Accordionist at large
Ever since he was a child and had to use a booster seat to reach the marimba, Jorge Herrera has had a passion for music. Growing up on a coffee plantation in Huehuetenango, he was inspired by the Mexican-influenced folk music that was popular in his village and soon started practicing both the marimba and the guitar.
At the age of 18 after being invited to play guitar on Guatemalan TV, he learned from some friends how to play the accordion. However, it wasn’t until 40 years later that he was able to adopt the instrument as a member of his family and devote himself entirely to learning it.
“The accordion’s difficult to master, but I took the decision to study and play it in Xela (Quetzaltenango) and, after eight years, I conquered it,” says Herrera.
After performing with the accordion at cultural events throughout the country, Herrera later traveled to Europe, where he spent three months playing it in restaurants across Germany and Italy.
The musician admits that the box-shaped apparatus, which is usually associated with European music, isn’t an obvious instrument to play in Latin America, but he insists its versatility makes it well-suited to Guatemalan compositions.
Known as a one-man band, the accordion is the perfect instrument for those who enjoy playing alone. It’s sufficient for a whole concert and you don’t need accompaniment due to its many registers and different sounds, which are produced by directing the bellows that support the keyboard in a variety of directions.
“I play French, German, Italian and Guatemalan music on it and get my inspiration from the public,” states Herrera, who says he often examines the mood of his audience and adjusts his songs to suit it.
One of his favorite arrangements that he has adapted for the accordion is Noche de Luna Entre Ruinas, a Guatemalan piece originally written for the marimba by the Chapín composer Mariano Valverde: “It was inspired by the earthquakes of 1917 and 1918 and is full of nostalgia and emotions,” says Herrera.
Singing in Portuguese, Italian and Spanish, the accordionist now resides in La Antigua Guatemala, where he gives music lessons and plays at a number of restaurants.
“I moved to Antigua because it’s ideal for art, culture and music. Musicians have little support in Guatemala so it’s difficult to do it as a profession, but international tourism is strong here and the people have a warm quality,” says Herrera.
Although he enjoys the security and climate of Antigua, Herrera still travels about the country with his accordion and appears at Xetulul, Retalhuleu each year to commemorate Oktoberfest.
Future plans for the musician include recording his own music and learning how to play the violin so he can teach the instrument to his granddaughters. “Through perseverance, dedication and enthusiasm you can achieve anything,” professes Herrera.
You can contact Jorge Herrera in La Antigua at 5378-7929.