Edmar Castañeda: I was born for the harp

18 July 2019, 1:00

Edmar Castañeda: I was born for the harp

One of the musicians who will appear at Folkové prázdniny [Folk Holidays] in Náměšť nad Oslavou as part of a special programme called Harfy nad Oslavou [Harps upon Oslava], is the Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda. In Náměšť, he will also give a solo recital as part of an evening called O duši s lehkostí i naléhavostí [About Soul with Lightness and Urgency]. In our telephone conversation – we called him to New York where he lives – we talked to Edmar Castañeda, for example, about a harp specially constructed according to his requirements, or about his cooperation with the Czech singer Marta Töpferová.

You are definitely an acclaimed master in playing harp, a traditional instrument from Colombian and Venezuelan plains, but I know you also learned to play the trumpet. What came sooner in your case?

I started learning the harp at the age of thirteen, but I started to get familiar with the instrument already as a seven-year-old. Around the same time as the harp, I also began to learn the trumpet, because my father wanted it that way. But the harp was the first. When I was sixteen years old, I left for New York. There I first learned about jazz and immediately fell in love with that music. Since there was no possibility to study the harp at a high school, I dedicated myself more to playing the trumpet. For the same reason I then went to a college to study the trumpet. Thanks to my studies, I learned in detail the language of jazz, but at the same time I played the harp all the time.

Were the years spent playing the trumpet useful to you?

The trumpet was a bridge for me thanks to which I was able to understand jazz. I like that instrument, but harp is my real passion. And that is in fact why I played it every day. I practiced trumpet play during the day and studied Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and other giants of jazz, and then I played the harp in the evening.

When did the moment come about when you said to yourself that even with a harp in your hand you could accompany jazz musicians?

I had never planned it to happen that way. As I said, the harp was my passion, really, since I was seven years old. So it wasn't that I suddenly said to myself: I'll play jazz on the harp. It all kind of came alone, and I see it as a gift from God.

I saw for example a video from your joint concert with the Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi. And it was amazing to watch you interact with each other. What is the most challenging thing in such a collaboration?

The most challenging issue in such collaborations is to accept the fact that the harp has very limited possibilities. It is impossible to play on a harp all that, for example, pianists can play. It does not have all tones available. Playing jazz on the harp is in a way a challenge, and for example you cannot play fully fledged bebop on it. That is why I do not play jazz in the very sense of the word, but I try to put certain elements of jazz into my play – improvisation, groove, etc... The freedom of improvisation is of particular importance.

To what extent are your compositions prepared in advance and how much of what we hear is just improvisation?

Before we appear on stage, we already have our compositions arranged. Hence I know in advance what I can allow myself to do with the harp. And then it is just a matter of improvisation. That is why we have to agree in advance on the song and then one of us takes the lead and the other one responds. And we cannot even play certain songs at all, such as some jazz standards, because my instrument does not allow me to do so.

However, your harp has some improvements compared to the traditional type from the Colombian plains. How was the instrument, constructed for you by the French company CAMAC, created?

For many years I had tried to make some harp improvements myself. I had absolutely specific ideas and then I happened to meet representatives of the company CAMAC in France. I made an agreement with them and they made all my ideas come true. They developed an instrument type called EC Llanera (EC = Edmar Castañeda, Llanera = from the planes; note of the author). This model is based on a traditional Colombian harp, but there is also an additional little lever on each string. Thanks to it, I can produce half-tones like on a piano. Therefore, I have a greater range of options for improvisation, however, certain limits of the instrument still remain.

At Folk Holidays in Náměšť nad Oslavou you will present yourself first with your solo programme and then also as part of a special programme called Harfy nad Oslavou – together with Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita as Welsh harpist Catrin Finch. While the two of them routinely perform  and make records together, I don't really know whether you have ever met Seckou Keita at all. And do you already know what you will play in Náměšť nad Oslavou?

Yes, we met each other about two years ago. We jammed together at a festival. My harp and his kora are two completely different instruments. Each of them plays in a completely different way. I don't know what we shall play, we haven't talked about it yet. We will probably resolve this on the spot.

You have gone through jazz education and at the same time grew up on folk music from Colombian plains. So what do your solo recitals look like?

I play folk music from Colombia, which I interleave with what I know from New York. That is jazz, flamenco, funk, classical music and tango. The harp as a tool inspires me, for example, to combine Brazilian music with our joropo style and with flamenco, or classical music with jazz. I blend everything together.

You also have your own band. Is it still a trio with trombone?

