It’s kind of easy to forget that there’s a whole world out there to explore within your own country when you’re busy enjoying yourself with the growing music “scene” in the capital. But it happens, particularly when you’re scrolling down your Facebook newsfeed and a bunch of flyers for different shows and cultural events show up amidst an angsty stream of consciousness coming mostly from so-called Millenials in my friends list.
That’s why I was a little bit irked by a tourist’s microblog recounting his experiences in the country that’s been floating around for the past 48 hours on social media.
In “My 15 Favorite Things to Do in Nicaragua”, Nomadic Matt goes through the usual list of things most tourists have heard about ad nauseum and are eager to do upon arrival, including visiting Granada and Leon, checking out volcanic sites, surfing in San Juan and neighboring beaches, yadda yadda yadda, the usual stuff. They’re all great recommendations, but towards the end of the list, things go terribly wrong:
“Skip Managua — There’s nothing to see here. Move along.”
And just like that, the home of over 2 million people (more than 30% of the population!) gets overlooked. Nothing to see here, folks. Skip the capital of the country, no cultural value whatsoever, nope. “No hay ni verga!”, as they would say here in less-than-polite terms.
Despite the ongoing political turmoil and the corruption that plagues Managua, it is still very much a city filled with cultural value. It hasn’t been marketed by the tourism industry as much as other parts of the country, but there’s plenty to do here.
I do understand that Matt, like other tourists who visit the country, came on a budget and traveled light (part of the attraction is the relatively low living cost the country offers) so bringing up the cultural shows at the reknown Ruben Dario National Theater and enjoying high-end, exotic (as well as traditional) dining experiences may be out of the question, but there are plenty of places to go and experiences to be had.
We can’t blame tourists like Matt for being seemingly narrow-minded, though. It’s mostly our fault because music (along with other art forms) in Managua is a subculture of its own, and there’s subcultures within those same subcultures. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it indie or underground though, most of the veterans of the modern music scene have had appearances in national television and major concerts, generally under the sponsorship of telecoms companies. There’s always a couple of big events every year where these acts enjoy a wide audience that’s happy to sing along to their favorite songs. These people have been doing it for years, and even decades, across a wide variety of genres. They’ve recorded albums, they’ve had their music on the radio, they’ve played hundreds of shows, and to some degree, they’ve been “successful”.
And yet, it could be so much more. It feels stagnant and in desperate need of new blood. Major international artists consistently attract more people than local ones, and producers know there’s more money to be made there, which is why they shift their attention away from local talent. In that sense, they’re guilty of ignoring our own culture for the sake of producing lucrative concerts. But they’re not the only problem, egos and unprofessionalism run rampant within some of these environments and there are a very limited number of people who truly want to break from the mold of mediocrity and cutting corners for extra profit. There doesn’t seem to be much cohesion either, at least from an outsider’s perspective, because everyone seems to be okay with doing their own thing.
The same people who reached a degree of success a decade ago are still going at it. It wasn’t until recently that new faces started showing up, creating their own environment and entertainment in our tiny little city. And these new talents have brought really fresh things to the table, incorporating ideas from all over the world into their art as a by-product of globalization. That’s art, that’s part of our culture, and it’s right here in this city, propelled by idealists, visionaries, and leaders who see the country for what it is: a virgin paradise, not to be exploited, but to be built upon out of inspiration and sheer passion for what they do.
That’s why I want to counter Matt’s notion that Managua should be ignored when visiting the country. It really shouldn’t, it’s a cultural hotspot. Giving it a chance is a good way to help it grow, and it shouldn’t be too hard because there’s something for everyone.
Even on really tight budgets, tourists can indulge on new musical experiences that seem completely foreign to what they’re used to listening to. A lot of music venues in Managua don’t charge a cover fee, and the ones that do usually charge under $5 dollars ($2 being the average). Some of these venues don’t limit themselves to live music though. Art and photographic galleries, like poetry recitals, are not unheard of. And the cost of domestic beer? A mere dollar!
The interesting thing about some of these places is that foreigners are a common sight, usually expats who fell in love with the city and decided to stay or students learning the language. I’ve personally met people from as far up north as Canada to as far East as the Netherlands, with all sorts of nationalities sprinkled in between.
The problem, then, doesn’t lie in the lack of cultural/entertainment value in Managua, but in the lack of awareness. And it’s really not surprising. For all the outside world knows, we have no art scene at all. We’re just the land of lakes, volcanoes, surf hotspots, political controversy, and beauty pageant scandals. Considering the rich cultural history the country boasts, it’s a real shame that we haven’t caught up to the rest of the world in terms of getting the desired exposure. Our Costa Rican brothers are miles ahead of us in that department, they seem to have a thriving music scene. To contrast that, nothing has come out of Honduras that deserves any attention. But I, like Nomadic Matt, may just be suffering from cultural myopia, because for all we know, Honduras could be thriving as well. And if it is, it sure as hell is doing a horrible job at exposing that outside of its national boundaries. And that’s precisely the problem we face here today.
That’s why we need to build game-changing platforms that catapult our cultural value to the rest of the world. We also have to create connections abroad that help export our art and bring new ideas in and keep the ball rolling back and forth. In our current age, this has never been easier and more straightforward. Fortunately, local organizers and producers have caught on to this fact and have created some of these platforms to find national talent and nurture it along with bringing in unique international artists, but their impact is limited for a number of reasons I’ll expand on in the future. Most importantly, cooperation between the different entities involved is key if a common goal is shared. Bridging the gap within the scene and unifying it would be a huge step towards that goal. It would then be possible to promote it as much as the tourist sites that get so much attention elsewhere in the world, and the implications of that would be huge not only for the city but for the country itself.
But I digress.
Don’t skip Managua, indulge in its chaotic, cultural beauty instead. Give it a chance and you’ll most likely want to stick around for a bit longer before going on that surf trip you had eagerly been waiting to go on for months.
I can promise you that.