Marimba Concert - El Tejar - January 12, 2003
photos by Lois and Don Porter

We were invited to join Don Factor and Marimba Antigua for their performance at the festival in El Tejar (about 45 minutes from Antigua). We arrived at Don Factor’s house as they were loading the instruments into the bus – the standard Bluebonnet Centroamerica vehicle, but with the back 7 or 8 seats converted to places to put the marimbas and drums. Don Cesar drove. Don Factor insisted we take the front seat. Two of the members of the orchestra brought their wives and infant children.

When we arrived, the festival was building up momentum in the streets. The performance, including 9 marimba orchestras, was scheduled for 3pm in the Municipal Auditorium. Lois found us two seats amazingly empty in the second row. The place was already fairly full. Later when the concert got going, it was jammed. They brought in extra folding chairs and still there were many people standing around the sides. I guess 600+ in the audience. Each of the 9 orchestras played 3 numbers, lasting about 20 minutes. So if things went perfectly, the 9 groups would finish at 6:20pm. Amazingly, they actually finished at 6:30pm.

The first few groups were so-so. Then Unión Musical came on (about 4th) and they were excellent. We got up to dance then – there were two very friendly couples sitting near us that had already been dancing. Immediately we received a spontaneous round of applause from the crowd. A man sitting next to us gave us “congratulations” about 20 times for no apparent reason. Maybe he was congratulating us for having the unusual wisdom to be there among the wonderful Guatemalans from El Tejar. The 7th group was Maria Concepción – from Ciudad Vieja. They were all young – in their 20s – the director looked about 35. They had zoot suit costumes, complete with black fedoras. They were clearly designed for MTV. The marimba players indulged in lots of dancing and jiving around. All flash and no substance. Still the audience enjoyed them. Marimba Antigua was next, a complete contrast. They were understated, subtle, and very accomplished. The audience loved them. They played the same 3 pieces we had heard them rehearse on Tuesday. They were really superb. Don Factor had arranged with the emcee to salute us (“the couple from the US – Lois is very interested in Guatemalan culture, especially the marimba, and is studying marimba with Don Factor”) as part of the introduction to Marimba Antigua. We had to stand up and receive applause.

The final group was the hometown ensemble from El Tejar. They were also good, but undistinguished. There was no doubt at all that the members of Marimba Antigua were the musical champions of the day. The second part of the concert began at about 7pm with all 9 conjuntos playing together. They played 11 popular standards by Guatemalan composers. They actually stayed together. We don’t know how they accomplished that. On the way home, we were treated to a delightful dinner in the dining room of Don Factor’s friend who lives in El Tejar. Altogether an astonishing experience highlighted by warm inclusion of two strangers (the only gringos in the crowd).

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