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Celso Piña, Mexican cumbia artist and ‘accordion rebel,’ dies at 66

WASHINGTON — Celso Piña, a self-taught Mexican accordionist who turned his hometown of Monterrey into an unlikely oasis for cumbia, the Colombian dance music, then became a Latin music superstar with his fusion of rock, reggae, ska, hip-hop, tropical music and Northern Mexican rhythms, died Wednesday at a hospital in Monterrey. He was 66.

The cause was a heart attack, his record label, La Tuna Group, said in a statement. Mr. Piña was in the midst of a North American tour, with a performance this past Saturday in Milwaukee and an Aug. 30 show scheduled in Arlington, Texas.

In what was apparently his last tweet, he wrote Wednesday in Spanish: ‘‘There is no one who resists cumbia.’’ The tweet included a video of one of his biggest hits, the semi-autobiographical dance tune ‘‘Cumbia Sobre el Rio,’’ in which his group sings in Spanish: ‘‘From Monterrey, a Colombian cumbia for everyone.’’

The truth of that statement was almost unimaginable when Mr. Piña began performing in the 1970s, on a two-row accordion his father had given him as a gift. In Monterrey, a sun-baked industrial city in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental, polka and waltz tunes had long dominated dance halls and neighborhood parties.


But Mr. Piña found himself enchanted by the music of Colombian accordionists Aníbal Velásquez and Alfredo Gutiérrez. Listening to their records on repeat, he spent three months learning his first song.

With his brothers Eduardo, Rubén, and Enrique, he serenaded girls in his Monterrey neighborhood and, at 20, left his administrative position at a children’s hospital to become a full-time musician. Slowly, cumbia began to take hold in the city.

Rooted in a country thousands of miles away, Mr. Piña’s songs were initially scorned by local elites and authorities, with concerts sometimes shut down by the police. ‘‘My music provoked the madness of the people,’’ he said last year. They also spurred something like peace: Amid reports that rival gangs in Monterrey stopped fighting only at the sound of cumbia, the writer Carlos Monsiváis dubbed Mr. Piña ‘‘the accordionist of Hamelin,’’ a reference to the Pied Piper whose music lured away rats.