‘You Were Born For Me:’ Emilio Navaira’s Sons Pay Tribute in SA Symphony Concert

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Courtesy / Al Rendon

The San Antonio Symphony and the sons of the late Emilio Navaira (left, pictured here with his brother Raul "Raulito" Navaira during the Tejano Conjunto Festival in 1992) will honor his artistic legacy in a tribute concert Thursday at the Tobin Center.

The last time a Navaira joined the San Antonio Symphony onstage was in 1997, for two Pops Series shows at the Majestic Theatre. This week, the sons of Emilio Navaira will pay tribute to their Tejano superstar father with a special Symphony tribute concert at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

Navaira brothers Diego and Emilio IV, of the popular touring band The Last Bandoleros, will lead a program dedicated to their father’s songs on Jan. 31 at 8 p.m. Troy Peters, music director of the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio (YOSA), will conduct the orchestra.

Emilio IV will play guitar, and Diego will sing. Those in the audience familiar with the elder Navaira will be amazed at Diego’s voice, Peters said. “His voice sometimes sounds uncannily like his father’s voice. It’s really going to be a nostalgic experience for people who are fans of the originals.”

The Symphony program will feature familiar hits “Bailando Contigo” (Dancing With You), “Naciste Para Mi”(You Were Born For Me), and “Cómo le Haré” (How Will I Do It) – which also featured in the 1997 concert and a previous 1995 Symphony show at the Majestic – as well as lesser-known songs the sons say were never performed live.

For example, the 1990s songs “Quédate” (Stay) and “Mundo Perfecto” (Perfect World) are popular, but difficult to bring to the stage due to elaborate original production by the Morales Brothers, Diego said. “Such effort was put into the studio recordings, it’s just crazy challenging to perform live,” he said.

The brothers and Peters invited members of their father’s original touring band Grupo Rio, representing the height of Navaira’s Tejano popularity, to join for the occasion. Albert Casanova, Julian Escobedo, Carl Leon, Marc Martinez, and Pete Ybarra also participated in writing songs with Navaira, some of which will be featured on the program, like Martinez’s “Lucero de mi Alma” (Spark of my Soul) and Ybarra’s “Donde Andará” (Where Might She Be).

“The fact they were able to get back on board is really exciting,” Peters said.

Emilio, as he was known during the height of his popularity, was once on par with Selena as a Tejano and crossover star. He was honored with a posthumous Tejano Music Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2018 on top of 20 previous awards, won a Grammy award in 2002 and a Latin Grammy in 2007, and sold more than 2 million Spanish-language albums before crossing over to country music.

Peters conceived the idea for the tribute concert, just after the elder Emilio’s death in 2016. That same year, he got to know Diego and Emilio IV, then members of San Antonio indie pop band Buttercup, during work on a YOSA Live! performance of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album.

The idea for the eventual Symphony tribute performance just made sense, Peters said. “I know these guys, I know they sing their dad’s music. I know the San Antonio Symphony has a commitment to San Antonio, they want to do things that connect to the local scene.”

Together they selected songs the sons knew would be crowd favorites, and that Peters knew would be well-suited to the orchestra, which he said “gets to show off a little bit here and there, too” through his arrangements.

Diego said he and his brother will be as much fans as performers on Thursday night.

“We are just playing the music we love,” he said. “How cool is it that me and Emilio were fans of those tunes before we performed them – and then performed them in front of fans who loved them as much as we did.”

Tickets ranging from $10 to $81 are available through the Tobin Center box office.

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