Interview with Chilean harp player Gonzalo Araya -- considered by many to be the best in Chile

"I think because there is a strong connection with emotional things and there is a lot of people that just love that beat and they don’t have idea why, probably is because it’s related with the heart beat in a natural way."

Gonzalo Araya: Heart Beat Blues

Gonzalo Araya is considered by many to be the best Blues Harp player in Chile. He was born in the city of Rancagua in Chile in 1976, and began to play the harmonica when he was 17 when a relative gave him the instrument for his birthday. It was love at first sight! Not too long after, Gonzalo discovered the Blues when a friend lent him the recordings of some famous blues players. Ever since then the Blues became one of the most important influences in his life. He took to the instrument like a duck to water and as soon as 1999 joined a Brazilian band called Johnny Jam & Blue Turkey with whom he continued to learn about the harp, the different styles of Blues and its best players including those from Chicago, the Delta, Texas, etc. 

Throughout the years, Gonzalo has collaborated in a diversity of bands in Chile and other countries such as Brazil and Argentina where he performed in the Mendoza Blues Festival as a special guest for "De la Calle Blues Band". Other important Latin American bands that he has played with include: Johnny Jam & Blue Turkey, El Cruce, Ivan Ariste, Castillo Blues Band, Borbotones Blues Band, Vintage Blues, Azambujas Blues Band (Brazil), Alex Rossi & Crazy Dogs (Brazil), Fernando Noronha & BLACK SOUL (Brazil), Vinicius Silveira (Brazil), and Miguel Botafogo (Argentina), among others.

For the last few years he has gone down the self-taught road, but has always been informed by the true Blues Masters. He has great respect for the Chilean harp player, Juan Moya, who participated with the Alegro Trio. Moya taught Gonzalo the intricacies of the chromatic harmonica. He was also guided by Alexandre Rossi from Brazil, a player who really understands the spirit of the Blues. Gonzalo´s love for the harmonica has motivated him to continue studying the instrument and exploring other musical styles to the point when today he is an acclaimed artist in his own right and the MOST sought after artist on the national scene. All other experienced Blues players who have performed with this exciting and generous bluesman will attest to his unique style, talent and charisma.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

I think I’m still learning about different aspect and situation of life, I always followed my instincts and heart, I left my country because I fallen in love with a girl from Brazil, then I realized that everything is hard when you are not in your comfort zone, Blues is teaching me a lot of things, I had bad moments but also I had a lot of great moments in life. For me, Blues is a state of feeling.

How do you describe Gonzalo Araya sound and what characterize your music philosophy?

Well, for me there is no mystery in what I do but it's very important to do it with feeling and passion, if not there is something missing. I like to play in a melodic way something, I think about figures and lines in my head and then I moved them to my instrument. Sometimes I inspire myself with violins lines.

"I think it’s a good experience to play in both different conditions. You learn a lot from those experiences."

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

I think because there is a strong connection with emotional things and there is a lot of people that just love that beat and they don’t have idea why, probably is because it’s related with the heart beat in a natural way.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Certainly the best musical experiences that I had was when I opened the shows of Eric Clapton. I’m very proud and lucky to say that I’m the only Chilean musician that opened the show for Clapton twice in life. That was a few years ago, 4th October 2001 and year 2011 in Santiago of Chile with Miguel Botafogo from Argentina. Other good experiences were sharing stage with Bob Margolin, Bob Stronger, Phillip Walker and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith among other musicians. The best advice that I received once was from Andrew “Jr. Boy” Jones from Texas, he said something like this: If your woman is watching your show in some places you still have to play for all the other girls that are watching your show, it's just part of the show…well, my girlfriend doesn't like that statement (laughs).  

Are there any memories from gigs, jams and workshops which you’d like to share with us?

Well, through my musical life experience I have play in different kind of shows, stages, sometimes with minimal conditions to perform and sometime with real pro conditions. I think it’s a good experience to play in both different conditions. You learn a lot from those experiences.

"Blues is teaching me a lot of things, I had bad moments but also I had a lot of great moments in life. For me, Blues is a state of feeling."

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Well, I think that blues scene is getting bigger every day because there are a lot of new generation of musicians but make a living of music is hard even if you are in Europe or South America, things are expensive and then you have a family to support, I think all that kind of situations are exactly the same from the past and they are gonna persist on time. Difficulty.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would disappear DJ’s lol…come on man, get a real instrument to play !!

Make an account of the case of the blues in Chile. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Well, I don't live in Chile since almost 2 years but I can tell you that there are some interesting bands that are still playing and working hard like to produce their own material, for instance there is “La Banda del Capitan Corneta”, Agua Turbia, Magnolia, Vintage and El Cruce (those are my favorites one).

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from States to Chile and the Latin America?

I think the history related to political episodes, there was a lot of pain and lost those days. There are some similarities with other countries from South America for share.

"I think that blues scene is getting bigger every day because there are a lot of new generation of musicians but make a living of music is hard even if you are in Europe or South America, things are expensive and then you have a family to support, I think all that kind of situations are exactly the same from the past and they are gonna persist on time." (Photo: Gonzalo Araya with Rick Estrin, Flávio Guimarães, Joe Filisko & friends)

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

Well, I think I’m proud of my Chilean students and I’m glad that a few of them are working on some nice musical projects.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Interesting question… let me see… I think would like to come back to Sweden to explore a little bit more the musical roots from there, also the landscapes were just amazing!

Is it easier to write and play the blues as you get older? What is your BLUES DREAM? Happiness is…

Happiness is hard to get but once you learn how to be happy you’ll never lost that and please, always follow your dreams. 

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