It’s early one Saturday evening. There are a just a few people scattered throughout the coffee shop. A young woman frantically taps the keys on her laptop as an older couple chats with their granddaughter. A few moments later, a family visiting from Canada orders ice cream.
Then a petite man makes his way to the tiny stage in front of the window. He sits on the stool, picks up his guitar and starts strumming. When he’s done tuning, he looks out at the small crowd and smiles.
“What you like to hear?” he says in a thick Spanish accent. “Sad song? Mariachi song? Romantic song? Rock and roll?”
The older couple suggests something romantic. And when the man begins singing “Besame Mucho,” everybody in the café stops what they’re doing and looks up.
Ignacio Cardenas was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. His mom and dad sang in duets throughout the country. His brother was a composer, who wrote lots of well-known songs in Mexico, including one recorded by the band Machos. Nacho began singing publicly at age six, and learned how to play guitar when he was nine. He recorded his first album at 12.
Nacho was one of five young performers in the Mexican pop group Los Picoliños. They toured Mexico and Baja California, along with two teachers for voice and guitar, and enjoyed much success. But as the two girls in the band grew up and got married, the group disbanded.
At age 17, Nacho went solo, touring the country, including bullfighting rings like Mexico City’s famous Plaza de Toros, where his audience sometimes topped 15,000. Once, he sang with the acclaimed Mexican actor/singer Antonio Aguilarthe only Hispanic performer to sell out Madison Square Garden in New York for six consecutive nights.
The popular music at that time in Jalisco was “mariachi”a celebratory music of the country that incorporated Spanish, African, folk, jazz, pop and even polka. Consequently, Nacho’s repertoire spans widely. He insists he has a song for every occasion.
All the songs he sings are his favorite, he says through an interpreter. He doesn’t prefer one genre over the other; he loves them all.
“They are like my children,” he says.
Whether it’s sad or romantic, a dance song or one about drinking, Nacho tries to interpret each so his particular audience that night will enjoy it. He says the children like the funny songs, where he sometimes makes effective donkey sounds. The young people like the upbeat songs like “La Bamba” and rock and roll. The older crowd enjoys the classics like “Vaya Con Dios” or “La Cucaracha””the songs of my parents,” he says.
And his vocal range is impressive, often drawing audible gasps and clapping from the crowd mid-tune. “Since I was a boy and singing,” Nacho says, “I practiced and practiced.”
He’s also composed some songs, and has recorded three CDspossibly more, he can’t quite recalland locally won a Best Latin Music competition for his CD, Amor Amor Amor. He’s been on Maui for nearly 13 years, and has six kids.
“My family has been moving here little by little,” he says. “One son got married, moved here… then another one came. Then I said I might as well come.”
Although Nacho is older now, and his health somewhat frailhe can’t see or hear well, and makes routine visits for kidney dialysishe still does free performances six nights a week at Hawaiian Village Coffee in Kahana. He says it makes him very happy to see people enjoying his singingif they didn’t, it would make him very sad.
Then he picks up his guitar again, squints his eyes and smiles out at the small crowd.
“What you like to hear? Mariachi song? Romantic song? Funny song? Flamenco? Song de Cuba?” MTW