HE PUBLISHED “AUTOBIOGRAPHY”, HIS FIRST BOOK
Luis Enrique’s talent has conquered stages all over the world. Many of his songs like “Date un chance”, “Mi Mundo”, “Así es la vida”, “Yo no sé mañana”, are salsa classics that people continue to listen to, sing and dance. But behind that accomplished man, there is a human being with a life experience worth sharing. For that reason, he wrote his autobiography. “I was somehow a Dreamer… For over 10 years, I was undocumented, and I had no idea on how to solve that problem. But I didn’t lose my faith,” he told CASA Magazine.
Born in Somoto, Nicaragua, Luis Enrique hopes to help all immigrants who live in the U.S. He just wrote his memories in which he paid especial attention to the time that he lived as an undocumented citizen in the U.S. He came when he was 15 years old, with his 13-year-old brother. He remained undocumented for 10 years. He gained legal status with the 1986 amnesty, passed by Ronald Reagan. His legalization happened right before he signed his first contract with CBS.
“I was somehow a Dreamer, even though the program didn’t exist at that time,” he admits. Then he reflects: “Being undocumented doesn’t have to completely stop you; you can still work around it. There are lots of opportunities that, even if small, will help you in the difficult road that is life. I focused on learning to play percussion. I could have wasted my time; or take the easy way out of stealing or asking for money on the corner of a street,” he said.
For Luis Enrique, it is important the attitude you take in the face of adversity. “You must work with tenacity, step by step, without trying to go faster than what the circumstances allow. You must always see the light that awaits at the end of the tunnel. That was my life for 10 years. I had no idea how I would solve my problem; but I never lost faith. When My time came, I had worked so hard for my dream, that I was ready to sign my first contract,” he remembered.
In Somoto and Dimitra
To write his memories, Luis Enrique had to relive his childhood. He talked for the first time about the consequences of his parent’s divorce, when he was six, and his brother five. The divorce was not only between his parents, but between the two families. His custody and that of his brother was given to his maternal grandfather Camilo López Núñez, and they went to live with him. Gertrudis Baca, his maternal grandmother, took care of him after his mother María Aurora moved to Costa Rica.
The artist remembers fondly those years living with Camilo and Gertrudis. He shares a memory form those times: “I asked Santa for a drum set and I got it. However, the happiness lasted for a short time because I destroyed it in five minutes. It was a very fragile toy, compared to the amount of energy I had. But it was a great experience because I really wanted to have the set and play.” He continued, “My grandmother, who was alive at the time, enriched my life with those details and with all her love.”
His grandmother died shortly after. Then his life started a new stage that lasted another five long years. Luis Enrique and his brother were sent to the city of Dimitra to live and get an education under the guidance of Mgr. Luis Mejía y Fajardo, his maternal great uncle. “I felt I was alone and helpless. Living with Mgr. was a hard experience. I suffered physical and psychological abuse. The methods of my great uncle were cruel,” he said. “But that time helped me to develop my musical skills,” he remembered.
Not from here, not from there
Luis Enrique was able to escape the traumatic situation he was living in Dimitra. But this teenager was about to face a new challenge. His return to Somoto coincided with the hardening of the civil war in Nicaragua. His grandfather, who was a politician for the Alianza Nacional party, who was supporting Anastasio Somoza’s regime, decided to get his two grandchildren out of Nicaragua. These two children were sent to the U.S. to reunite with his mother Maria Aurora, after nine years apart.
“I was naive and wasn’t clear how it would work. All I was excited about was to finally be reunited with my mom,” he remembered. Luis Enrique tells us that he left Somoto and made a scale in Managua, in route to Mexico City. From the capital of Mexico, he took a flight to Tijuana. He then crossed to the U.S. “I became an immigrant without deciding. For a long time, I felt I didn’t belong here, in my new home. But I learned this culture, so I could survive in it,” he said.
He has lived in the U.S. for the past 40 years and he feels he has changed. “My way of thinking is more open now. I had a strict Catholic upbringing. I lived the political conflict by having relatives on both sides, the left and the right. I was attached to things that were not important, but I used to live by. Here, I learned to be more open, which was very hard for me at the beginning. Coming here, opened my vision, and that made me a different person. With that new experience, I was able to make better decisions,” he explains.
His beloved Nicaragua
Luis Enrique returned to his country after 13 years. He went back for a visit, after he was already famous. “I felt how my physical absence had fractured my ties to my country. I felt my fellow Nicaraguans didn’t see me as being one of them. With time I learned that nationality is something we carry in our soul. It is a beautiful sense of belonging,” he said. He has continued to visit Nicaragua frequently. With those visits, he has been able to erase that sentiment that overwhelmed him in the past.