In currently play in a trio or in a quartet with musicians I met here in New York. Rodrigo Villalon from Colombia plays drums with me and instead of trombone I have Shlomi Cohen from Israel playing saxophone. My wife Andrea Tierra sings with us. We combine the jazz language with musical roots of different countries. Because they are all busy, I sometimes change the line-up. Sometimes we have a flute or a harmonica instead of the saxophone.

But in most cases it is then a melodic wind instrument – a trombone, a saxophone, a flute…

Yes, wind instruments are very important in jazz. In addition, they inspire me in my play, as they lead the tune. It is an ideal choice for me.

In the past, you also worked with the Czech singer Marta Töpferová. You appear on her album La Marea from 2005. This year, you will have a concert with her in Prague as part of the Jazz Meets World series, just a few days after the evening of Harfy nad Oslavou.

Yes, I'm glad we can meet up again after all those years and appear on stage  together. We used to play a lot together many years ago when Marta lived here in New York. She is absolutely amazing. She is one of my favourite singers and composers. She learned to play traditional instruments from Colombia and Venezuela, she knows our language in spite of coming from Prague. I like the way she sings, the colour of her voice. In addition, she writes very good lyrics in Spanish, which is horribly difficult. And Latin American rhythms are complicated. I always asked her: Are you sure you're from Prague? In fact, her lyrics sound as if she was born in South America .

At the beginning you said that harp is your passion. What attracts you to that instrument?

As I have already said, I see my talent as a gift from God. Music is the way I can worship him, talk to him, this is a way to be in touch with him. I perceive my music as a revelation from God, which I also pass on to other people. It really is my passion. I'm sure I was born for the harp.



No comment added yet..

For the opening concert of the 20th anniversary season of the Špilberk Festival yesterday, the Brno Philharmonic chose a dramaturgy consisting of proven as well as lesser-known pieces. The subtitle Romantic Carnival immersed all evening in the carnival spirit associated with celebrations before the carnival opening. The aim of the programme was to characterize the period of merriment, celebrations and masks by compositions that tell with their mood about this period of the year. The almost full-up castle courtyard had the opportunity to enjoy an unpretentious and appealing programme, which also with its lower temperature more easily approached that cold carnival period.       more

As a UNESCO-listed city of music, Brno has had four festival days full of music and dance. Tens of concerts and performances with hundreds of performers took place at twenty-two music venues. Music in the streets sounded on every corner, but most attention this year was attracted by four rooms by the artist Kateřina Šedá, in which artists of different genres and nationalities took turns. Another attraction was the performances of the British Motionhouse and No Fit State Circus, who repeatedly enchanted the Náměstí Svobody Square with their acrobatic pieces and breathtaking performances. Two large stages were also set up – Dominik Stage on Dominikánské Square and Django Stage on Malinovského Square, on which appeared artists such as Jana Kirschner, Monika Bagárová, minus123minutes or Jan P. Muchow & The Antagonists. Traditionally, the festival was accompanied by the sound of barrel organs whose players met in Brno as part of their 10th international meeting. This year, singer and multi-instrumentalist Tinatin Tsereteli (Hannover) and violinist Nicola Manzan (Bologna) as artists from UNESCO partner cities of music also premiered at the Brno Music Marathon. The atmosphere of the festival is captured in the video below.  more

Folkové prázdniny [Folk Holidays] in Náměšť nad Oslavou is a festival standing out with its dramaturgy, structure and atmosphere. Every season has its own theme, every evening has its own theme, and even some individual performances have their own themes. The long-time programme director Michal Schmidt managed this year to excellently balance Czech premiéres and truly extraordinary projects with reappearances and sure bets. This year's theme of Folkové prázdniny was About the Soul; however, this week-long event has its soul every year.  more

The group Nebeztebe (a pun containing both "Not without You" and "Heaven from You) literally shone in the Brno scene a few years ago. The five-member line-up, with its marked rhythms, seemingly above styles, celebrated victory at Porta and headed for the giant multi-genre festivals. Under bandleader Štěpán Hulc seemingly the band went to sleep and only returned this year with a brand new, three-member line-up. The new Nebeztebe is made up of guitar, violin and mandolin and has not given up on taking a multi-genre approach. Once more they are giving concerts and are coming out with the concept album Zásobování duše (which might be translated as Supplying the Soul).  more

One of the musicians who will appear at Folkové prázdniny [Folk Holidays] in Náměšť nad Oslavou as part of a special programme called Harfy nad Oslavou [Harps upon Oslava], is the Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda. In Náměšť, he will also give a solo recital as part of an evening called O duši s lehkostí i naléhavostí [About Soul with Lightness and Urgency]. In our telephone conversation – we called him to New York where he lives – we talked to Edmar Castañeda, for example, about a harp specially constructed according to his requirements, or about his cooperation with the Czech singer Marta Töpferová.  more

