Juan Carlos Gutíerrez, alias "Azul," has just arrived in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. He comes to us from North Carolina. His journey started in his native Honduras, the country he left about thirty years ago. But now, he takes a minute to travel back in time… (See Video 53, singing by Azul.)
"I was born and lived, as a child, in a small Honduran village, named San Manuel Cortez. There I was born, I was raised, I went to school, and I performed many things that I still remember and am proud."
His voice sounds soft and calm. "Unfortunately, I never met my father. My mother was a working, single mother, of whom I am very proud. That is something that helped me, in raising my own children in a married family. They are all grown now. My mother is a hard-worker, a fighter. She got us ahead, she covered our basic needs. By work and sacrifice, as I said before. Yes, I am very proud of her, and my entire family."
Azul's gift for singing came naturally to him. His mother was a singer; his aunt, also a singer, had a hit record in the seventies. "I always liked [music], I always loved it!" Azul's has a dancing sparkle on his dark quick eyes. "We had civic Saturdays at school, which gave me the opportunity of showing my talent, and artistic skills through poems, songs… I was noted for my humor, my impersonations of famous musicians… things like that. I am grateful, for my entire family has been linked to music for generations."
But Azul did more than singing. At school, a dance group learned traditional Honduran folklore. They competed in the Nationals and his school, San Manuel Cortez, was number one! "That was something. My first time on a stage. And I am so proud of my classmates and my teacher. We got first place in the region." This experience, he says, molded his future and his love of folk art. "Talents that we had dormant, or untapped, came out, and we realized we performed perfectly. That was a Garifuna 50 dance ensemble. Honduran folk singing, the very root of Honduras, helped us score first place."
Azul explains that Garifuna music is ancient. It was a rhythm brought by Africans to Honduras.51 Africans spoke the Garifuna language as well as English and Spanish. "They had rituals for when people died. It was their tradition to celebrate death and to cry at births. Those [traditions] gained more and more respect. Their sound was incorporated in recordings by full orchestras, not just percussion. And that's how the punta rhythm was born. It symbolizes Hondurans and we are very proud of it". At this point in life, Azul would be happy to reconnect to his Honduran folk beginnings, and hopes to be part of a Honduran folk performing group in East Tennessee. Still homesick after thirty years in US, he stated, "I think if I ever have another life, I will be born Honduran again."
Azul lists famous bands he has played with: Los Terrícolas, Grupo Miramar, Carlos de Chile, too many to remember all. Silver Star, Casabe, Los Rolan, and many more. His favorite style is romantic song. There is a lot of talent in Honduras, both male and female singers, and many have gotten to big music festivals such as Viña de Mar and OTI Festival. Azul mentions another string of Honduran artist/performers. Working with so many groups has personally inspired him to "perform better, to have a dream, to never become complacent, to continue going because learning never ends." Azul has performed all over United States as well. Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee, Iowa, Puerto Rican Parades. "It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever done. Standing and saying I am Honduran, this is our music. And that it is well received."
When asked how he would label himself, Azul speaks again with his paused and reflective voice. "I consider myself to be a humble person. I like music, I like dance, I like singing. I think we all have an artist inside. We just need a chance to evolve and to dare doing what we like. I believe that we all can set free our inner artist."
Teaching others his art is something he wants to do. "[Teachers] never die, because memories of learning will forever remain, and [their teachings] continue to transcend."
Now in silence, one can almost feel his soul, the spirit of Honduran cultural art. His final wish, "that Latinos are united, regardless of race or color. And for everyone to help those with talents, trying to get doors to open, to have a chance."
Azul. Honduran singer. Performer. Philosopher.
Photo 101: Honduran Juan Carlos Gutierrez, aka DJ Azul, 2012. Photo by Rafael Casco.