As an adult, he has rediscovered his country. “I am amazed by the humility Nicaraguans have. And I am moved by the beauty of the country, its people and geography. When I first came, I only knew a city or two. Now is that I am getting to know my country. I have visited many places in Nicaragua for the first as a tourist. And I love what I have seen. I have traveled the world, but I had a pending assignment that was to travel my country, and I have been doing it, little by little,” he explained.
Luis Enrique comes from a family of musicians, the Mejía Godoy family. His father Francisco Luis was a conga player and a music lover. “The relationship my family had with music triggered my curiosity to start listening to a new genre which was salsa. There was no other way to learn but to listen to it. I would record tapes on special shows about Willy Colon and Ray Barreto, on the first FM station in Nicaragua. I was very influenced by the Fania All Star movement,” he told us.
“When I came to the U.S., a wealth of knowledge opened up for me about salsa. I learned to play tumbadoras, bongos, and timbal drums. I started to go to concerts. That music became part of my nature. I said to myself: This is what I am, a salsero. I started writing songs. And it was a mix. The lyrics were romantic, like those of ballads. I wanted to say something, send a message. But the songs also had a beat, for dancing. I had those percussion sounds in my head,” explained the singer.
This mix that Luis Enrique talks about was the birth of a particular style: “My style of music was called many ways. Erotic salsa, romantic salsa, bed salsa. To me, those were commercial labels. It is just romantic music with a beat,” he states. Luis Enrique continued to grow as a musician, producing more than ten albums that represent his own style of salsa, combined with jazz, blues and other Latin rhythms.
Passion for Puerto Rico
Luis Enrique moved to Puerto Rico at the end of the 80s. On the island he recorded his production called “Amor y Alegria”, with instant hits like “Desesperado”, “Tú No Le Amas, Le Temes”, “Qué Será de Ti” and “Compréndelo”. From that moment, his career gained track. In 1990, his single “Mi Mundo,” had record sales in all Latin America and his album “Luces del Alma” was nominated for a Grammy. “Puerto Rico was a special place for me. It is my second home.”
The artist mentioned his sadness and grief for the current situation the island is in. “What the island is going through pains me as a Nicaraguan. And it pains me as someone who lived there. I send them a message of solidarity. I understand the recovery will take some time. This was a terrible catastrophe. But, Boricuas are fighters and survivors, and they will get back on their feet.
The rosquillas in the coffee
Luis Enrique Mejía López and his uncles Carlos and Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy give the town of Somoto, northwest of Nicaragua, a special reason to be proud. These three members of the Mejía family are well known worldwide. Luis Enrique created his own style within the genre of salsa. Meanwhile, his two uncles, who are also songwriters, promoted the Nicaraguan folk music and were members of the generation that produced protest music in the 60s and 70s.
Carlos Mejía Godoy made famous the song “El Solar de Monimbo”. Carlos also wrote songs that became famous throughout Latin America, such as “Son tus perjúmenes mujer” and “Quincho Barrilete”, song that won the OTI Festival in 1977. Meanwhile, Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy wrote the music for poems from Rubén Darío, Ernesto Cardenal, and Julio Cortázar. He also wrote the song “A Sandino” among others.
Somoto is known in the world thanks to these three men. However, the city has another important legacy. The “Rosquillas”, made with corn flour, sugar, cinnamon, milk, butter and cheese. The delicious rosquillas from Somoto are prepared in an artisan fashion. For that reason, each cook in town adds a personal touch to them.
Do you get to eat rosquillas with coffee for breakfast?
LE: That would be great. But for health and diet reasons, I can’t do it. I eat them sometimes. And I miss the “gallo pinto” -rice and beans-, and the “vigorón”. I miss the sweets that my my dad Francisco Luis and my grandma Gerturids used to make for me. I haven’t lost my appreciation for those dishes, they are part of my DNA and can’t be erased.
Do you sing “El Solar de Monimbo” and “Quincho Barrilete”?
LE: Of course, especially when I was a kid.
Luca, Luis Enrique’s only son, is 16. The singer believes the birth of his son has been the biggest success of his life. From Luca, he has learned unconditional love, to be a protector, to be patient with himself, to organize his time and to be happy. Luis Enrique dedicated the song “Una Fotografia” to Luca, where he shows his philosophy as a parent. He wants his son to know he is always with him, even when he is not there physically.
What is the most important misión of a father in the 21st century?
LE: It is more than teaching our children how to think or act. We must be accomplices with them. We must listen to them and let them make their own decisions. Our role is to be there.
Luis Enrique’s hits
There are countless music hits Luis Enrique has produced in his 16 albums. He created the genre of erotic or romantic salsa and he has won a Grammy, three Latin Grammys and many other awards.
Amor y alegría (1988)
The songs “Desesperado”, “Tú No Le Amas, Le Temes”, “Qué Será de Ti” and “Compréndelo” became popular throughout the continent.
Luis Enrique (1994)
Includes the famous song “Así Es La Vida”.
Jukebox: Primera Edición (2014)
He adds his voice to more than 10 hits from other artists.