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The Story of the First Rarámuri Pianist in Latin America

The Story of the First Rarámuri Pianist in Latin America

Written by Cecilia Otero on November 1, 2020
 

Deep in the sierras of Chihuahua, surrounded by scenic canyons of copper and gold, lies the small village of Retosachi. Quaint and charming, Retosachi is home to the Rarámuri, an indigenous tribe well known for their sturdy huaraches and long-distance runners.

 

Photo by Sandra Dempsey on Unsplash.
 

What’s lesser known about this tribe are their musical traditions, which are important to the Rarámuri way of life. But while traditional songs include percussion and fiddle jigs, there’s something particularly special about this seemingly average village.  

 

Retosachi is the birthplace of Romeyno Gutierréz Luna, Latin America’s first Rarámuri pianist.

  

It Started with a Piano

Romeyno’s story begins years before he was born, with his godfather, Romayne Wheeler. Wheeler, a California-born composer and concert pianist, moved to Retosachi after falling in love with Rarámuri culture while studying the indigenous music of Latin America.

 

Despite moving into a traditional cave dwelling, he brought his piano and continued to play. Years later, he noticed he wasn’t the only local with an interest in the instrument.

 

A young Romeyno would watch his godfather in awe as he practiced, choosing to listen in for hours and hours instead of playing with other children. Consequently, Wheeler had no choice but to begin formal lessons with the boy. The rest is history.

 

Pursuing His Passion

 By the time he was a young teenager, Romeyno had no doubt in his mind that piano was his passion. So, with a repertoire of everything from Bach to Chopin, he decided that music would be his sole dedication.

 

His path began with sold-out venues across Latin America, wowing audiences with his extraordinary talent. He eventually outgrew his private lessons with Wheeler, as all prodigies do, and continued on to study at Chihuahua’s Conservatory of Music. As of today, Romeyno has toured worldwide, playing throughout the United States and Europe.  

 

 

Proud of his roots, Romeyno has fully embraced his title as the first Rarámuri pianist. Forgoing the familiar concert black of classical musicians, his performances are distinguished by his people’s traditional attire. The clothes he wears are handmade by his mother and sister.  

 

Carrying On

 Unfortunately, COVID-19 has had a profoundly negative impact on the performing arts  community, not just in Latin America, but worldwide. Musicians have been hit particularly hard, so many have had to get creative in order to survive. During the pandemic, Romeyno and his friend, photographer Raúl Jiménez, have taken to selling art prints online.

 

The Rarámuri pianist has also given a number of virtual concerts. His first live performances since March took place on October 31 and November 1 in Chihuahua.

 

You can keep up with Romeyno Gutierréz Luna via Instagram.

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