Filemón Rojas Guzmán, Victor Rojas Peláez
Filemón Rojas Guzmán, Victor Rojas Peláez

Filemón Rojas: Puerto's First Musician

When Filemón Gilberto Rojas Guzmán played soprano saxophone at fiestas in his native town of Cacahuatepec, between Pinotepa Nacional and San Pedro Amuzgos, in the 1950s and 60’s, the local authorities would go from house to house to escort the girls to the dance and when it ended, they would walk them back home.

Filemón was born on November 22, the day of Saint Cecelia, the patron of the musicians, 1938, the fourth of 14 children. (It’s worth noting that Alvaro Carrillo, the best known composer and singer of the Oaxaca Coast, was born in Cacahuatepec in 1921.) He remembers listening to the radio for the first time at age 12. It was a battery radio because there was still no electricity in the village. The popular music then was danzón and that was what he learned to play, along with boleros, and chilenas, on the saxophone his parents gave him when he was 16.

Musician friends taught him to read music, and even though he only had a primary school education, he became a secondary school music teacher at the JFK Secondary school in Cacahuatepec. But since the municipio and the school owned most of the instruments, the musicians were expected to play for free. This didn’t sit well with Filemón, and in 1974, when a friend told him about an opening for a music teacher at the Secondaria Técnica 86 in Puerto, he moved here with his family. He taught at this school until his retirement in 2005.

In 1974, Puerto Escondido only had around 4,000 inhabitants and, until Filemón arrived, no musicians. When there was a fiesta, the musicians would be brought in from the larger towns of Chila or even Nopala. As the town grew, the music teacher’s combo was the dance music of Puerto. And by 1980 it included his 10-year-old son Victor on keyboard.

The years passed and danzón went out of style, supplanted by cumbia and salsa. The music teacher stopped playing professionally, but Victor embraced the new music and is today the leader of Puerto’s Son Latino band.

The retired teacher gives private classes in the traditional music of the Coast at his home, 7a Norte #308, Sector Reforma C. For more information call 954 582–3580.

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