One of the joys of writing for the arts is the chance to talk to remarkable musicians I might never have discovered otherwise. When I first set out to interview jazz harpist and composer Edmar Castañeda, I was unsure of what to expect from an artist that falls into a rather unusual category. At age 38, he is already regarded as a groundbreaking harpist in improvisation and jazz, alongside Dorothy Asby and Zeena Parkins.
Castañeda’s performances have been dubbed “hypnotizing,” “engaging” and “scintillating.” A few minutes into his performance video, those assessments were easy to understand. With immense skill and fluidity, he creates a sharp, entrancing rhythmic fusion.
This fall, Castañeda is hopping around the world. In October alone, he has performed in Brazil, Paraguay, New York, California, Boston, Connecticut and Spain (in that order). He’ll be in our area for one night, on Saturday, Nov. 5, at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown.
The Colombian-born harpist’s performing career as an instrumentalist spans a dozen years. Since moving to New York City from Bogotá in 1994, his unique blend of harp style took the chamber-jazz music world by storm.
He has played both his own compositions and music of Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina at venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, and also appeared on NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert. In addition to having performed with with such greats as Wynton Marsalis, John Scofield and Marcos Miller, Castañeda performs both solo and as part of a trio, which consists of Marshall Gills on trombone and Dave Filiman on drums. Occasionally, his wife, singer Andrea Tierra, makes it a quartet.
Castañeda has released three solo albums: “Cuarto de Colores” (2006), “Entre Cuerdas” (2009) and “Double Portion” (2012).
CultureSpot MC caught up with the musician between rehearsals in his adopted hometown of New York City, fresh off a journey to South America and gearing up for another quick trip to Europe.
Did you come from a musical background? Did you play the harp as a child?
Yes, my father [Colombian harpist, composer, singer and teacher Pavelid Castañeda] was a musician. My sister was a singer. I started dancing at the age of 7 in Colombia, learned the traditional Colombian joropo dance–similar to Flamenco, which uses the harp. I started music and harp lessons at 13, and I’ve been practicing and, well, inventing since then.
Where was your music before and after your arrival from Bogotá in 1994?
I was working mostly with folklore music of Colombia, music that accompanies the joropo. At 16, I came to New York and fell in love with jazz, and started learning all about it.
At that point, were you still practicing the harp?
Actually, in high school in New York, I studied the trumpet. Neither in Colombia or here were there many chances to study harp. So the trumpet became somewhat of a bridge for me musically; it transported me into my works with the harp, and my incorporation of jazz into them.
Who are some of your jazz idols?
Charlie Parker, Miles David, Pascual and Stravinsky, Paco and Lucia –everyone that was coming together in the melting pot of New York, and around the world.
What inspires you to compose?
I compose about what I’m living in life in the moment, an experience, a rhythm, family.
What is next for you as a composer?
I work continually on producing concerts dedicated to the harp, and special pieces for the trio, but really, I write whatever the spirit sends to me. Playing the harp is a blessing. Concerts are for extending the blessing to the audience through the chords.
What do you plan to perform at BlackRock?
I’m planning to perform original music, with influences from Colombia, Brazil, funk, jazz and Flamenco.
Learn more about this event and purchase tickets on CultureSpotMC here.