The Olomouc Baroque Festival has begun. In the local Jesuit Convent the seventh year of the festival opened with the modern premiere of the serenata Il tribunale di Giove by the Austrian composer Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf. The work was first performed at the birthday celebrations for the Prussian King Frederick the Great on 27 January 1775 and after a repeat in Wroclaw in 1777 it fell into oblivion. The Ensemble Damian decided to reverse this unfortunate fate, and led by the ensemble’s artistic director and director Tomáš Hanzlík they attempted to revive the work. Appearing in the solo roles were Leandro Lafont (Fate and Apollo), Kristýna Vylíčilová (the Genius of Europe and Minerva), Lucie Kaňková (Time and Fortune), Monika Jägerová (Jupiter) and Jakub Rousek (Mars). The costumes and backdrops were designed by the director Hanzlík.  more

The Slunce [Sun] Festival in Strážnice will be held for the twentieth time this year. Especially lovers of folk music and classical big beat have  marked the dates of 12th and 13th July in their calendars. We talked to the director of the Slunce Festival Pavel Kopřiva about the history of the festival, its top moments and hardships, as well as what this year's festival season will be like.  more

The end of the first school-holiday week was carried in the spirit of celebrations. The 7th of July in fact falls on the birthday of Alena Veselá, a prominent Brno organist and a professor at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts (JAMU), who celebrated an impressive age of 96 years on that day. The concert, organised particularly for this jubilee, was also the final event of the 39th Brno Organ Festival and as a celebration of the birthday of its founder (and now patron of the whole show), it already has a strong position in the festival programme.  more

We live in a free democratic society, in which the role of the state is to create the environment and conditions for the development of creativity and creative potential, being aware that today's living art creates cultural heritage for the future.  more

Last weekend, the 74th Strážnice International Folklore Festival 2019 as well as the 37th Strážnice Children's Folklore Festival were held in the South Moravian Mecca of folklore. The biggest folklore festival in the Czech Republic enjoys great interest and it wasn't  any different this year either, despite tropical temperatures, with tens of thousands of people coming back to Strážnice again.  more

On the 100th anniversary of the birth of poet Jiří Orten, the company ProArt prepared a multi-genre project called Ohnice – Where the Wind Is Dancing in the former Brno penitentiary on Cejl Street. The poetic production with verses of the young poet, which reflected his hard and short life, was premiered on 25 June.  more

The twenty-fourth season  of the Concentus Moraviae international music festival came to an end after almost a month of rich musical experiences. Musical works, thematically labelled as the Concert of Nations, guided the festival visitors around thirteen picturesque Moravian towns and gave them a taste of key musical works of (not only) European nations. All this was moreover served in the interpretation of more than twenty world-famous ensembles. With the conscious transnational, cross-border concept overreaching the Czech border, the festival organizers chose the Golden Hall of the renowned Musikverein Concert House as a suitable venue for the closing evening. The extraordinary finals of the 24th season opened thus a series of Concerts of Czech-Austrian Partnership and at the same time announced  the celebration of the festival's quarter of a century to be celebrated next year. In accordance with this symbolic overture of the concert, the main star of the festival was the patron of the festival and famous singer Magdalena Kožená, accompanied by the no less famous Collegium 1704 orchestra led by Václav Luks.  more

One of the biggest promises of the 24th Concentus Moraviae international festival was yesterday’s concert of the legendary Borodin Quartet, whose unique sound is the result not only of hard work but also collaboration with the composer Dmitri Shostakovich. This personal and interpretive trail still influences the group and is passed on to each new member. The programme took place in the library of the castle in Náměšť nad Oslavou , where in the 18th and 19th centuries it was the residence music-loving Haugwitz family. The music of Sergei Prokofiev, Joseph Haydn and Dmitri Shostakovich could be heard by the audience in a venue that was more than merely dignified.  more

In the summer months Špilberk Castle’s courtyard often resounds to the sound of music. Until September it is possible to combine a tour of the castle with a cultural experience. The organizers have tried to prepare a programme across genres that has something for everyone. Yesterday it was the turn of folk music. Despite the adverse weather the stage was dominated by the Military Art Ensemble Ondráš.  more

