He’s not going to win the Nobel Peace Prize anytime soon, but like many of the craftsmen and artisanal artists who reside in Mexico City’s arts district, Rodrigo Eugenio Yañez lives with his hammer and chisel in one hand.
The 43-year-old hardware store clerk wields his trashcan heave like a guitar, extemporizing on song lyrics and weaving their poetry through unfathomable blues harmonies and plinking keys, beating a myriad of rhythms, rocking his red lancer all the way up and down the street of the unpretentious, unpretentious department store that’s his studio.
“What I do is basically a public performance,” he explains with a humility, I think, only within an artisanal voice.
He’s also known to drop in on passersby to jam with them, to this day, he’s never found one who didn’t appreciate the stripped-down version of his instrument and his crew.
At other times, Yañez uses his hammer to work on cement-carved jewelry, although this takes a bit more finesse — a few moments. Then again, these are the same jewelry boxes he used to sell. What might look like grafting traditional craftsmanship onto a chamber pot might actually be an early step in his quest to not just learn, but to buy into it.
“I want to discover where I fit into this life and understanding that this life can be mine and the instruments I’m working with are the only ones that do that for me,” he says, his finger flicking through a hole in the rich yellow tints of the cement cups the foundation stone from his house in Jalisco, Mexico, once held. “Today I’m in the teaching stage, and tomorrow I might take what I’ve learned from instruments and instruments,” he says.
Rodrigo Yañez is living proof that the basics of perseverance and a willingness to put the shoe on the other foot in search of new learning are sometimes the most reliable roads to a better life.
Yañez grew up far from the encyclopedic record store, the technology focus and the incessant noise of affluent neighborhoods. He was four when his father gave him a horn, since then, he’s basically never left the Accordion shop he calls home.
Yañez takes turns with his wife, Laura, sitting on the concrete floor of their small apartment in the district of Bordo Tres Naranjos, a hub of progressive change and creativity in the Mexican capital. (He meets Laura there, she there and he there.) He uses a lump of black wood in his clenched fist and a scrawled-on piece of paper to keep the day still in his tracksuit pants and a soft polo shirt.
Laura is the inside singer. She presses by on a shopping cart. The pair is frequent attendees at the Hôtel de la Céspedora, an artsy eco-guerrilla hotel that’s more like a hyped-up, incongruous slice of a well-constructed two-story living room, a masonry hulking tower of a structure that hogs the sidewalk all on its own. One has to traverse upstairs to get to the hammock in the jacuzzi and doggone it, just looking at it from above, the doors seem equally taller.
On the surface, the highly progressive Hotel de la Céspedora, which offers homeward voyages, detoxifying workouts and a millennial tipping policy to yield to the dream of escape to the least cosmopolitan neighborhood within the boundary of downtown, is far removed from the rest of Mexico City. But in the words of Rodrigo Yañez, it’s home.
“This is where we choose to live and we choose to be here,” he says. “And now we have eight children.”
He’s been writing songs for more than 20 years now and always though that getting to share his music, his world with a wider audience is the core of his mission.
Rodrigo Yañez says his fans always wait for him to sing at his last gig before he returns to his residency in the Hotel de la Céspedora. There’s a big group of friends waiting just outside, so the entrance to the cafe is mobbed with those wanting to hear him sing. At one point he asks what’s on everyone’s minds. He doesn’t