Levi Rafto, 42, started his music business at age 20 with his roommate, Francisco Alvarez.
“We always had arrangements for people, but they were boring. We were planning pop stars and band fiesta songs. We decided to focus on songs that can be sung in a warm way, like people listen to on TV.”
But with the departure of one of his roommates, Rafto and Alvarez decided to expand their repertoire to include traditional instrumentals, and to increase their profits.
“We had made a plan to make cassette tapes at the end of the night, but it did not work out that way. The job fell into the hands of a girl who played traditional instruments for us and worked well with the plan. She is a Mexican girl, with a good voice.
“When she passed the CD to a radio station in Mexico City, they asked her to do the song, ‘Wife’s Head Off.’ We needed a song for that dance routine; all the girls thought it was so good that they kept playing it over and over and over.”
With Rafto’s business partners, the two brothers founded Concursos Conciencia Musicales (Concords Musical Instruments), (CEM) in the northern suburbs of Mexico City in 1999. Rafto moved to Veracruz, west of Mexico City, to open his second business in 2013.
As the Guadalajara market for accordions became saturated, Concursos CEM started designing instruments to meet the needs of the demanding buyers.
“We use natural wood. We designed the accordion with what our market demands. They wanted guitars and six-string players, and another thing that they needed the best – something that is better with the wind.
“People around us are artists. We sit around the same table, and we are always looking for good musicians, so we take every advice, because it’s no easier to break down someone else’s idea and present it. As for selling parts, we had to study because the market wanted us to make our own components.
“We had to have a manufacturing facility. A lot of times it would be factories all surrounding each other. If it is not convenient, then there will not be commerce.
“We have had a lot of good fortune. Conciursos CEM has been recognized for almost 20 years now. Everybody who is a musician who has been around here, has heard of our company.
“People have been writing me with good advice on how to develop our reputation. We do the CDs ourselves, and we do everything by hand – the soundboard, instrument-specific components, like the ribcage to make sure they are perfect.
“At this point we are aiming for working with people like Neufeld [Musical, which has a chain of stores around the world] who we have to work with internationally and with every country to be their partners, because every country has its own customs, like the beaded hair, and something like that.”
The Border is a periodic feature highlighting people who live at the intersection of cultures – the people and things that span the border between the United States and Mexico.