AUSTIN, Texas – The numerous Spanish-language radio stations in the United States rarely play music from Central America despite more than four million immigrants from this region.
To fill this void, Salvadoran songwriter Mauricio Callejas created the website “Centroamericanto” in 2003, displaying podcasts of music, interviews and news about Central American musicians. Callejas has dedicated all his efforts to promote musicians from the region after moving to Austin, Texas, in 2002.
One of these efforts is the organization since 2011 of the annual Centroamericanto Fest. The festival showcases independent Central American artists in Austin, the so-called Live Music Capital of the World, due to its variety of music festivals and venues. This year, the festival runs Sept. 26 to 29 and highlights a lineup with Costa Rican band Rialengo, songwriter Flor Urbina, and a set of 10 other artists. Last year, Honduran Guillermo Anderson played the fest.
The festival showcases Central America as a region with a specific culture that is part of the American culture. This year, Centroamericanto Fest offers free music shows at Zilker Park, the same venue as the popular Austin City Limits music festival. Adults also can enjoy night shows at Dougherty Arts Center for $20, and the festival includes traditional foods and customs.
Sponsored by the City of Austin Cultural Arts Division and the Texas Commission of the Arts, the festival still lacks major sponsors such as airlines, hotels or food vendors, therefore, participating artists paid for their own trips to Austin.
“Artists believe in this project,” Callejas says. As a result, some Central American artists have participated in a different internationally renowned festival, South by Southwest in Austin, including Sonámbulo Psicotropical from Costa Rica, and Culeta Sound Machine from Nicaragua.
“Most artists from the region are independent and they only become famous after moving to Mexico or the U.S. where there are many record labels,” Callejas says, citing examples of Nicaraguan Luis Enrique, the “Prince of Salsa,” and Guatemalan songwriter Gaby Moreno.
Callejas is an example of what the festival embodies. He composes trova music, a genre that is barely known in the United States.
“Many people think that Latin music is only danceable,” he says.
Recently, Callejas incorporated dance beats into his trova songs, and local radio stations started playing his latest album, “Helado Pop.”
“I believe that music needs to carry a message beyond love and heartbreaking lyrics,” he says.
His newest album combines bachata, cumbia and salsa rhythms.
Central American immigrant groups are larger in major U.S. cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Washington, D.C., however, many local festivals in those areas highlight traditional dances and foods rather than current independent musicians.
Music production from Central America has a wide variety of styles in a region troubled by gangs and the highest murder rates in the world.
“Society must write its own music about its own reality, issues and feelings,” Callejas says. At the same time, regional music reinforces the idea that there is a fellowship among people from Central America, and people from Costa Rica embrace Panamanian or Nicaraguan artists, he says, adding, “That [fraternity] is our inspiration.”
Learn more about Centroamericanto Fest or follow it on social media at: http://www.centroamericantofest.com.