Los Alegres de Belen: For the love of music
Just for the love of music the five band members of Los Alegres de Belen perform around Valencia County and the state for the sheer joy of it.
They play at senior citizen centers, church fiestas, fundraisers, Christmas parties, grand openings, Isleta Pueblo and the Hard Rock Casino, rodeos, graduations and any other social event you ask them to.
“I think for pretty much all of us, we don’t do it for the money, or we would have starved a long time ago,” says band leader Frank Esquibel, guitar and vocals. “We do it because we love it, we love what we see, what it does for people. That makes us happy. It keeps us going.”
Los Alegres de Belen play traditional New Mexico rancheritas, country and western songs, as well as oldies. Their music gets feet moving and hearts pumping.
This year, the group added the Valencia County Hispano Chamber of Commerce Matanza to their list of venues.
Most of the band has been playing together for the past 12 years, but they have known each other for many years. They all grew up in Valencia County, except for drummer Pat Garcia, who grew up in Las Vegas, N.M.
The seeds of the band were planted 25 years ago at Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church when Esquibel and Tino Mascarena sang in the choir.
Mascarena is the lead singer of the band, and also plays tambourine.
“We still sing in the choir, but we consider ourselves the roaming choir, because we play at all the mission churches,” Esquibel said. “We only have Mass once a month at each one, and we just follow them around and go where they want us, where they need us.”
“And our wives sing with us, too,” Mascarena said.
Bass player Clyde Gensen began his musical career in a country and western band that played street dances and school houses back in the early 1950s in Los Lunas.
He has lived in Los Lunas since 1946, but was born in Oklahoma. He met Esquibel in 1970 when they worked at General Electric in Albuquerque.
Gensen worked for the Atomic Energy Commission before it closed and became General Electric, he said.
He likes to tell the story of how he played cupid, and introduced Esquibel to his wife, Mary Rita, 28 years ago.
The story goes that when Esquibel saw Mary Rita he said, “There goes the girl of my dreams,” and Gensen overheard.
“I said, ‘I’ll fix it up for you,’ and I did,” Gensen said.
The prankster that he is though, Gensen added a twist to the meeting.
“I told her, ‘Why don’t you go by there though, and just look at him and shake your head ‘No,’” he said. “She wouldn’t do it. She chickened out.”
“I invited her for a cup of coffee, and we’ve been together ever since,” Esquibel said.
The men knew each other all those years, but didn’t know each played music.
Years after Gensen retired from GE in 1991, he joined Esquibel and the band.
Esquibel’s cousin had been playing bass for them, but when he got sick, he had to quit the band.
That’s when Esquibel asked Gensen if he wanted to play bass for them. He’s been with them since 2009.
At a gig in La Joya, the last night their mandolin player would accompany the band, Ray Carrillo was in the audience.
“Tino told me, ‘That guy sitting over there plays guitar,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I know Ray,’” Esquibel said.
So, he went over to talk to Carrillo during a break to see if he might want to join the band — they needed a lead guitarist.
“He said, ‘I need to do something like this, because I’m retired and I’m bored,’” recalls Esquibel. “So I said, ‘Why don’t you come to the senior center on Tuesday and sit in with us and see how it goes.’ That was four years ago.”
Carrillo retired from the Valencia County roads department.
The drummer joined the band about eight years ago. He considers music his therapy.
“I used to play in the music business,” said Garcia. “I’d been there so long I became an alcoholic. By 29, I was on skid row. By 30, I sobered up. I’ve been clean for 21 years now.”
Musicians are like doctors, he says, because music is therapy. People might come to hear the band using a walker, but by the third song, they are up and dancing.
“The music makes their inner child come out of them, and they start dancing,” Garcia said. “They start doing things they couldn’t do on their own.”
“They may creep in, but then they get out there and you can’t stop them,” adds Esquibel.
The youngest in the group is 50, and the eldest is 77. Playing in the band and seeing people dance invigorates them, and is their fountain of youth.
They all come from musical families. Tino’s uncle was a musician and one of his brothers. Most of them have been playing music since they were children.
Although none of the men have seen combat in war, they are all veterans of life with the battle scars to prove it.
Clyde Gensen has had open heart surgery, by-passes and stints. Garcia has his aches and pains from working as a horse jockey.
Esquibel was in a motorcycle crash in 1983 when a driver ran a stop sign. It tore his leg off at the knee.
“At the scene, I literally bled to death,” he said. “My heart stopped and everything.”
It took two years for him to recover from the motorcycle crash, but then he was diagnosed with colon cancer.
“It made me realize what’s important in life, and what isn’t,” Esquibel said. “There’s so much that you think is important, and it doesn’t mean a thing.”
Every Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Los Alegres de Belen plays at the Belen Senior Citizen Center, 715 S. Main Street.
If you need a band for an event, call Frank Esquibel at 459-0174 or 864-3545.
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