Sunday, December 30, 2012

Making Something out of Nothing

This post was inspired by an incredible video about the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra.
A community in Cateura, Paraguay started to craft recycled instruments from garbage. Trash is literally transformed into mesmerizing music made by young people.
As 2012 winds to a close here at my studio in San Miguel I've been reflecting on my passion for music. Growing up in Mexico City I had the life-changing opportunity to study with members of Los Folkloristas when I was twelve years old.

Los Folkloristas

This group of musicians were pioneers in rescuing the folkloric roots of traditional Latin American music. I learned to play guitar, violin, charango, quena, sampoña, bombo and harp with Maestro Gerardo Tames. He's the young man with a beard on the far right of the photo above. I remember my mother knitting patiently outside while I practiced long hours twice a week. I formed a musical group with 5 other young people and each time we would bring our instruments and voices together it was like making something out of nothing. I was completely swept up in the music. When my family could no longer afford lessons one of my elementary school teachers insisted on paying half the tuition because she wanted me to continue.

That's me in the center playing the quena at 12 years old

I'm the skinny guy playing the charango
next to the girl with the bombo

Here in San Miguel de Allende, I've been grabbing every opportunity to make and listen to live music. I entertain myself by making posters for my friends that express their sound as a way to thank them for all they bring to my world. I never imagined I would go on to make books and stamps about many of the musicians I so admired. Ironically, Gabriel Hernandez featured in the poster below played piano with Tito Puente.
The connections I'm always finding with music and my work as an artist continue to surprise me.

I spent an unforgettable Christmas eve playing guitar with friends late into the night. It always takes a serious dose of courage to keep up with my compadre, master guitarist Gil Gutiérrez. He introduced me to a great musician Camille who in his seventies. It seems he was back in town after spending the better part of the year in his native France. He brought along his acordoneón, a blend of an accordion and a bandoneón popular in Argentina. His passionate wife sings La Boheme with the same energy of Nina Simone. An old friend Jimena Giménez Cacho who now lives in San Miguel was there too. As fate would have it I had studied with her brother Daniel and the Folkloristas so many years ago.  Jimena's voice was equally as thrilling as the uniquely, haunting sounds of her cello. The smallest things remind me of the big impact music continues to have on my life and work. 

Minuscule guitar hand-carved from amber by an amigo Alex
in the Mercado de Artesanias in San Miguel.

Blues Angel for San Diego Blues Festival

I've painted many compositions trying to express the dynamic power of different genres of music. In 2010 after painting Tito, Celia and other incomparable performers for the United States Postal Service: Latin Music Legends stamps, I felt my love for music coming full circle. It was vitally important for me to get it right as I was a huge fan and their music mattered to so many.

Looking forward to the new year as my latest children's book My Name is Tito will be finding it's way to libraries and schools.

Luckily, I paired up once again with a good friend, writer Monica Brown. We've already traveled around the country connecting to kids and teachers about reading and music.
Monica and I collaborated together on my first children's book My Name is Celia and I had so much fun.  After that experience I couldn't wait to visually introduce the music and life story of Tito Puente to a whole new generation of kids. I hope the words and images will get them moving to the rhythms of the King of Mambo. I've dedicated the illustrations in our book to all those who work to bring music to children from California to Cateura.
I will always remember what a difference music made in my young life.
Feliz Año Nuevo.

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