Conchola remembers, "I just thought she was visiting the soundman. And then one of the soundmen mentioned to me, 'Damn, if I could only find a way to get this girl on stage, I'd probably score some points!' I said, 'What do you mean? I thought that was your girlfriend.' He said, 'Nah, she wants to get up and sing but nobody will let her.'" Conchola laughs at the memory. He'd heard his cue.
"I asked her, 'Do you have some songs you want to sing?' And she says, 'Yeah, I want to sing a couple of songs.' So I went to one of the organizers and asked if we could get this girl up to sing. And she said, 'No, no, the schedule's full.' I begged and pleaded."
At this, he pauses and chuckles again. "All these guys, when they first started, they begged and begged to get a break. That's how each one got here, and that's why you're getting the free music here today, because they appreciate what everybody did for them. They have a fanbase. They are popular. They have recordings out. This is just somebody starting the same way. Just let her have a break. You never know."
Conchola was glad he played the hunch because, despite the fact that this woman had never been on a stage before, she had an appealing presence and her voice interested him; it was different. Conchola would soon learn why: "her influences," he explains. "One is a legend of Mexico, Rocio Durcal. She's a romantic singer. And also the opera. It's a weird little twist, but it works." This happy discovery's name was Claudia Inclan, from Mexico City, and Conchola and Inclan recognized a niche that they could fill together."We just wanted to give something different," he says. "We noticed that all of the Latin bands around here were pretty easily categorized. They were either Tejano, or they were Nortena, or they were salsa, and that's it. And a lot of people that live here now are from the cities, like Mexico City, and from other countries: Venezuela, Columbia, El Salvador. More and more from Spain. And they don't really listen to that kind of music. They listen to a Latin pop. It's pop music with a Latin flavor, and there aren't any of those bands here.
"Diamante plays a style that we wanted to create -- American and European pop influences coupled with traditional influences of South America such as Peru, Columbia and Venezuela," Conchola continues. "We have Tex-Mex style, jazz, blues, rock and roll and a little bit of salsa all mixed in. We like to refer to it as shaken, not stirred."
Diamante's musicians bring a mix of influences well suited to the band's eclectic pop mission. Bass player Manuel Marin is from Torreon, Mexico, and he plays his region's nortena music with a touch of his own personal jazz enthusiasms. Drummer Anthony Perez Jr. brings an R&B feel to the group. Conchola's oldest son, Miguel, plays guitar with an expert blend of Carlos Santana, B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughn -- "with a little bit of Eddie Van Halen thrown in," the proud father adds. "Miguel plays just like his fingers are moving on air."
Greg Conchola has his own rich, seasoned history. "I started playing guitar at about eight years old," he recalls. "My grandfather was a musician. He played guitar and harmonica, and that's actually where I learned the Mexican music. Before that, I'd always heard my mom and dad listen to it, but it didn't really appeal to me until I actually saw my grandfather playing it with the heart and soul he put into it. He wasn't a fantastic musician, but what he played, he played with feeling."
Conchola's first band, the Unknowns, played exactly one show of rock standards such as "Wipe Out" and "Satisfaction" before folding. At the age of twelve, he joined the Tex-Mex band the Vasquez Brothers and played in a series of such acts, including Junior Lopez and Las Reyes, throughout the 1970s. In the '80s, he started his own record label, Emcee Records, while working at Chapman Recording Studio, where he was also learning the ropes as an engineer and producer. He put out several 45s and an album with his successful dance-oriented act the Brown Lightning Band during those years.
After taking a sabbatical to raise his family in the 1990s (Conchola is a single father of five), he emerged a little more than two years ago with a record-label sampler, The Best of Kansas City's Latino Artists, Volume 1. At this point, he re-entered the music scene full force, with a new recording studio in his home (which he has steadily built into an impressive facility) and a fresh vision for what contribution he wanted to make.
"I started the label because there's a lot of talented people here in Kansas City who go unnoticed because they don't know how to go about getting exposure," Conchola says. "I would like to see a whole lot more musicians out in the mainstream than there are today. There are just so many great songs and so much great music that people are creating, but they are not known. If people could see Kansas City as I see it, they would see all that talent that's right next door."
Diamante itself is just such a surprise. Conchola's and Inclan's voices soulfully play off each other over rich, remarkably varied arrangements. The result is like nothing else you'll hear around here, or perhaps anywhere -- an exciting, American take on both Latin and European sounds. Shaken, not stirred.