What the Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival Means to Me

Isahrai sings with Josue Tacoronte Otero on stage, ZIGF 2013

When it all comes down to it, I probably would never have lived in Zihuatanejo if it were not for the Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival. I was here in Zihuatanejo on a month-long break in 2004, sorting out transitions in my personal life and was already contemplating a return to “real life” when I first heard about the festival. It was the festival’s inaugural year and I decided to extend my stay to see what it was all about. During that first festival, I met the people who would become my closest friends here in Zihuatanejo. I also met an amazing group of musicians, several of whom have become good friends, several of whom I’ve been honored to play with since. And somehow, while wandering from one bar show to the next, I went from “just visiting” to “yeah, maybe I’ll stick around.”

In the 10 years of festivals since, I’ve only missed one  – and that was because I was on tour in support of my own album in 2010. The years all blur together in my mind most of the time into one mess of musical joy and genius. As a working local musician, the festival has often been my one week “off”. It has become a time to sit in the audience and let music pour over me, to clap along, to stand up and cheer, to demand an encore and then rush off to the next show and do it all over again. Every year it has been a priceless recharge for my passion to make music, fueling lyrics, riffs and collaborations.

I love that the festival invites artists from so many genres. Each year when the selected musicians are announced, I excitedly check out each one’s Youtube videos and websites and I fill my ears with preconceived notions of who will be my favorites… and then the festival comes and I am proven wrong and proven right and I am thrilled to be taken by surprise. And it is just as thrilling to watch the musicians themselves be surprised – to watch their unlikely friendships grow right on stage, to see them improvise masterful jam sessions across country and language and stylistic boundaries. These magical moments only happen when you’ve had just the right amount of tequila, just the wrong amount of sleep and an overwhelming dose of sweaty inspiration.

The Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival has been a true gift to me as a music lover and as a musician. In the last few years, I’ve been ever so lucky to get to jump on stage a few times and sing a note or two. Those collaborations with unbelievably talented musicians have been some of the happiest musical moments of my career. It has been just one more reminder of the generosity of music. It’s been one more reminder of the beauty of this place, of the people who make this place I’ve called home for the last decade. It’s a reminder that sometimes one should just “stick around” and see what happens…

The Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival is a non-profit cultural organization that produces a weeklong music festival every March. Guitarists are invited from all over the world – this past year was a dizzying array of musicians from Mexico, Cuba, Spain, Poland, Japan, Brazil, Canada and the US. The mission statement of the festival is to bring incredibly talented guitarists to our little piece of paradise here on the Pacific Coast of Mexico for a week of concerts “to generate tourism and raise cultural awareness within the community while raising money for art and cultural endeavors in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo.”

The festival has always been run by volunteers. It has always operated on a shoestring budget and used any meager profits to promote other arts programs in Zihuatanejo including music education projects and cultural exchanges. This past year, the festival’s 10th (10th!!!), the ZIGF committee produced a major gala concert with Cesar Tafoya, an operatic countertenor and our local pride, Mariachi Los Torcazos. Pablo and I were both incredibly honored to asked to participate in this magical concert evening. Several months later, a group of young musicians and teachers from Brazil, led by the esteemed Arnaldo Freire, came to Zihuatanejo to teach over 100 local schoolchildren to play – and more importantly, love – guitar. These two projects were incredibly ambitious, especially when combined with the fact that this year’s 10th anniversary festival was the biggest ever.

Álvaro Pava & Isahrai Azaria, Ritmos de Brasil, 2013

The festival continues with its lofty vision – but is now struggling to financially survive. Without community support, the festival’s ability to continue is questionable. We have been longtime fans and friends of the festival, as voracious audience members and as musicians honored to be invited to share the stage with the amazing guitarists who participate in the festival. It only seemed natural to try and help the festival by making music. Migration Heart is our way of saying “thank you” to the festival for 10 years of inspiring music and “thank you” to the community for supporting both international and local musicians. We hope it will inspire others to find their own ways to help ensure that the Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival survives and continues to grow, inspire and nurture music in paradise.

Isahrai with Josue Tacoronte Otero, ZIGF 2013 (Photo by Julia Sumner)

Isahrai with Josue Tacoronte Otero, ZIGF 2013 (Photo by Julia Sumner)

Isahrai with Josue Tacoronte Otero, ZIGF 2013 (Photo by Julia Sumner)

When my daughter, Ellery Bea, was born in 2011, the Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival became even more important to me. Of course, we love going to the Children’s Concert sponsored by the festival and Por Los Niños every year. But it is also just as important to me to have her experience the idea of the festival, to know the joy of music, the international community of musicians and the importance of cultural and arts programs.

 

Rocking Out with Ellery Bea at ZIGF Children's Concert (Photo by Julia Sumner)

Isahrai Azaria & Álvaro Paiva at Ritmos de Brasil, January 2013

Isahrai Azaria & Álvaro Paiva at Ritmos de Brasil, January 2013

Isahrai & Cesar Tafoy with Mariachi Los Torcazos, September 2012

Isahrai & Pablo at the Cesar Tafoya Gala Concert, September 2012

Isahrai & Pablo at the Cesar Tafoya Gala Concert, September 2012

Isahrai & Pablo with Cesar Tafoya, September 2012

Isahrai (& 4 month old Ellery Bea!) on stage with Adrian Raso & Nick Johnston, ZIGF 2012 (Photo by Margaret Reid)