As a place of extreme sports and some of the best waves in the world, Puerto Escondido has always attracted those intrigued by intensity. And if we think of passion as focused intensity, it is no surprise that this coastal town has also appealed to talented musicians from Mexico and all over the world.
Tourists may only hear the monotonous thud of house music coming from the most well-known spots in Zicatela and La Punta as they have their finite getaways from their reality. But, there’s a whole world of music in Puerto for those interested in finding it.
Casa Babylon has been known as the house of live music since its opening in 1999. Katushka Villaseñor Sánchez, owner of the bar, is originally from Mexico City where she was a part of the music scene as a teenager. When she moved to Puerto Escondido, there was no question that music would continue to be a constant presence in her life.
Speaking of the first summer of its opening, Villaseñor recalls, “I always had music [in Casa Babylon]. My brother is a musician. He’s a Flamenco guitarist . . . At sunsets, he sat in the window and played. So, people would come by and listen . . . Since the beginning, we’ve given the space to musicians.”
Having recently celebrated its 24th anniversary, Casa Babylon is a well-known pillar of live music in Puerto. Locals and tourists alike who seek a relaxed vibe, and, of course, music will feel at home upon entering the establishment.
Villaseñor has seen plenty of faces pass through over the years. As she’s adapted to the unexpected over her time there, she’s always placed the essence of Puerto and Babylon at the forefront of the business. “There are people that come saying they came 10, 15, 20 years ago, but they feel welcomed by the same energy in the same place. And that’s the idea, that you arrive and you feel at home.”
Casa Babylon has hosted all types of musicians and dancers throughout its many years on Calle de Moro. Villaseñor has always wanted it to be a place with diverse music offerings that people of all ages can enjoy. “We don’t charge a cover because we show all types of music . . . The idea is that the music attracts you, and you see what you like, that you can enjoy this type of music even though it’s not commercial and you haven’t heard it in other places . . . you discover that a new type of music moves something inside you and that night changes your life.”
With the boom in tourism and the surge in the local population spurred by the pandemic, the music scene changed quite drastically. Villaseñor notes the biggest difference between pre- and post-pandemic life in the music scene of Puerto: “After the pandemic, [musicians] started staying here to live. So it’s forming a different music scene in Puerto — local, constant. A lot [of musicians] are bringing their personal projects that they can promote on social media . . . And something has happened that didn’t exist in Puerto before, which are music studios. That pretty much completes the scene.”
Another well-known pillar of live music in the heart of Zicatela is the Split Coconut. Having been in existence for 27 years, it has earned the trust of a different Puerto crowd. Dale McFann, live music coordinator for “The Split,” says, “Live music has been a really important part [of the Split Coconut]. I’m hoping to expand this year . . . We do have a history here. And we’re pretty proud of it.”
Originally from the U.S., McFann is a musician himself and has been coming to Puerto for over 20 years. Like many other transplants, he’s made it his full-time home now for the past 12.
While The Split’s crowd tends to be on the older side, McFann stresses that everyone is welcome. And with their live music starting earlier in the evening, it’s a perfect option for those hoping to be in bed by 11 p.m., or for those wanting to fill the hours after sunset.
Like most establishments in Puerto, the Split Coconut has gone through some changes since the pandemic, but for different reasons. With the passing of Brad Lopez, the previous owner, and a change of location, they’ve been adjusting in order to stay afloat.
McFann is hoping to go back to the music scene that the bar previously offered with the upcoming season, starting as early as October with live music. “We were known for variety when [the previous owner] was alive. We had a lot more variety . . . I’d like to bring that back.” In the upcoming season he hopes to continue an open-mic night, add a singer-songwriter evening, and book both local and foreign musicians at the venue.
And although the establishment attracts a different type of crowd than Casa Babylon, a similar vibe is stressed. When speaking of his hopes for the bar, McFann says, “Just to exist . . . Everybody loves this place. This is their home . . . I’ve seen people come in here for years and the first time they come back they get teary-eyed. They get the vibe.”
While Casa Babylon and the Split Coconut have earned the respect of the local community looking for live music in a laid-back environment, FYA Rasta is aiming to establish itself among those seeking alternative music options. Having just opened within the past few months, they’re excited to bring musicians within the reggae genre to Puerto in the quickly approaching high season.
One of those leading the new project is Mr. Jungle, a musician, DJ, and music producer. Jungle notes that Puerto, like many beach towns, has a long history with reggae. However, as the market in Puerto has changed with an influx of travelers, so have the music offerings.
“This place, currently, is the first. But there were many more before. I’m talking about over 17 years ago. They disappeared over time, with the change in the market. The people wanted something safer, which is the commercial . . . So now, formally, we’re the only place like this. But there are other places with alternative offerings.”
While FYA Rasta is new, Mr. Jungle is by no means a novice in the music scene. He has an established bar called Central Funk in Mexico City, known for its alternative music offerings. Additionally, he’s been playing music since he was 8 years old and has produced for various artists internationally.
Like Villaseñor and McFann, he witnessed the huge difference that the pandemic brought for the music scene in Puerto. Jungle notes the types of businesses that started popping up. “People here, faced with a crisis in the pandemic, started opening businesses that were safer, so they couldn’t fail.”
He noticed that most places were playing popular, commercial music. Of course, Jungle also saw that people were eager for more options within the music scene. He noticed that there were locals and new residents who were restless for less mainstream options. “There are those niches that are looking for alternatives, maybe it’s fewer [people] but it exists and it’s constant.”
In its short time in existence, FYA Rasta has caught the attention of those residents seeking good music and a vibe that aligns with Puerto’s essence. “From what I’ve heard and know, Puerto, like any beach, started with a reggae vibe. It’s almost a cliche, a beach without reggae: it’s hard that that exists.”
While it’s had an eclectic, rich history in music so far, it’s clear that Puerto has big potential to grow in this arena. Jungle states the importance of recognizing music as a vessel to shine a light on societal issues. “Music for me is one of the most powerful arts, not only because it reaches people more easily, but because it is a more vivid anthropological and social reference. Because, unlike the plastic arts, music is available to everyone . . . it is like a free medium, which anyone can appropriate.”
Casa Babylon, The Split Coconut, and FYA Rasta don’t charge a cover for their live music offerings. As such, they stress that consumption is key when it comes to supporting the establishments and the musicians who play there.
Casa Babylon has live music throughout the week. You can check out their events by following their Instagram @casa_babylon_bar or their Facebook page. The Split Coconut will have live music events starting in October and continuing throughout the high season. You can see their music offerings via their Facebook page. FYA Rasta has live music on Saturdays and DJs on other nights. You can stay up to date with their events by following their Instagram @fya_rasta.
El Sol de Puerto