Inspiring Expats: Mario Ochoa - A World of Rumba & Lots of Flavours
- 24 May 2023 1:26 PM
With a living already entrenched in Honduras, he chose to give himself another shot in Hungary, where landed more than ten years ago. He discovered here not only a career path as a Latin rhythms’ vocalist but also the fortune of a requited love, whose email he had gotten years earlier when both coincided traveling across the Atlantic Sea.
Night falls on Madách Imre Square and Mario's black attire sets the sober tone among the colorful laser lights of the stage where is performing this time. An evening of rumba songs and other Central American rhythms is what the day promises, for which this city has proven to have a captive audience.
The passer-by curiously joins the activity. The one who knows, dances, and who doesn't, stays to watch what can be learned from what the rest does when moving. As Mario sings, the scene under his eyes gets into motion naturally as always. A painting that fascinates him to draw from the stage. The Honduran is doing what he likes the most since he was a boy in the church choir of his homeland.
The posters display the name of "Mai Rumba", (Mai: Hungarian adverb that means today´s. Rumba: Latin colloquialism meaning party), the title of the group under which Mario performs, along with his four companions. A mood of "orderly festivity" permeates the air, with a polite crowd, always characteristic of lovers of these sensual rhythms from Central America.
That vibe blend of joy and melancholy, quite distinctive of many of these songs contributes to the affable atmosphere. New York-style salsa, rumba, and Cuban son are part of the main repertoire of this band, without excluding the rest of the well-known related genres.
“We do not restrict ourselves to a specific Latin rhythm because this is a business. For example, the very Honduran is not precisely a salsero (salsa enthusiast) or in general a dancer like the other Central American nationalities; he does like bachata and merengue. As to the musical influences in Honduras, these are mostly from Dominicans, Mexicans, and South Americans”.
Mario as a link in the endless chain that is Latin music, is fully aware that the activity he carries out today as his main occupation is made possible by the immense cultural heritage that Latin music has been leaving worldwide, where Hungary has not been the exception.
“In times of socialism, Cubans arrived here thanks to political affinity. The fact that they established their salsa schools was a situation that paved the way, so that we, the ones who devote our lives to doing this, can find today people who dance it and consume this service”.
This way, Mario performs around the capital´s many venues, where along with his band settles on seasonal agreements. For the summer they have regular presentations for the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. In between, different other places require their company. To get to this, however, many years passed. In 2013 the watershed occurred.
“It never crossed my mind to make a living off of my music. For my girlfriend's birthday, we went to a Latino bar. There I asked the Cuban singer if they could play a song by Gilberto Santa Rosa for my girlfriend and they offered me to sing it myself. After that, the bar owner introduced me to many musicians and that was how I began to relate to music in the way I do today”.
Mario arrived in Hungary in 2012, it may be said that influenced by a former event that would forever plant a seed in his consciousness. In previous years, while he served as a head waiter for a cruise line, one of his fondest memories would raise from a memorable conversation with one of the guests: a Hungarian woman who went on vacation for a week to Aruba.
“On a choppy night of sailing, she was dizzy. I prepared some green apple slices and that's how we started chatting. After we met, we exchanged emails, and six years passed until I saw her again when I decided to come to Hungary”.
In Budapest, he began dating the woman who is his wife to this day. He speaks English with her, as confesses. But in the little time he has left, tries to learn the local language through the little daughter he has with his life partner, for now reading to her children's tales in Hungarian.
“At first, I felt disabled. You don't know what a yogurt and what a cream is. But learning is out of respect. If this land opened its doors to you, I think the first thing you have to do is seek to integrate with the basics”.
With about nine and a half million people, Honduras has a population equivalent to that of Hungary. However, the existence of Hondurans residing here is practically nil. This is also confirmed by Mario's experience throughout his more than 10 years living here.
“I have met two Honduran girls during my life here. Once one of them decided to create a Facebook group for Hondurans in Hungary. Result: we ended up being the same three members and one or another infiltrated with interest in the group. I think to this day we remain the same”, he laughs.
Despite the complex economic situations known in Central American countries, not everyone is willing to change the environment in which they grew up. Without going any further, Mario shares the case of his eldest son whom he once invited to stay and after visiting the country he was not convinced.
“He was here and didn't like it. When he was not married, I told him 'Look, here you would have more opportunities to succeed in your studies and in your career'. But I think what affected his decision was the weather. In Honduras, we have the tropical climate, which is practically greenness all year, sun and heat”.
Talking about Honduras is inevitably talking about what is happening politically. According to the NGO Transparency International in its Corruption Perceptions Index, to date, the country remains just behind Nicaragua, the country in the lowest place in this table among the Central American nations. A problem that has caused the country's poverty to persist, in which three-quarters of its population lives today.
“Honduras is a beautiful country, but the intrinsic problem is the corruption of politicians. This has put us in a situation of backwardness that we cannot get out of. I am apolitical and agnostic. But you need politicians with the will to move a country forward”.
In stark contrast to his native land, Mario, not different from what most of those who know Hungary points out, highlights the safety that comes when transiting in public areas at any time as the greatest advantage of this Central Europe country.
Here certainly, he spends time with Latinos and Hungarians, the latter some of whom he has a close relationship with, such as his pianist Csipkés Sándor or the band's percussionist Gergely Tár. As to the former, he is asked: There is a saying that a Latino abroad often finds that his greatest enemies are his own people. Have you experienced that?
“I once overheard another Latino speaking Spanish to his daughter at a playground, while I was also with mine. I wanted to open a conversation with him, asking where he was from and the guy responded apathetically. I commented on this experience in a Facebook group of Spanish speakers in Hungary, asking why Latinos are often arrogant towards their own, and I saw surprised how I was also criticized, with quite divided opinions”.
Courtesy of Mario Ochoa.
In terms of the work field, Ochoa explains to us how is to handle the competition here, in circumstances where other Latino expatriates are dedicated to the same type of music.
“I am very demanding that the music that one makes be played completely live. For example, it happens that several other groups play on the base of a musical track and although this may affect the circuit because they charge less, I like to think that it doesn't affect us because people already know what we offer”.
With several plans for the future, Mario hopes to consolidate his music, of which after having collaborated with a previous musical association, this year he is finally recording the first album with his own band, plus one of his own as a soloist.
A ship from which he intends not to get off as he did a decade ago in his last days sailing the oceans and always without breaking the smile with which he assists the public. In the end, as he himself states, for any area of life: "You can't afford to be conceited because you never know what you're going to need from someone."
Mario Ochoa owes a lot to this country, he confirms, which he seeks to thank in some way every time he and his band summons attendance in any of these many corners still to gain over.
Interview by Daniel Sepúlveda O, contributing journalist for Xpatloop.com
Photos by Daniel Sepúlveda.