Spotlight On: A Series on Culture & the Arts
By James Gray
Pedacito de la tierra morena, El encanto de mi sueno azul.
The above lyrics are from an original song written by local crooner Hugo Cité, singing fondly about his hometown Salcajá, just down the road from Xela. Cité is a fixture on Saturday nights at the popular nightclub Agave Azul in Zona 3, where, when not singing his own tunes, he belts out the Latin hits that make the packed house sing along with him.
The songs that Cité sings for his fans cover a wide range of styles. When I spoke with Cité, he cited Latin pop, ranchera, salsa, merengue, duranguense and banda all as part of his repertoire. When asked what his listeners prefer most, Cité said it was the musica de recuerdo, i.e. the Latin hits from back in the 70s and 80s. Despite those tastes, Cité mixes styles and eras to match everyone’s taste.
A few of the artists Cité covers include Los Iracundos, Los Terricolas, La Apuesta and Vicente Fernandez. If you’re into popular Latin music along the lines of Shakira or Enrique Iglesias, most of these names probably don’t mean ‘boo’ to you, except you’ve undoubtedly heard at least one song by Vicente Fernandez (or just “Vicente” due to his fame), i.e. “Esos Celos”, perhaps the most famous classic pop song in Guatemala. For this reason, going to hear Cité is a great way to expose yourself to the Latin music that is loved deeply but doesn’t enjoy global prestige.
It is also a great way to have a ton of fun. The crowd at Agave Azul is mostly 30s and up, unpretentious, and boisterously dances and sings along to Cité’s music. They are there to have fun and mingle, not partake in a glam show. Cité, who sings the songs over prerecorded melodies, floats through the crowd and will often hand the mic over to a fan with an outstretched hand to sing a few catchy lines to a chorus. Though it seems that the fans want to go on singing, Cité told me nobody has ever kept the mic.
Besides the crowd, the delightfully kitschy cowboy-esque and comfortable ambience at Agave Azul is worth a visit as well. In addition to the standard beer signs, the joint sports saddles, lassos, sheep and cattle heads and, given the strong Mexican theme, a giant Mexican flag.
Cité, after a long stint in a marimba and cumbia band, has now been singing at Agave Azul for nearly four years. After feeling a bit restrained by the dynamics of band life, he appreciates the artistic freedom of his current gig. He also often takes his show on the road to entertain guatemaltecos nationwide. He even has recorded two CDs, including many original works.
When not performing, Cité makes and sells traditional Mayan clothing from his home base in Salcajá.
Clearly, though, Cité’s passion is his music, which his fans at Agave Azul share with him enthusiastically every Saturday night. You’re likely to see him there crooning, entertaining and floating through the crowd for many years to come.