Leonel Soto. Courtesy Photo.

“Es Lo Que Hay,”

Musician and storyteller Leonel Soto brings his roots from Mexico to the Pacific Northwest

This Friday night at the Maude Kerns Art Center, Leonel Soto, a musician from Sinaloa, Mexico, will be playing a one-night show.

The March 8 concert comes from his 2024 solo tour here in the States with “Es Lo Que Hay,” [It is What It Is], going to different cities throughout the South and Pacific Northwest and finishing in Chicago.

Soto has a dynamic sound with both voice and guitar in his music, singing with a folkloric gusto mixed with topics of generational change happening around us. His lyrics expand from Spanish poetry to melodic rhymes relating to the unfiltered moments in our lives. But really, his songs are a vast mixture in the music world that touches on different genres.

“When I started playing the guitar I was inspired by a Spanish band called Duncan Dhu,” Soto says. “That greatly influenced my style of composing and my acoustic aesthetics.” 

Soto adds that he didn’t start playing the guitar till he was 20 years old, but as soon as he did, he took it seriously and never looked back, playing for 30 years now.

The concert is promoted and organized by Eugene Arte Latino, and presented in partnership with Comunidad y Herencia Cultural. Both groups help artists like Soto have places to perform throughout Oregon.

“What I dedicate myself to is promoting the values ​​of Mexican and Central American traditions, ” says Jessica Zapata, founder and organizer of Eugene Arte Latino. “I try to do it in various places where we can talk about what Central American culture is.”

Zapata and Soto have known each other throughout the years —Soto was one of the first people Zapata e helped promote in Oregon. She says working with him has always been “super lindo,” not only calling him a great musician, but a really good person to work with.

Soto’s hearty songs offer an insight into his creativity and character. “34 Versos plays as a homage to Duncan Dhu, an ’80s rock band, with classic guitar riffs, keyboards and drumming that pace as good as Soto’s lyrics. “Melanina has unique chords and melodies that Soto fingerpicks around lyrics about racism. The song plays with an honest stride and leaves you with a message of perseverance. And “Sobre las olas,” his newest single from his Es Lo Que Hay album, touches on a lighter tone about the beach and the longing to get away. 

As Soto continues his solo tour this year, he says it’s always nice to come back and play in the States. He adds that he tries to come once a year to see people from his country that get homesick. But he also enjoys bringing diversity to different towns all over, even if they don’t understand his music.

“Sometimes music speaks for itself,” Soto tells Eugene Weekly. “Even if they don’t understand the lyrics, it still holds a positive response.”

Soto has played in Cuba as well as in South America and Europe and hopes to continue that momentum, “Pues ahí andamos en este rollo de hacer canciones y tratar de llegar a la máxima gente posible. [Well, there we are in this business of making songs and trying to reach as many people as possible],” he says

The Maude Kern Arts Center opens its doors at 6:30 p.m this Friday, March 8, with Soto starting at 7 pm. The show is free and open to the public and welcomes anyone in the Eugene area.