Spotlight On: A Series on Culture & the Arts

otto“Spotlight On” is XelaWho’s regular monthly series on all things cultural & artistic in Xela and Guatemala. This month’s topic is: Otto Mora, Xela’s Veteran Trovador & Bluesman.

Players come and go, but in Xela there are a few who have paid their dues. Otto Mora is a Trovador and bluesman who has regular gigs around town, both as a solo act and with his band the Altibajos. XelaWho caught up with Mr Mora to rap a little about the past, present and future of the music scene in Xela.

XelaWho: How would you define your music?
Otto Mora: I play Trova, in that is poetry set to music, usually just one voice and one guitar. Sometimes we play blues songs with the Altibajos. The rhythm of a song isnt whats important to me, its the lyrics – I like songs that have a purpose, and whose words make you think, not simple songs that just say I love you or something like that.

X: Do you see a connection between trova and the blues?
OM: Sure. They both speak about the same themes – about society, the human condition, work, race, discrimination, marginalization, injustice. These are the good songs, of course. Theres plenty of trova and blues that doesnt say anything. They also have a poetic lyricism – the words are complicated. You may not understand them the first time, but when you do they hook you deeper.

X: Your biggest influences?
OM: Ah, there’s a mountain of good trovadores. Fernando Lopez and Jos Chamal anre two good Guatemalans. Silvio Rodriguez, Noel Nicola. Spaniards like Serat and Aut. There are lots of musicians who have left a mark on me.

X: Did you study music?
OM: I did. I started studying here in Xela. I enterd music college as a marimba player, but I was kind of bored – we studied a lot of theory, which is important, but I honestly think that my best education has been playing with other musicians, no matter what style they play – you can always learn from other players.

X: How is it being a musician in Xela?
OM: Its much better than it was, say, 5 years ago. There are so many places to play now. But still, for most of us, we work other jobs and play music because we love it. In Xela, if you want to be a star its not going to work. You have to find your focus elsewhere. There have been plenty of times when I wanted to give up. There’s also a problem with the society here. Guatemalans in general lack solidarity, and that’s what we need to progress as a profession – to share opportunities and contacts.

X: Do you write your own songs?
OM: About a third. There are plenty that I’ve written that I don’t play in public.

X: But youve recorded some?
OM: Years ago, we used to have a band called Kenches. It was an Andean band, and we released four discs. I have a solo disc that you can buy around the place. Right now Im in the process of recording another one with the band.

X: How do you find recording as opposed to playing live?
OM: It’s a slow process. Its taking months, but we want everything to be right. The other thing with the discs is that thats just the first step – all the distribution and promotion we have to do ourselves. We sell discs at our shows. Thats another example of how it would be good to work together – all these self-recorded discs around, we should be helping each other out.

X: And the radio?
OM: We don’t get played much. One side of the problem is that radio is very corporate – if you’re not signed with a label, you dont get played. Another side is that its commercial – radio plays what sells, and trova isnt really pop music. There’s one station here – Radio Tulan (FM 101.1) that gives space to trova music.

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