After releasing three albums and becoming one of Nicaragua’s most acclaimed and recognizable musicians over the past decade, Perrozompopo says he’s ready to transcend the limits of Central America’s music scene and take his guitar to the international stage.
Perrozompopo, the artistic name and persona of musician Ramon Mejía, has just finished recording his fourth album—a tour de force that he hopes will be his golden ticket to get inside the palace gates of the mainstream music industry. The appropriately titled album “Mundo,” which was recorded and produced in Los Angeles under the record label Cosmica, will be released in January. It’s Perrozompopo’s biggest and most expensive production yet, and he hopes it will propel him into the big leagues of the music industry.
“This will be my first and only shot at getting to that level—after that, it will be impossible,” Perrozompopo told The Nicaragua Dispatch on Saturday afternoon, before taking the stage for the first of two shows in a sold-out concert event at Granada’s Garden Café, the country’s hippest new concert venue.
Perrozompopo has already flirted with international fame on a regional level. He can fill bars in Costa Rica and Guatemala, and many of his concert-going fans in Nicaragua can sing along to all his songs without missing a lyric (even when he does). Perrozompopo’s last album, CPC, a soulful collection of socially and politically charged songs, was played on the radio and earned him a 2010 Latin Grammy nomination for “Best Alternative Album.”
But now at the age of 40, Perrozompopo is feeling the pressure to break through the glass ceiling of the Nicaraguan-folk-music genre that his family has defined for the past four decades. A folksy lad himself, Perrozompopo has nothing against that type of music. But he says he’s frustrated that the country doesn’t do more to promote new types of music from young artists, instead of remaining so steeped in folklore and tradition.
“Imagine if the only type of music promoted in the U.S. was folk music? That would be absurd because there is a large variety of incredible music and artists,” Perrozompopo said.
Those limitations to Nicaragua’s music scene has the local artist hoping to leave the nest with the fourth album.
“I am focused more on outside the country, because Nicaragua is exhausted. I have reached my limit here, and I did it on my own. You don’t need a record label to play in Nicaragua, Costa Rica or Guatemala. But you do to play in Mexico, Argentina or the United States,” Perrozompopo says.
A family legacy
Perrozompopo is part of Nicaragua’s most talented family of musicians. His uncles, Carlos and Luis Mejía Godoy, are international icons of Nicaraguan folk music; they essentially wrote the soundtrack to the Sandinista Revolution in the 1980s. His brother, Luis Enrique, is a Grammy-winning salsa singer. And his cousins, Augusto Mejía and Carlos Emilio Guillen Mejía, form the backbone of some of Nicaragua’s most popular younger bands, including Momotombo and Cuneta Son Machin.
Perrozompopo, similar to his uncles, is as much a storyteller and social commentator as he is a musician. His songs are tales of his life and country—the unique cocktail of poverty, politics, corruption, social problems, beauty, love and humor that shape Nicaragua.
But instead of resting on the laurels of his family’s reputation, Perrozompopo chose to reinvent himself by assuming the artistic name of a gecko.
“I didn’t want to call myself Ramón Mejia; it didn’t fit,” he says.
First he contemplated another list of nicknames that would be unmistakably Nicaraguan, but considerably greasier. “I thought of culinary names—carne asada, tajada, and fritanga.” Fortunately, he ultimately opted to name himself after something sleek and nimble, rather than something sluggish and artery-clotting.
Perrozompopo says it took a while for the new name to catch on. At first, most people thought Perrozompopo was the name of his new rock band. But ultimately, he says, the assumed identity has become a marketing success.
“There are perrozompopos in every house in Nicaragua, and so when people see them they have to think of me and my music,” he says. “If you want to be an artist, first you have to create a character for yourself. I want to be Perrozompopo in my life.”
The difference between Perrozompopo and his uncles goes beyond the stage persona and musical styles. Their relationship to political power is also different, Perrozompopo says. While Carlos and Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy wrote songs to “reinforce the Sandinista revolutionary project” in the 1980s, “now I criticize it,” Perrozompopo says.
But that difference is mostly superficial, he says. That’s because times and politics have changed; his family’s values and support for social justice has not (indeed, Carlos Mejía Godoy is no longer with the Sandinista Front, although the ruling party still uses his music).
“Being a revolutionary to me doesn’t mean being a leftist; it’s about generating change,” Perrozompopo says. “I am not a profound critic, but I sing about poverty, and I criticize politicians and the church. I talk about the right to abortion, domestic violence, and immigration. Ultimately, my family has the same values and the same message as always because what we all want is to build a new country.”
Breaking out of Nicaragua
Though Nicaragua’s political situation, corruption, poverty and underdevelopment have inspired many of Perrozompopo’s songs, they are also frustrating the development of his career and his ability to earn a living from music, he says.
“Here people complain that a 100-córdoba entrance fee is really expensive, but that’s only $5. And with that I am trying to pay for my house, put my kids in school, eat, and pay my bills,” he says. “People don’t realize that we aren’t just doing this work for pleasure; our work is like that of a doctor, or an engineer or a journalist or a politician or anyone else who does their job and needs to earn a salary.”
People in other professions can work their way to the top over a long career, he says. But the musician’s lifespan is more like that of an athlete—he or she has to get signed to a big-league contract before they get too old.
“A journalist who is 40 still has 20 good years of work left in him, but for me at age 40, I might have five more years. Who is going to sign a 50-year-old artist (to a record label)?” Perrozompopo says.
“It’s not that I have my back against the wall, because I still have a career here and in Costa Rica. I know I can make it to 60 years old singing in bars like my uncles do. But if you want to go further, get into the music industry to get promoted, you aren’t going to be signed at an old age,” Perrozompopo says.
The goal, therefore, is to get noticed with this album. Perrozompopo wants to get his foot inside the door of the music industry, and then use the mainstream platform to form new alliances, sing duos with bigger artists, and tap new audiences outside of Central America.
“If I have 5,000 fans in Nicaragua, I also want to have 5,000 in Mexico, 5,000 in Argentina and 5,000 in Colombia,” Perrozompopo says. “I am not looking to be a big artist, but I want to seek new opportunities.”
For more information, visit Perrozompopo’s webpage here.