Singer Miguel Ignacio Mendoza claims he had little trouble adapting when he left his life in Venezuela behind to move to Miami eight years ago. It took some time for the Latin Grammy-winning artist — better known as Nacho, formerly of duo Chino y Nacho — to get used to U.S. laws and taxes. And he says driving around was overwhelming — he was overdependent on his GPS. But other than that, the transition was seamless.
Working in Nacho's favor was Miami's multicultural nature and its sizable Venezuelan population. There was no language barrier to overcome given that Spanish is one of Miami's unofficial languages. And Nacho — who is scheduled to perform this Thursday, September 19, at LIV Nightclub in Miami Beach and October 31 at Cafe Iguana Pines in Pembroke Pines — is one of the countless celebrities who has made the move from Latin America to Miami over the past few decades, so it was hardly uncharted territory.
It also helped that Nacho was ready for a change.
“My international career was taking off around that time,” Nacho tells New Times. “It was complicated to travel out of Venezuela. I needed a base where I could find direct flights, and the best base was Miami... Honestly, it wasn’t a difficult decision. I had to think about what I was leaving behind. I had a beautiful life in Venezuela. But in that moment, I was so focused on my professional growth.”
That growth included some entrepreneurial efforts outside of music. He and his partners opened the short-lived tapas bar Omerta Cucina & Theater Bar in Doral in 2015. "[Nacho] would stop by to greet restaurant staff every chance he got," says former Omerta executive chef Hernando Cely, who now runs 305 Degrees Burgers. "He's the type of owner every employee would like to have: nice, humble, easygoing, and passionate."
On the music front, Chino y Nacho thrived in the growing reggaeton boom and continued to churn out hits such as 2016's "Andas en Mi Cabeza." (The lovey-dovey music video was filmed, in part, in North Miami Beach's Ancient Spanish Monastery.) But their time together would officially come to an end in 2017 when they announced their split after ten years as a duo (prior to that, they were in the boy band Calle Ciega). At the time, Nacho said in interviews that he wanted to dictate his own schedule so he could make more time for his wife and kids, but that doesn't mean he took his foot off the pedal.
His solo career picked up where Chino y Nacho left off in 2017 thanks to his singles "Bailame" and "No Te Vas," as well as his guest spot on Sebastián Yatra's "Alguien Robo." Then there was the Spanglish song he recorded on a whim that year with his children, "Happy, Happy," which has somehow racked up more than 400 million views on YouTube.
Nacho says he communicates with his children in Spanglish and admits he doesn't speak English as much as he should despite having lived in the States for eight years. But he says he sees value in assimilating and wants his children to embrace their U.S. surroundings.
“There are people who close themselves off and never adapt,” Nacho says. “We raise [our children] with some Venezuelan traditions, but we’re also grateful to be part of the U.S. and don’t close them off to U.S. culture and traditions. We want them to be part of the community.”
It was just two years ago that the Venezuelan government prevented Nacho from returning to U.S. soil and seeing his wife and kids for two months, he says. Nacho had passport issues he believes stemmed from his many critical comments of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro. The father of four says he was forced to sneak out of the country by way of Colombia.
Nacho has since taken a different approach to address the struggles in his country by opting to focus his energy on people who are suffering in Venezuela rather than the country's corrupt government. He announced earlier this month that he will return to his homeland for a concert in Maracay November 16.
"That’s the plan," he says. "Obviously, it’s harder for me due to conflicts I’ve had with the political system. But my intention with this concert is to motivate people. I want people to smile. I want to lift their spirits... I thought I was in the right with how I approached things, and then I questioned if I was in the wrong. I was waiting a long time and fighting a lot. I don’t want to have to wait for things to change to go back, because I don’t know when that might be. We’re going on 20 years of political turmoil in Venezuela and it hasn’t changed. I don’t want to grow old and realize I made the wrong decision in not going back."
The planned concert comes at a time when Nacho is preparing his much-anticipated debut solo album, Uno, an acknowledgment of his new beginning. He released a sample of his new merengue track, "Mambo a Los Haters," produced by the Miami-based producer and singer Carlos "Maffio" Peralta, on Instagram last week.
"He's just like me musically," Maffio says of Nacho. "We're very insecure about our own music. We bump heads in the studio. He'll do a verse and be like, 'No, I want to change it,' and I'm like, 'No, I love it.'... That's where the insecurity comes in. He's a perfectionist. He likes to make sure his lyrics make sense. But that's why his songs are classics."
Nacho echoes Maffio's comments, saying he isn't one to pat himself on the back when it comes to his music, which can be a rarity in a boastful genre such as reggaeton. But when it comes to his upcoming album, Nacho is making an exception.
"I say this modestly and without the intention of sounding full of myself, but I think my team and I did a great job with this album," Nacho says. "I’m not one of those artists who is constantly listening to their own music. I’m not a fanatic for my own music. But I’m enjoying this album like I’ve never enjoyed my music before."
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.