Centroamericanto Fest is a private effort to promote Central American music by “Central World Music” and its Spanish web site www.centroamericanto.com, it is sponsored by the Austin non-profit “La Peña Gallery” which provided 501 c3 status and structure for fundraising purposes. The festival has been funded in previous editions by the City of Austin Cultural Arts division, and the City of Austin Music Office.
“Centroamericanto Fest is a platform to showcase music not often heard in Texas,” says organizer and founder, Mauricio Callejas, “Centroamericanto Fest highlights the beautiful rhythms, poetic lyrics, and themes that are unique to this part of the world.” “We want to bring Central American back to the music map.”
Mauricio Callejas, Salvadoran musician, started the website Centroamericanto.com in 2003 to promote the original work of Central American authors. Central American countries en general at that time lacked of the infrastructure to make the music activity an industry and besides of some working orchestras entertaining parties and dances there were not other ways to help musicians to make a living of their craft. Unfortunately the previous statement seems to get worse when it comes to cultural artists, singer songwriters or folk musicians; Centroamericanto wanted to at least provide a way to promote their work to the world wide web.
Centroamericanto.com evolved into a weekly radio program that has been on the air since 2005 and has been broadcasted from different radio stations around the world, currently Sin Fronteras radio of Canada and Radio Monteverde from Costa Rica are actively including Centroamericanto’s content in their rotation. Soon after the radio program was launched, the first festivals were organized.
The first festival was held in El Salvador in 2005. It was just the beginning with no greater expectation than getting to know each other after 3 years being part of Centroamericanto.com as virtual members of a community.
We gathered at La Luna Casa y Arte and more than 8 singer-songwriters and bands shared songs with the public, we not only made music, but conversed in an improvised panel about the future of the song as a way of cultural expression and about the song creator as key part of that process. Among the participants were the legendary Yolocamba Ita, Los de a pie, El grupo Trova and Estaban Monge who traveled from Costa Rica to be at the festival.
The second festival happened again in El Salvador in 2008 at the Central American University (UCA) Student Cultural Center and a good group of artists gathered to share music and projects. All that was captured in video and is available here.
Back in the U.S. and after talking with some key people in the Austin’s music scene, like Rose Reyes, back then at the visitor beureau music office and Matt Muñoz of the Cactus Cafe, the spark was set to ignite the first adventure of hosting the festival in the U.S. at the live music capital of the world, Austin TX.
In 2011, the third installment of Centroamericanto Fest took place at the legendary Cactus Cafe. The show sold out quickly there were lines of people waiting for seat openings during the first break of the show.
The public was delighted with the performances of Manuel Contreras from El Salvador, Jeana and Juan Carlos Ureña from Costa Rica and Guillermo Anderson from Honduras. The experiment was a success within its limitations but enough to dream about the next edition.
The 2011 edition of the show was supported mainly for small businesses and cultural organizations. La Peña hosted a conversation with the artists to discuss their experiences as musicians in Central America.
The following year in 2012, the bar was raised again, as two events were organized. The Cactus Cafe was again the scenario for the singer-songwriter showcases but a second event had place on Saturday at the Plaza Saltillo on east Austin, it was a familiy friendly free outdoors event.
The artistic offering was expanded as well, as we enjoyed the Panamaian traditional dances of “Floklore y Ritmos de Panama” a local dance company, Austin local Gina Chavez and her band, Jeanna and Juan Carlos Ureña from Costa Rica, Guillermo Anderson on his second year in the festival, also we had Romulo Castro from Panama and Roberto Salamanca from El Salvador. The visiting artists were backed by a group of Austin musicians.
The event at plaza Saltillo brought this music to the heart of the community but it also allowed us to have Central American food vendors, local artisans, local non-profits and the private sector also supported the event as sponsors. The event was covered by the main printed media outlets in both English and Spanish, as well as local TV stations and radio stations.