There is something really special about hearing live music in an intimate setting. I’ve got my headphones plugged in all day and am constantly listening to music, but it does not compare to having a shared experience with a group of people and nothing between you and the raw sound.
I was mesmerized by Colombian/American classical guitarist Nilko Andreas when I first heard him play a few years ago. It was at a cafe downtown, it was late, I had had a few mojitos, and I got totally lost in the wide range of music he played. Some pieces were quiet and introspective, others made me want to jump on my table and dance (okay, it could have also been the mojitos).
I hope you can join us for our private concert with Nilko, and I hope you too can get to know him a little bit better through his words and his music!
What initially attracted you to the guitar?
I will never forget as a child listening to an old recording by the great guitarist Andres Segovia playing the immortal Bach’s chaconne. It was not the actual piece or the composer that called my attention (at that time I couldn’t recognize the names), but the sound of an old vinyl. It’s that particular sound of old recordings that captured my imagination, and I felt as if something magical had happened inside of me. Since then, I started to look for more recordings and one day, I told my father that I wanted to become the greatest guitarist of the world.
The guitar is a whole world in itself. It is the instrument that is most connected with culture and musical traditions, especially in Latin America, where I come from. Since the old days, people have always plucked string instruments and accompanied themselves with the guitar while singing. I think these elements have made the guitar a vehicle to transmit human feelings and experiences in a very practical way.
Lot of different cultures have embraced the guitar as an outlet for their music, from classical guitar, to Spanish music, to Rock and Roll. What is it about the guitar that resonates with so many different types of people, time periods, and cultures?
The main reason is that the guitar is a very complete instrument and, at the same time, it’s easy to handle due to its size and practicality. We can play harmonies, melodies, and a bass line — and all of this at the same time, if needed. Only the piano, marimba, organ, and harp can do this, but the guitar is smaller and easier to access. Therefore, it’s the more practical way to express human feelings through song and/or compositions for solo guitar.
You have performed all over the world. How has music helped you share ideas across cultures?
Music is a very effective way to express feelings. When an idea is expressed through music, it has a stronger impact on the human soul and can transcend the barriers of language. When the composer writes a piece related to, say, “bringing peace to the world,” words are not necessary: the audience is going to understand that there is something about peace in that work.
Music expresses feelings that words simply cannot: we understand happiness, or sadness, when we hear it in music cause we feel happy or sad. Words help us to understand these concepts intellectually, but it is through art — music, in this case — that we actually feel them.
When someone comes to one of your concerts, what might surprise them?
Because of the place where I come from and the kind of music I was exposed to growing up, there is a strong tendency in my playing to bring out the folk elements in a a piece. I express the human unconsciousness, the feelings of the peasants in the market, the little boy falling in love — these expressions are important for me. I consider them to be the foundation of our existence; even if I’m playing Bach or Mozart, I will always try to focus on bringing out the essence of the composition and the initial source of inspiration that led those composers to write such a piece.
Of course, I have been thinking about this idea for many years and I’m sure there will be more to come, but for now that’s what I think might be most surprising.
Who are some of your favorite composers to play and why?
That varies depending on the time and mood, but lately I have been studying and listening to the great Russian composer Shostakovich, who had a strong political output in his music. Perhaps I am into his music lately because in today’s world, it is difficult not to think about politics.
A lifelong favorite has always been Beethoven, not only because he was a technical genius but also an amazing human being — we all have a lot to learn from him. Agustin Barrios from Paraguay and Francisco Tarrega from Spain are key figures in the guitar world; they were both inspired by the “folksy” feelings of their regions, and have translated those sentiments into masterpieces for the classical guitar. It’s always a joy to play their music.
What is the best part about being a professional musician? The hardest part?
Traveling for both!
Being able to travel and get in touch and acquainted with different cultures is the best part of being an artist. We learn so much from other cultures, and this learning is what gives us elements to create and discover our own voice so that eventually we can share it.
Traveling is also the hardest part: you have to deal with Airports, delays, cancellations, jet lag, and constantly saying goodbye to the people you love.
I think finding the right balance helps us to bring out the best in any situation. That’s why I always find a little corner in every airport where I can practice my guitar while waiting.
How do you think being a musician has shaped how you view the world?
Music brings with it an essential understanding of the feelings of a culture, society, or group of people. If I want to understand how a community thinks, I listen to their music: folk, classical, whatever the genre is — it doesn’t matter so long as it’s an honest manifestation. When it comes to understanding the world, music is my way.
For example, when you listen to flamenco from Andalucía in Spain, you don’t need to read a book to understand their historical suffering and the passion of their souls. The “Flamenco history” and experiences are reflected in the music. After sharing with them and listening to their music, you feel you have learned an immense amount about their world. history, and experiences.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be more creative?
Expose yourself to different cultures and feed your soul with new experiences — even if you think you won’t like it or enjoy it, you might be surprised. There is always something to learn, there is always something new that will reflect itself in your own creativity.