Questa native honored at NM Hispano Music Awards

Questa native Dwayne Ortega (Photo by Rick Romancito, The Taos News)

It was a dream come true for Questa native Dwayne Ortega to hear his name called at this year’s New Mexico Hispano Music Awards held on Saturday (Jan. 13) at the Ohkay Casino Conference Center in Ohkay Ohwingeh.

Ortega hugged his father, his mother, his wife, his good friend former Taos Mayor and fellow musician Darren Córdova, then made his way to the stage to accept the prestigious award he has coveted since high school: male vocalist of the year.

“I was having a hard time holding tears back,” Ortega said, who won the award for his emotional rendition of “Eso y Mas,” a love song written by the Mexican singer-songwriter José Manuel Figueroa Figueroa (1951-2015), better known as Joan Sebastian.

Asked why he chose that song, Ortega said, “I just heard it over the years and always enjoyed it.”

“It’s a love song. It’s sung by a man [to a woman]… saying all the things he would do to be with her, crossing mountains, rivers and valleys just to see his reflection in her eyes. [Sebastian] had a lot of feeling behind it, and I got into that and wanted to give it a shot,” Ortega reflected.

Ortega said he felt it was risky for him to record the romantic song since he is known for his lively dance music, such as rancheras and cumbias. But one night as he was lying in bed listening to music, Ortega came across the song, and said to himself, “I’m going to do it.”

It was a fortuitous moment.

The next day Ortega called his producer, Archie Maestas of ATM Studios. Ortega told Maestas his idea, and they laid down the song in one evening last June with Taos musician Chris Arellano playing the guitar parts.

“I recorded it and was shy to show it to people,” Ortega said. When he reached out to a few radio DJs, to see what they thought, their feedback was positive, so he released it to stations for airplay.

Ortega plans to include “Eso y Mas” on a new CD he is working on with his band. The Dwayne Ortega Band’s last CD “Hoja Suelta” was awarded one of 15 Grande Nuevo Mexico awards by the New Mexico Latin Music Academy for the song “Doña Juana.” In addition, the Dwayne Ortega Band was awarded cumbia song of the year for “Doña Juana” and traditional ranchera song of the year for the title track “Hoja Suelta” at the New Mexico Hispano Music Awards.

“Awards are cool,” Ortega said, “but the funnest part of being recognized is to be able to keep playing. I just love to play. When I’m on stage, that’s my happy place. The reward for me is just playing for the people.”

Ortega said he was glad to be booked to perform for his fans every single weekend of last summer, playing at their graduations or weddings.

“It’s a big honor to me to share their special days with them,” Ortega said.

Dwayne Ortega is very grateful for his family, which has been supportive of his music ever since he started up in high school. As an example, he shared the story of how he earned his first guitar. “I didn’t have a guitar when I started in high school. I used to borrow the school guitar. I went to Darren Córdova’s shop, found a guitar I liked, and I was saving up for it.”

Eventually, he saved enough to purchase the guitar. But, when Ortega went into the shop, he found the guitar had already been sold. “Don’t worry, I’ll order you a new one,” he was told.

“This was in December,” Ortega said. “Christmas came around and I noticed I wasn’t getting many gifts from anybody. At the end of the night they brought out this box.”

Inside was the coveted guitar. Ortega’s parents, aunts and uncles and other family had pitched in to buy the guitar for him. “I still have that guitar,” Ortega said. “I’ll never sell it.”

Ortega can be reached at (575) 770-2613 for bookings. For more information, visit the Dwayne Ortega Band on Facebook.

More Taos County Winners at NMHMA

Taos County was well represented among the winners of the 27th annual New Mexico Hispano Music Awards. Other Taos County winners were in the children’s and youth competition.

Norberto Martínez, director of the Taos Municipal Schools Mariachi Program, said that six students entered the children and youth competition this year. They were Taos Middle School students Sarae Alise Garcia, Santiago Tafoya, Anakaela M. Trujillo and Gabriella Salazar; and Taos High School students Makaylah Salazar-Etzel and Michelle Montez.

“I was very, very proud of them,” Martínez said.

Award-winners were Gabriella Salazar who won crossover song of the year and rising star of the year for “Have You Ever Seen the Rain (Gracias al Sol);” Sarae Alise Garcia who was named the child artist of the year; Makaylah Salazar-Etzel who was awarded with youth song of the year for “Y Voy a Ser Feliz;” and Anakaela M. Trujillo who was named the youth artist of the year.

In addition, 20 students performed at the NMHMA ceremony on Jan. 13 as Mariachi El Tigre, the Taos High School’s mariachi band.

“This is their fourth year they’ve been called to perform for that,” Martínez said. “It’s a big honor because it’s the only middle school or high school group to perform.”

Martínez directs the mariachi program at Taos High School and Taos Middle School with assistant directors Nick Branchal and Audrey Davis.

The mission of the New Mexico Hispano Music Awards is “to help preserve through music, the unique culture and heritage of New Mexico. To preserve, and promote the performance style and repertoire of New Mexico Hispano music.”

For more information on the New Mexico Hispano Music Awards and a complete list of this year’s nominees and winners, visit nmhma.org.