Spotlight On: A Series on Culture & the Arts

F-Juarez-group“Spotlight On” is XelaWho’s regular monthly series on all things cultural & artistic in Xela and Guatemala. This month’s topic is: Fernando Juarez

by XelaWho Rhythm Minister

Folks ‘in the know’ know about Fernando Juárez (c. in photo), one of Xela’s most talented and versatile local musicians. Although XelaWho has covered the groups headed up by Juárez in the past, we decided to find out more about this Juárez, his music and his history here in Xela. XelaWho sent its Rhythm Minister to chat with Juárez between sets of a smokin’ Soltura Jazz gig at Royal Paris.

XelaWho: How long have you been playing music in Xela?

Juárez: I don’t have a clear count but it has been since I was 17 and now I’m 42.

 XW: Where else has your music brought you?

Juárez: The USA, Mexico, France and of course, Central America. Music has been the vehicle to do so.

XW: What musical groups you’ve been involved in?

Juárez: One early project that’s still somewhat ongoing is called Caudal, which mainly plays music native to Guatemala. We do a lot of pieces made for marimba and use flutes from various countries. I’ve also been involved in a type of trova called trova tres with three trovadores – who were Fernando López, Otto Mora and me. Also, together with Fernando López, I was involved in a group called Dos Fernandos, and we traveled together to Europe & other places.

Later on the idea arose to doing something more Latin – high-quality Cuban-style music with “más energia” – so we organized Sombrero Negro. We play styles such as rumba and bolero, but also some “rumba gitana” [gypsy rumba], a mix of vocals and guitars you could call flamenco, but more gitano.

Together with two American musicians, I started Soltura Jazz. I play sax and flute. The idea from the start was to feature a rotation of local and international musicians. We always have a spot open to integrate others, and jazz is perfect for that. Right now we’re sharing the stage with a Japanese musician; in the past we’ve had Korean, American, Italian players, people from around the world sharing their talents. Right now Soltura Jazz is Chatío Bas, Elliot Morales, Emanuel Ruiz and our guest Masayuki, who likes to go by “Tito Masa” [Juárez laughs heartily]. That’s what we’re doing with Soltura Jazz. 

Then there is the Real Big Band project. I’ve always loved music “en masse”, with tons of musicians. Right now we’re at 17. Though we’ve only had a few gigs, they have been very interesting. The last concert was at the recent international jazz festival. The interesting thing in the big band is the many young people. It’s great to be sowing seeds for the future and we’ve seen lots of early fruits from that labor already.

We also will set up a permanent jazz workshop, starting with current big band and later including others who want to get involved. We’ll set up classes, such as jazz theory and playing different instruments. The few music schools focus on classical music. We’re looking for a space to set this up. It won’t fit in my living room!

XW: What instruments do you play?

Juárez: I play the marimba, various ‘native’ flutes of Central and South America, guitar, Spanish-style guitar, standard flute & saxophone.

XW: What music do you listen to?

Juárez: I like all music but prefer instrumental. I also love all folk music, for example Celtic, Andean and American but “bien folk”. I like natural sounds.

XW: Are you a full-time musician or do you have a day job?

Juárez: The major part of my day involves music. I also teach classes. I do some graphic design and, as an engineer, I enjoy architecture.

XW: Thanks for your time and good luck with all of your projects!

Where & When: Catch Fernando Juárez with Sombrero Negro Friday nights and Soltura Jazz Saturday nights, both at Royal Paris. If he’s not there, he’s probably traveling the world or headlining special events, such as Allianza Francesa’s Fiesta de la Música, April 25th-26th in front of the Teatro Municipal. (See “Stuff” and “¿Qué pasa Xela?” sections for more info on the festival.)

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