Carlos Mejia


Carlos Mejía (b. 1957) is a master musician, a mentor of young musicians, and a cultural activist specializing in Mayan culture, the Guatemalan marimba, and other instruments.  He was born in the Maya K’iche’ (or Quiché) community of Guatemala.


At the age of 12, Carlos joined a professional marimba ensemble at the Hotel Mayan Inn.  While in high school, he enrolled in the music conservatory of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala and finished his studies in 1978.  That same year, he joined Unión Ideal, one of the most popular marimba orchestras in Guatemala and traveled in Central America and Mexico.


However, in the 1980s civil war was rampant in Guatemala and Carlos gained notoriety as a Mayan musician, the military government increased its scrutiny and surveillance.  He became a paramedic to help his people during the war and was jailed twice for subversion.  He was tortured physically and psychologically on repeated occasions.  People very close to him were brutally tortured and killed.  This experience broke his spirit.  He left his country and was granted political refuge in the United States in 1987, where he has slowly tried to rebuild his life.  He was not able to speak about this for many years for fear of retaliation against his family.


According to Carlos, teaching marimba music and culture to young people is what he most desires.  He does not have a political agenda.  He simply believes in the transformative power of music and wishes to transmit it to others.  He currently works as a janitor, a handyman, and a day-laborer to make ends meet and devotes all his spare time to playing and teaching the Guatemalan marimba and music.  In 2014, Carlos Mejia was awarded the prestigious 3Arts Award.  He is also featured with one of his students, Melissa Corado, on Folksongs of Illinois, vol. 5: Chicago Since 1970 (2013).