The soft sound of Sergio Figueroa’s voice drifted through Los Tres Cubanos.
The singer, whose style resembles a Latin Nat King Cole, warmly serenaded the Shipoke restaurant’s diners and even shook the hand of a restaurant regular while belting out a Frank Sinatra tune.
Eight years ago, Figueroa brought his voice, which he describes as “romantic with power,” to Harrisburg. He got his start playing local restaurant and house jams with fellow artists John Catalona and Patrick Murphy. He worked his way into eateries such as Suba, Rubicon and Bridge’s Social Club, then through the West Shore and cities across the country.
“I started playing everywhere—in private parties, different restaurants,” Figueroa said. “And everyone was saying, ‘Oh that’s that cantautor—the singer! the singer!’—because those guys saw me everywhere.”
Figueroa’s performances include a diverse set of covers from other Latin singers, American artists such as Sinatra, Michael Bublé and Nirvana, and a few originals.
According to Figueroa, his fans mirror the fusion of different cultures in his music.
“The music I make is not only for Latin people. It’s for everybody,” he said. “American people love me. Sometimes, they don’t understand my music, but they love my voice.”
One of Figueroa’s many accomplishments was opening for “La India,” known as the “Princess of Salsa” music, and for her collaboration with Marc Anthony. Another is the creation of the monthly “Latin Night” at HMAC.
“HMAC opened their doors all the time for me. I love it,” he said. “I love Latin Night at HMAC. And even though it’s Latin Night, everybody [goes].”
Figueroa started singing 21 years ago in his home country of Mexico. His first encounter with music came from his grandmother, whose ever-present voice floated through their kitchen.
“She sung different styles of music,” he said. “Eventually, it started to rub off on me.”
He sang anywhere he could—at home, in school groups, then local bars and popular cafés in Veracruz. Eventually, he recorded two songs there, one pop and the other salsa.
“When I sung for the first time, I felt free,” he said. “It felt like I was breathing real air for the first time.”
At 31, he fled his home country for America, leaving two of his three daughters behind. In the middle of the night, he and 18 other strangers crossed the desert into the states. Three days later, they made it to Arizona with only a group of 15.
“People believe Latin people come into this country to steal and make problems, but it’s not true,” Figueroa said. “You come here to work hard. You come to live the ‘American Dream.’”
For Figueroa, that dream has come at a cost.
Once, when Figueroa was talking to his daughter in their native language in a mall, a woman yelled at them to “go back to their country.” Declining a reply, he just nodded and kept walking. However, not everyone has used just words.
Even with his brother, Angel, already in Pennsylvania, Figueroa struggled to meet new people. So, when two men invited him out for drinks when his shift at a Lemoyne restaurant was over, he was happy to accept.
“They lured me to their house through the woods,” Figueroa said. “Out of nowhere, they just started smacking me, pouring water on me. The whole family. I kept asking them, ‘Why? Why are you doing this?’”
Though he ended up escaping with only a few cuts and bruises, he still lives in fear.
“I never make problems; I just make music,” he said. “But there are some people who look for problems. You know how the situation is now with U.S. immigration, so, of course, I feel scared. For the next four years, I’ll feel scared.”
Figueroa puts those fears into music, even if the lyrics belong to another artist.
“For me, everyone is the same,” he said. “You have a heart, you have eyes, you have love. Nothing makes a difference.”
Now, Figueroa helps others as often as he can by donating music and the proceeds from it. His recent donations were to the people of Uruguay and citizens dealing with inflated food prices in Venezuela.
Up next for Figueroa are more performances in Baltimore, Chicago and the release of his self-titled CD.
“The music helps,” he said. “It helps bring people together. I make different music so different crowds can hear the music. This is music for the world.”
Author: Yaasmeen Piper