Gleyte St Germain, from Sinaloa to Ozomatli: ‘I have four black brothers and an all-white sister’

Gleyte St Germain is a member of the next-generation accordion line-up of the Mexico City-based cumbia band Ozomatli, with performance dates in some 60 cities worldwide. We met up in London to chat about the origins of the Guaguancópuzo festival in his homeland, how spending time with his girlfriend in La Paz influenced the sound of his band and how tuning one of his classic accordions has helped him get over a his recent loss of his father.

What is your heritage?

I was born in Tecate, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. My great grandfather was very involved in my grandfather’s family. He came from Mexico City, and worked at the university.

What’s your favourite memory of Sinaloa?

Meeting my dad as a little kid. When I was 11 he escaped from my family’s dictatorship and came to Sinaloa. He always said he wasn’t going to come back to the “junta” [presidential dictatorship], but he did. So he was my dad, a revolutionary!

What do you want people to know about your homeland?

I’m really angry, and with respect for my homeland. People suffer, something needs to change.

What was it like recording with an experimental-music group while away on tour?

You don’t have any music at all to play with. It’s very difficult. But it’s a blessing, because people like it, and they come to see you live. We’re performing in the UK in July. You’ll see a difference in the way we see music, the way we interact with each other. We’re talking about unity of different cultures, and all of us.

What inspires you?

My girlfriend coming to La Paz, and the festivals there.

Do you think music can change things?

No, but people believe that you can change things and make a change. Maybe not in the way they think it should change, but you can change it.

Who are your influences?

The accordion. Anyone who plays the accordion who puts their heart and soul into it. All the X-Factor results I think of when I get back home.

The music you were playing in Sarajevo before Ozomatli was launched – Guaguancópuzo and Veso Veloso – inspired every musician that came after you. How do you feel about that?

I was dancing around my apartment and everyone asked me why I was playing Guaguancópuzo so loud. And I would play it all day! I love the rhythm and fun we all have in that music.

Most people don’t know the origins of the festival, which celebrates Chihuahua province’s indigenous songs, until they hear Ozomatli perform it.

It’s one of the reasons we began our festival in Sinaloa. Just before the festival I’d go to La Paz, and I’d think that they weren’t doing anything about culture there. La Paz is a great city for indigenous cultures, but there was nothing about them.

What are your plans for the future?

By 2027, I want to travel across the world. I want to come to Europe, America, Central America, Peru and Australia. That’s my vision.

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