The Music Scene in Xela

By Sergio de León

It is not news that being a musician in Guatemala is a difficult job, especially for those who take a gamble on originality. There still exists a certain conservative social stigma towards having such a profession. I can guarantee, however, that all deficiencies in our fledgling “musical industry” have not been an obstacle for the interesting musical scene that is flourishing in this city and its surroundings, which does not just give me hope but is also something I find admirable: that there are those who continue on this sonorous and lyrical path in which few obtain their deserved success and recognition.

I think it is necessary to point out some aspects of our current musical scene, which for certain is no longer so fledgling and that—in a very personal opinion—is always at risk of stagnating and dying, not for the lack of creativity or originality but rather due to the lack of incentives that permit and facilitate the creative work of so many emerging musicians and bands. In the first place, there are sufficient bands to create a more solid and energetic movement, but movements are formed by a number of additional actors, like the public, the media, both for- and not-for-profit private initiatives and public institutions dedicated to the promotion of culture.

If we truly want to turn our local music production into an artistic platform, into a live musical beat, we should find alliances between all of these actors and take the risk of betting on the present and future of many artists who truly have something great to offer. I think that there is an ever-growing openness to new proposals, if we compare our present situation with that of some five years ago, everything has been facilitated by the massive use of social networks. Thus, artists are finding it easier to spread their work, whatever the discipline may be, but it is also necessary for the public to be willing to pay to appreciate said work in real life, be that by listening to or acquiring the album.

Quetzaltnango has a lot of talented musicians

The cost doesn’t just fall on the listening public, there can also be immense support from private initiatives (like restaurants, bars, event promoters, NGOs for the development and spread of culture) and of course there can also be a cultural agenda that is better structured and dedicated to the spread of local musical works in which the media can be key. Institutional support is also critical for the spread and publication of new musical projects in the population; let’s be clear: artistic support is both a right and obligation at the same time.

In general, there are many ways to support the musical scene, and these are only a few ideas that I have discussed with other musical colleagues, cultural agents, businessmen and civil servants; as it isn’t about placing or not placing responsibilities on an artist, but rather offering them better conditions so that they may focus on what is truly good: dedicating themselves to their own musical and creative work, with the discipline and effort necessary so that it may be personal work of high quality; rather, I’m referring to a business model in which all of us can win through art, but also where each actor contributes something in order to obtain benefits.

The potential that music and art have in Xela is enormous, rich and very diverse, and for that it seems to me a real shame that if we continue with almost the same conditions as those of a few years ago, that will only accelerate the exodus of minds and hearts from this place which historically has been known as the cradle of culture, but still has serious ideological and racial difficulties in recognizing its own local artistic production. It is not possible to continue living in the past and not change the disastrous idea that “only the artist that leaves from here is able to reach recognition and visibility;” we ought to change the perception of music in the face of the proud conservative Quetzalteca society. If we want to truly turn to the arts, making them a distinctive part of the identity of this city and its surroundings, I have here the sonorous narrative, fresh and born in this same place that can contribute to reaching it.

Concert of Ishto Juevez in Quetzaltenango. Cover Photo: José Moreno