The sound of Antigua — music culture in Guatemala | Jürg Widmer Probst
If there is one thing that unites us as Guatemalans, it is our love of music. It is everywhere: spilling out of bars and restaurants, playing on the radio and out of apartment windows. And there is nowhere better to hear great music than in the old colonial capital of Antigua.
This is a city with a vibrant music scene. And it is the perfect place to get a taste of the huge variety of musical genres we love in this country.
Here we’re going to give you a quick guide to the music culture in Guatemala. We’ll break it down by genre. And we’ll give you everything you need to know about each one — and the best places to hear it.
Salsa is hugely popular in Guatemala, and since its birth in New York it has spread across the world. In many ways it is the perfect embodiment of the kind of music we love. African rhythms, Latin passion and thrilling live performances.
Seeing salsa live is only way to experience it. And to really get under the skin of the music, you’re going to need to know how to dance to it too. Fortunately, Antigua is one of the best places in Guatemala to learn how salsa.
There are lots of schools to choose from, but our choice is the fantastic Salsa Dreams. The teachers are passionate about dancing, and they’re great with all levels of ability. Best of all, they have a free class every Monday and Tuesday.
And our pick for a classic salsa tune to get you moving? It has to be “La Rebelión,” by Joe Arroyo.
Rock has taken over the world, and our country is no exception. Genres like hip hop, Latin American pop and Reggaeton might now be more popular. But there are still plenty of places that play rock.
As well as the usual international artists, we also have one of our own that we are hugely proud of. Alux Nahual were an influential Guatemalan rock band in the 80s and 90s. You’ll still hear plenty of their tunes when you’re out.
And the one Guatemalan rock track you need to hear? Alux Nahual’s prog rock classic, Como un Duende.
Latin American pop
Latin pop is ubiquitous — not just in Guatemala but around the Spanish-speaking world. Everyone from Ricky Martin to Justin Bieber has picked up the sound, and it also hugely popular in our country.
Of course, it’s a term that covers a huge range of influences, but in Guatemala it means just one man: Ricardo Arjona. Arjona is by far and away Guatemala’s biggest musical star — and you can read more about him in our list of famous Guatemalans, here.
Obviously, you’ll hear Latin pop everywhere in Antigua. But we recommend you enjoy it with a bottle of cold Gallo beer at the relaxed Monoloco bar and restaurant. And the Latin pop tune you need to hear? Ricardo Arjona’s hit Te Conozco.
Finding somewhere that plays Garifuna in Antigua might be a little harder. It’s a genre and scene that’s synonymous with the Caribbean coast of our country.
This traditional music comes from the original African settlers in the area. And it has powerful and unusual drumming to drive the music along and is incredible to see played live.
It’s also something of a dying art, with authentic Garifuna performers now a rare sight. But this is a vital and exciting part of our country’s heritage, and we’d recommend you try to see a performance if you can.
With Garifuna music, it’s all about the rhythms, and the traditional Dugu rhythm is sacred to the Garifuna people.
The sound of Central America — Reggaeton was originally a Puerto Rican genre that has pulled influences from dancehall, soca and hip hop. It is hugely popular across our country, and Antigua is no different. You will hear it everywhere, whether it is coming out of car windows, playing in your taxi or in almost every bar you’ll go to.
And the classic Reggaeton track you need in your collection? We’d go for Nadie Como Tu by Wisin y Yandel.
A few final words about the night life scene in Antigua. Compared to Guatemala City, it feels more manageable in size. People tend to go out in smaller groups and it feels safe out on the streets after dark.
And finally, it’s also worth remembering that most bars close at 1am here, which is early compared to much of Latin America.