Guatemalan Marimba Legacy Project

7 3Arts supporters
$545 raised of $5,000 goal
32 Days 00:31:43 LEFT
This project will only be funded if $5,000 is contributed to 3Arts by May 02, 2020, 11:59PM
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    • 11% contributed
    • 89% to go

In a Nutshell

With this campaign, I am embarking on a legacy project to honor the practice of Guatemalan marimba music by restoring a traditional instrument and training a new generation of players here in Chicago. As I am nearing retirement age, I want to make sure that I leave something behind that will be self-sustaining and maintain a connection for Guatemalan Americans and others to this important instrument in Mayan culture. This project has three phases: professional restoration of a 6 octave marimba that has been in disrepair for several years; training 10 youth and adult musicians over a period of 33 weeks to form a new generation of marimba performers; and presentation of a public concert to showcase the restored instrument and the new ensemble of players to all of our supporters. At the end of the project, this marimba will be placed in the communal care of Marimba Oxib K’Ajau, the organization that brought me to Chicago in 1993. With your help, we will take this important step to ensure that Guatemalan musical culture remains an important part of our Chicago community for years to come.


The Full Story...

The marimba is Guatemala’s national instrument and at the core of Guatemalan culture. The Mayan people, who have lived in the region for 4,000 years, continue to play ancient melodies on the marimba for spiritual purposes. City dwellers enjoy contemporary tunes on the marimba for entertainment at every occasion: weddings, birthdays, concerts, and radio broadcasts. Marimbas are communal instruments played by several people at once, from 2 to 10 players or more. They can bring people together and keep them together to share our history and an understanding of who we are.

I began to play the marimba at age 5 in an indigenous community of the Chichicastenango province in Guatemala. I studied the instrument from elementary school through conservatory and became a professional player at age 12. As a young man I recorded eight albums and toured Latin America, the United States, and Europe. My career was cut short by civil unrest in Guatemala that forced me to leave my home country and come to the U.S. in 1987.

Migration is a life-changing transition that is not without difficulties: there are language barriers and generational breaks in cultural continuity. As a new generation of Guatemalan Americans grows up here, ties to our 4,000-year culture are often severed.

Since 1993, thanks to a group of Guatemalan families, I was asked to help train the young musicians of Marimba Oxib K’Ajau here in Chicago. Through this organization I found a calling in teaching Guatemalan music and culture to young people and their families, many who have also found hardships in their departure from Guatemala and in their transition to a new life in the United States. I understand first-hand the healing power of music.

Our study of marimba music not only teaches our youth discipline and musical skills, it also fosters an appreciation for our homeland, the wisdom of our ancestors, and the treasures that Guatemalan culture can contribute to the American tapestry. There is much more in learning to play the marimba than music.

Contributions to this campaign will make it possible for me to engage the services of professional Guatemalan carpenter Ernesto Elías in the marimba restoration. Once that is completed, I will assemble an ensemble of local youth (10-20 years old) and adults (family members of the youth) and begin 33 weeks of musical instruction. We will work toward a culminating concert hosted by the Consul General of Guatemala, Mr. Billy Adolfo José Muñoz Miranda, on Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 7:00pm. All donors will be invited to this concert to mark the end of the project.

The marimba has been an important part of my life, in good times and bad times; it has saved my life and continues to give me purpose today. Thank you for helping me leave a legacy of marimba music and culture to my Chicago community.

Thank yous

Contribute any amount or choose from the levels below.

  • $10 - Greeting card with a message written by Carlos Mejía in the Maya K'iche' (or Quiché) language [50 available]
    ($10.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $25 - A CD by Chicago’s Marimba Oxib K’Ajau autographed by Carlos Mejía [20 available]
    ($15.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $50 - A 90-minute introduction to the Guatemalan marimba and a hands-on workshop with Carlos Mejía [10 available]
    ($30.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $100 - Mini-backpack made with colorful Guatemalan woven textiles [5 available]
    ($70.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $250 - Guatemalan dinner for two at Latin Patio or Las Delicias Restaurant personally hosted by master artist Carlos Mejía [2 available]
    ($170.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $500 - Hand-woven, vintage Maya Quiché huipil (traditional tunic worn by indigenous women) from Chichicastenango, Guatemala [1 available]
    ($250.00 is tax deductible.)
Carlos Mejia image
Carlos Mejía is a 2014 3Arts Awardee, a master musician, a mentor of young musicians, and a cultural activist specializing in Mayan culture, the Guatemalan marimba, and other instruments. He ...
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    • Thank you to the following for contributing to 3Arts with the recommendation that we support this project.

    • Juan Dies

    • Anonymous Supporter

    • Terrence Miles

    • Gonzalo A. Escobar

    • Carole McCurdy

    • Sara Slawnik

    • Bucky Halker

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3AP is funded in part by grants from:

The Field Foundation  Illinois Arts Council