The last premiere of the Brno opera season for the first time ever and rather unusually combined two works. The Janáček Theatre presented the surrealist opera Three Fragments of Juliette by Bohuslav Martinů along with the small opera work The Human Voice by Francis Poulenc. The composed evening, with direction and stage design by David Radok, brought together two almost absurd worlds. And this connection was indeed remarkable dramaturgically, visually but also interpretatively.  more


The travelling opera company Opera on the Road, which has been producing opera performances since 2012 and travelling with them around cultural "suburbs", is preparing a new premiere of a comic opera called Les Amours De Ragonde or Every Woman Wants   Love. It will be presented at the castle theatre in Valtice and in the garden of the Jurkovič Villa in Brno. The title roles feature Andrea Široká, Roman Hoza and Josef Škarka. The ensemble Concerto Aventino will take care of the music accompaniment.  more

Summer courses of the Guitar Institute are coming up soon – a five-day series of lessons, workshops and outdoor concerts in Brno cafés and clubs. This year's lecturers include Klára Hemplová, David Pšenčík and Gabriel Červeňák. During the courses, participants can choose among genres such as rock & heavy, jazz-blues, pop-folk (acoustic guitar), flamenco or classical music.  more

For four days, the centre of Brno turned into a vibrant metropolis full of music of many genres that were heard virtually everywhere. Brno reaffirmed during this extended weekend that it deserves to be a UNESCO City of Music. Most of the productions were free of charge, the paid ones were sold out and even the shows were added. The attendance estimated by the organizer is 35 thousand people. It was played in the squares, in the streets, on the balconies, but also in the underground, in the town hall, in the arcade or in the churches. This year's specials were concerts in four street rooms by the artist Kateřina Šedá.  more

Janáček Opera invites its audience backstage. The premiere meeting with the directors' duo SKUTR, conductor Ondrej Olos and soloists from the upcoming production of The Tales of Hoffmann will take place in September.  more

Four days of August, twenty-two music stages, dozens of concerts and performances, hundreds of performers and thousands of spectators. All this is promised by the Brno Music Marathon 2019 international festival, which will burst out in just a week, on 8 August 2019. Concerts in the streets and squares will be accessible for free, featuring among others Jana Kirschner, Khoiba, Motionhouse and NoFit State Circus, Monika Bagárová, Jan P. Muchow & The Antagonists, Progres 2, Žamboši or Pacora Trio with Denisa Kopačková. Buskers will play in dwelling rooms on the streets, barrel organ players will appear as part of their 10th international meeting. DJ Jon Hopkins, known for his cooperation with Coldplay, will also come to Brno. Cirk La Putyka and Pokáč are coming, and Lázně Rašínova [Rašínova Spa] will be occupied by opera singers and synchronised swimming. Music will sound also in the underground, in a mall, in churches, in a hotel or in the Town Hall.  more

From the second half of August the grand courtyard of Špilberk Castle will once more host an open-air music festival with an international line-up. The Špilberk Festival traditionally offers four concerts and two ‘cine-concerts’. The guests for this year’s 20th festival include among others the overall winner of Talentmania Patricia Janečková and the Grammy award winners The Klezmatics.   more

On Saturday, the opening of the Folk Holidays international festival in Náměšť nad Oslavou will take place. This year, the festival enters its 34th season with names such as Edmar Castañeda, Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita, Félix Lajkó & VOŁOSI, Rura, Lenka Dusilová, Hana and Petr Ulrych or Spiritual Quintet.  more

The 27th annual session of the Beseda u Bigbítu [Debate over Bigbeat] will take place traditionally in Tasov near Veselí nad Moravou. The festival represents the independent music scene and hosts bands from all over the world. Among the most eagerly anticipated groups this year are International Teachers of Pop from the UK, The Kill Devil Hills from Australia and Algiers from Atlanta.  more

Znojmo Music Festival enters its 15th season this year. The programme includes concerts, opera performances, gastronomy and a programme for children. The opening concert, performed by the patron of the festival Pavel Šporcl and the PKF - Prague Philharmonia under the baton of Derek Gleeson, is dedicated to the reminder of the fall of the Iron Curtain. The culmination of the festival is the premiere of the scenic oratorio Saul by G. F. Handel. The title roles will be performed by Andreas Scholl and Adam Plachetka. The show will be directed by Tomáš Pilař.  more

The 165th anniversary of the birth of Leoš Janáček falls on today, Wednesday 3 July 2019. Janáček is one of our opera composers most frequently played abroad. TIC Brno dedicated a tram to him for his birthday this year, with the main characters from his operas graphically rendered by Brno artist Vendulka Chalánková. Janáček also has his own website, an educational trail, a memorial and an opera festival.  more