

But my family didn't have the money to buy a new accordion so my mom and my family got together and made tamales. They sold dozens and dozens of tamales to raise money to buy my first button accordion. But I didn't know how to play it because I had learned on the keyboard accordion. My family was so supportive though. Within a year I started picking it up. I don't read music so I learned by listening to other musicians.

I got the button accordion when I was thirteen, and from fourteen to sixteen I lived on my accordion. I would come home from school and play the accordion. I played music and listened to music day and night. By the time I was sixteen I started my first band and I was playing at bars and cantinas and places I wasn't even old enough to be in. From there I've been in many bands and played in many places.

NUVO: Some people today consider the accordion to be sort of an old-fashioned instrument. As a young person what attracted you to the accordion?

Reyna: I think it was just seeing my grandpa play it. I didn't see many people playing music at that age. At that time I didn't realize it was considered an old-fashioned instrument. I also didn't realize it was unusual for a woman to play the accordion. My interest just stuck. I learned to play other instruments after I picked up the accordion, but I just love playing the accordion.

It was only later on that I began to realize that it was almost only males playing the instrument. That makes me unique. When I go to play at dances people are always like "You're a girl, and you play the accordion? Wow, that's amazing."

NUVO: What type of music was your grandfather playing on his accordion?

Reyna: Polkas! He mainly played polkas and norteño music. The bajo sexto guitar and accordion were the main things he listened to. There was one particular polka my grandpa always tried to play. There was a specific part he could never quite play until I got to a point where I could show him how. That was something! He was in awe because he'd tried to play that part for so many years. He wasn't a professional musician, it was just something he messed around with in the house.

NUVO: You mentioned that it's unusual for a woman to play accordion, has that been an obstacle for you?

Reyna: Yes, at first. When I was younger some of the bands wouldn't even give me a chance. Some people would say "You're just a girl, how can you play the accordion?" But others would welcome me to play. That's something I think every singer or musician has to deal with. Some people will give you an opportunity and some won't. I've had both experiences and I'm thankful to those people who gave me an opportunity. Since I've been playing I've never had any musicians talk bad about how I play. They've always had something good to say.

NUVO: So how did your teenage interest in the accordion lead you to pursuing music as a career?

Reyna: I was born in Texas. I lived most of my life in Ohio and I currently live in Fort Wayne. When I was in Ohio I met a band at my cousin's wedding. They were called Grupo Tridente and they were from Fort Wayne. When I was younger I would go approach local bands and ask if I could play a song with them. Some of the groups would be skeptical, they would ask me, "Do you really know how to play?" And I would say, "Yeah, just give me a chance."

So this band Grupo Tridente I met when I was 16, I played with them and they said, "Wow, you're really good." I played a few songs with them that day. A few weeks later they tracked me down through my Youtube channel — I post a lot of videos of my accordion playing on Youtube. They told me their accordion player quit and they asked me to come practice with them.

At first I wasn't sure about it. I lived in Ohio at the time and it was a two hour drive to Fort Wayne. But I gave it a shot and my mom drove me over. For about a year that's how it went with the band, I would drive back and forth from Ohio. So I decided to move to Fort Wayne to play with the band and I've stayed there ever since.

NUVO: Tell us about your current group, Escolta 13.

Reyna: I joined Escolta 13 last August. When I joined the group their music was more versatile, but since then we've taken a direction to focus on norteño music. We're doing really good with this band. We've traveled a lot this year. In my first year with them we did shows in Missouri, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Michigan, Chicago, and later this month we'll be playing in the Bronx, New York. It took me years with other bands to get out of the little towns we were playing in. It's going really well. People say we're the "consentidos" of Indianapolis. Do you know what that means? It means we're the preferred ones. [smiles]

NUVO: You've played some huge shows in Indianapolis this year, like Dia de la Familia at Military Park. What are some of the highlights for you?

Reyna: I've played with some of my idols. In my genre of music, which is norteño music. The main artists I've been inspired by are Los Invasores De Nuevo León, Los Cardenales De Nuevo León, and Ramón Ayala. I've had the opportunity to play with some of these groups. I watch out whenever they're touring in the Midwest. I'll go to the show, and if I can get close to the stage I'm not shy, I'm going to ask somebody on the stage "can I play a song?" It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to play with your idols. Sometimes they're like, "Yeah, come on!" I have videos on my Youtube channel where I'm playing and I'm on cloud nine because I'm on stage playing their song on their accordion. If I died tomorrow I'd be like "well, I had the opportunity to play with who I wanted to play with."

NUVO: Where do you see your place in the Indiana music scene?

Reyna: There's a lot of banda music and duranguense music right now in Indiana. But norteño music has never died. When those accordion songs come on, the corridos and polkas, people will get up and dance. I think norteño music will never die. Duranguense music had its time, but when people hear the accordion they're like echando gritos, meaning they get excited and they're yelling. So I don't think I'm going to be out of a job playing the accordion anytime soon. 

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Kyle Long pens A Cultural Manifesto for NUVO Newsweekly and in 2014 began broadcasting a version of his column on WFYI.