In his native Honduras, singer-songwriter Carlos Barahona contributed to one of the biggest hits in Latin music. In his adopted hometown of Chicago, he keeps a modest profile — working as a custodian in churches and playing occasional gigs to support his family.
A group of Chicago musicians has helped turn the spotlight once again on Barahona, who goes by the stage name Charlie Baran.
“I met Charlie on the music scene here in Chicago when I first moved here in the early 2000s, and I just admired him as a guitar player; he was amazing,” said musician Dan Abu-Absi.
“Eventually I became part of a band that he was playing in and got to play with him and know him a bit,” Abu-Absi continued. “Then years later I found out he was a singer-songwriter himself, and that’s when we started this band and when I realized he had this whole career that I had no idea about.”
The band they started was Radio Free Honduras.
Barahona had a long career as a musician, singer-songwriter and bandleader in his native Honduras.
“Dan approached and asked me, ‘We like your music, would you be down to put a band together to record some of your music?’ And that’s how it started,” Barahona said through a translator, his saxophone player.
In 1991, Barahona contributed vocals and guitar to “Sopa de Caracol,” a song that topped the Latin Billboard charts.
He left Honduras, he said, after being harassed by local government officials. A circuitous route brought him to Chicago by way of Miami.
Now, the 72-year-old works at two local Catholic churches and plays the occasional show with Radio Free Honduras. Through a translator, Barahona said his health isn’t that good, but with the help of God, he’ll go on.
“I loved his music, and I loved his style, so that was the first thing, but then quickly I realized that he needed help,” Abu-Absi said. “Basically being a marginalized part of our society right now as he is, there was no way he was going to navigate the music biz on his own. I mean it’s hard enough for someone with every opportunity and advantage to make it in the music business. So I knew that I could help him and I decided that I wanted to help him.”
“Charlie writes all the music,” Abu-Absi continued. “He usually brings to me a pretty much finished song, and I just help with instrumentation and putting it together and producing recordings and that sort of thing.”
Through his translator, Barahona said he feels very privileged and grateful to have played with musicians of different calibers that have been part of his bands over the years. He said he’s always learning from and appreciating those who are around him.
Radio Free Honduras plays outdoors Thursday at 3737 W. Lawrence Ave. And on Saturday, the band plays about 6 p.m. at the Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest in Rogers Park.
Radio Free Honduras is recording an album the band hopes to have ready in the fall.