Music and Art In Your Backyard

Fernando Guzman

On April 16, 2016, a 7.8 earthquake shook thecoast of Ecuador causing catastrophic devastation to the area. I was able to visit the coastal region of Manabí after the quake. During my visit to the small village of San Clemente, I met and sat with 35 year-old singer/songwriter/musician Fernando Guzmán to discover how he is handling not only his personal life in the aftermath of the quake, but also how he plans to use his art to help heal his community. 

Fernando Guzmán was born to a music loving family in the village of Cotacachi, Ecuador. Having a knack for communication, he began as a child, singing and playing the guitar. He inherited the Ecuadorian musical teachings through family tradition from his grandfather, uncles and father (also a musician by trade), and developed an adoration for the craft.

At age 16, ”Fercho" as his friends know him, began performing in bars, clubs, informal gatherings, bazaars, and school talent shows. By 17, Fernando was composing his own original ballads, pop-styled tunes, and rock anthems. At age 28, he turned his attention away from his music and after a 7 year performance hiatus, returned to the stage and, through social networks, was able to swiftly relaunch his career. Photo courtesy of reverbnation.com/fernandoguzman

In 2013, he presented his musical album “Ocultas Verdades (Hidden Truths)” at the Teatro Variedades Ernesto Alban. The 10 track pop ballad album tells stories that can be easily metaphored to his own coming-of-age steps and missteps through love and relationships. His first single, “Con Amor (With Love)“, highlights his own musings on love, beauty, and life with colorful poetry set in classic chord progressions. His second promotional single, “No Te Puedo Olvidar (I Can Not Forget You),” brings energy, passion, stylish pop, and accompaniment by his brother Diego Guzmán, former member of the band “Cacería de Lagartos (Hunt Lagartos)”. Fernando featured “No Te Puedo Olvidar” in the Giants Foundation On Wheels and media tour, Music Has No Borders. Using his music as a social service, his popularity swept through the Ecuadorian highlands, all the way to the Department of Nariño in Colombia and the Coast Grand Opening in Manabí.

In 2014, Fernando won Most Promising Artist of Ecuador from the Best of My National Bands Ninth Edition, organized by the Metropolitan District of Quito and My National Bands.

Though his life as a professional musician isn’t easy, Fernando remains inspired by his love for the work and his mission to encourage others to follow their dreams. In light of Ecuador’s series of devastating earthquakes, Fernando contemplates new directions for his art, including ways to use music to bring levity to the people. Our interview was conducted in Spanish and translated with care. 

Blue: Where were you during the earthquake?

FG: I was in the San Clemente center. I’d just returned from the city of Rocafuerte where I visited my parents. 

Blue: Please describe your experience during the earthquake. Photo credit: Cathryn D. Blue

FG: The moment the earthquake hit the main street, I was at my ice cream shop and I ran out into the street with my wife. I wasn’t scared, but my wife was hysterical. I don’t scare easily. I think of helping the other person. For example, there was one surfer in the streets…the surfer needed help, pressed my hand, he was ok, all was well. I keep control in the moment. In the earthquake, one minute, there were terrible waves in the street, buildings went down in front of my heladería (ice cream shop). I ran to look to the sea for a possible tsunami. I kept control, put my car in reverse with my family inside and I went far from the center of San Clemente where it was less dangerous…away from the possible destruction from after shocks. There were many people in those spaces…maybe 500. There was no light in the city. There was a possible tsunami coming. San Clemente is right on the sea. 

Later, I went back to San Clemente. I went back to my house and saw cracks in my house. My TV was cracked. The wall was cracked. But I realized quickly, I needed water, radio, batteries, a blanket…I didn’t know if I could return to my house. People were hysterical, afraid about a possible tsunami. They were in shock. I was able to get with my wife’s family. I went back to San Clemente with my wife’s father to close the heladería to keep people from robbing the business. To prevent looting. 

Blue: What did you do in the days following the quake?

FG: In San Clemente, there was no water or electricity. The food needed refrigeration and was going bad. We didn’t have food water or light for 5 days. But my concern was to get to Facebook to send a message for help for my friends in Quito. 

Blue: Before the earthquake, you were working on new projects, including a music video and new album. Are these projects still in the works? How has the earthquake affected your artistic mission?

FG: I want to, but right now, earthquake relief and my heladería are my priorities. I don’t have money, but I need to start anew. I need work. The problem with the music industry in Ecuador is that there is no place to perform. Restaurant owners/bar owners don’t want contracts with the art world. In Ecuador, we need a plan to bring arts together with business. Some owners of bars or restaurants do not want to hire musicians. It’s too expensive to pay for a quartermaster, contingency plan, security…money is an issue. 

Blue: What are your attitudes about the music industry in Ecuador? What do you expect to accomplish in your own career?

FG: In Manabi, Portoviejo City, there are more than 190 artists. But they don’t have concert or performance space. In Quito, there are more than 500 artists, but no concert space. I won Most Promising Artist of Ecuador in 2014. My expectations were to record a new album with support. But there is no infrastructure and investors are hard to come by. If you are an artist, you have to be everything: promoter, manager, public relations specialist, collector. Learn everything and do it yourself. In Ecuador, music does not give me food. It gives me life. 

Blue: How do you see yourself as an artist in relation to your community? What do you believe are your responsibilities as an artist? 

FG: I want to organize musical events to bring tourism and levity back to San Clemente. Recently, I filmed a video of the earthquake that was very sentimental to me as a way to show how the damage affected our community. Also, I’m rallying my friends in Quito to go to San Clemente with food, water, and medicine to distribute resources to people who are struggling the most. 

Blue: How and when did you decide to begin pursuing music professionally?

FG: At 16 years old, I wanted to be a professional musician. My first concert was in 1999 in Cotacachi. I was 17. I was very afraid but already on stage with my guitar. It was what I wanted, so I forgot the nerves and leaned into the value. Fans were short to follow. I have great fans in Ecuador. The women like my music. 12 years ago, I did one song and a woman fell in love with me. She is the mother of my son who is now 12 years old. She remarried and had 2 more children. We’re all friends. 

Blue: If you could go back in time, what would you tell 12 year old Fernando Guzmán? 

FG: “Change your profession.” haha. It’s difficult. My life is music and I don’t have money, but it’s good for my heart and for my life. I would tell myself to do the same thing. To follow my heart.

Blue: What would you like to tell your supporters?

FG: Please have patience. In time, I will be doing more recording and more performing. We will be jamming together again soon. 

Blue: What words do you have for the community of Ecuador? 

FG: I want to say that unity is the force that holds us together when the earthquake tears us apart. I created a slogan #YoAmoSanClemente in support of the people. We will come out of this together. 

Blue: Any last words?

FG: I want to record. I want to help the community. I want to help other artists. The earthquake is a huge setback, but I know that it is possible to do all these things and I will continue do the work. If this is what you do, then this is what you do. I have a song called “Con Amor (With Love).” If the world starts with love, then we can do all things. Photo Credit: Fernando Guzmán

Blue: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me

FG: My pleasure. 

Dr. Cathryn D. Blue is a social psychologist, singer/songwriter, actress, author, and permaculture farmer from East St. Louis, IL who currently lives on the Big Island of Hawaii. Her travels and experiences have taught her that we are all much more alike than we are different and through cultivating and sharing simplicity, kindness, and gratitude, even in the roughest situations, the good things are never far from reach.