Who is Julian De La Chica?
Brooklyn based, Colombian composer Julian De la Chica, is releasing his new album Irreverence — a musical journey that ranges from genres such as Neo-classical, ambient, electronic to hip hip. For this reason, I decided to reach him, and ask him to grant me this interview. Later, Julian agreed to receive me in his apt in Brooklyn, NY, and here are some excerpts from this interview and my experience with him.
By Ricardo Díaz De La Vega
When I was a young boy I remember reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and finding myself profoundly surprised by the first lines of the novel as if it was a prophecy, asking for who would later become the most legendary character, a paradigm of the world that she dreamed: “Who is John Galt?” Without a doubt and with the same confidence that he can distinguish between talent and improvisation, natural and artificial, I must start these lines asking: Who is Julián De La Chica?
If we must say something about El Vagabundo, as many people calls him, it is that even his life looks like a myth, some legend or fiction. He’s a real character, and his life is more than anything a series of nonequivalent realities, and when he puts it out there, we can see a thousand perspectives of multiple dimensions. Through his own personal experiences, Julian takes us to different places, stories and travels that personify a certain theme for a novel, and maybe that’s why (intentionally or not) he reached to become that character that a lot of people dream about. But he has also reached the moral line of the legendary “Hero of Rand”, and he simply had always displayed only his true self and his passion for his work through his utmost dedication, effort and imagination.
“However, it was not until the age of 7 where Julian started his true artistic journey with his first debut performance. He remembers, “my feet couldn’t reach the pedals” and had to wear a tuxedo that his mom rented for $2 from a costume shop”
His romance with music started when he was 4 years old. De La Chica started learning to playing the piano through private lessons with music professor Martha Londoño, who taught him everything in regards to vocals and the musical alphabet. Soon after, he improved his technique and music theory with other professors until he entered the School of the Arts for children and started to receive lessons from Olga Gonzalez. However, it was not until the age of 7 where Julian started his true artistic journey with his first debut performance. He remembers, “My feet couldn’t reach the pedals and I had to wear a tuxedo that my mom rented for $2 from a costume shop”. Then came the concerts, which was a in fact a rare mix of the life of a child and that of a prodigy that was being recognized and celebrated by his talent: in school events, in music competitions, Christmas and New Year acts, in which we would find Julian living the reason why he was brought into this world in the first place. His first grand performance (after his debut) came when he was only 14 years old in a fully booked auditorium with more than 2000 people. His performances mainly included classic compositions, and during those times Julian was very influenced by romantic composers, particularly Beethoven and Chopin.
Julian welcomes us into his home with warm hospitality, and his gestures instantly indicate to us that he is the ultimate gentleman. Initially Julian has a shy demeanor, he is a man of a few words, yet as our conversation continues Julian begins to speak in the most poetic fashion. It is clear that if he was not a musical performer and composer, he would have certainly made words his work of art. He speaks of music with such confidence and vast knowledge reminiscent of his former academic composers. Later, we are privileged to hear Julian on the piano, as he plays The Aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations and fragments of The hours by Philip Glass. “They are pieces that I like it a lot”, he confesses with a “childlike” enthusiasm, remembering how much Puccini’s Tosca moves him. Despite being a pianist fundamentally inspired by classical music, he also has a soft spot for the current trends of electronic music, and often visits Manhattan’s East Village to explore the newest upcoming musicians. Julian shares that “it’s something that I always think about, seeing how I can emulate those sounds in my own musical pieces.” Julian in his music makes references to today’s artists that influence contemporary music like Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, or electronic artists such as Bjork for whom he has great appreciation for. After one hour of a magical performance and “bulletproof” personality as he calls it, we snap back to reality and begin the interview.
RD - Who is Julian De La Chica? Can you define with one word, play or city who you are and what you look for in life?
JD - Well, I am a man with many questions… My life is very quiet, full of friends and music. I conform to certain social behaviors that are common for a man my age, in which they allow me a sense of satisfaction and personal growth. I feel very fortunate to have been able to rely on music (in its multiple facets of performing and composing), which also leads me to ask questions on a daily basis in turn providing myself with ample opportunity to reflect and reach the answers to my own questions. On a daily basis I realize the importance of growth and the process of evolution, it is essential to analyze and reflect different circumstances, experiences, for in return I am able to reach a clearer state of mind. I have learned that if you put in practice your experiences, the end of any path that you take in life becomes much easier. That’s why I can say that I focus on more important situations and I put aside any irrelevant circumstances. I am currently developing a character and a personality that allows me to live each day to the fullest, and my artistic creation is the center of my universe.
I feed my soul, and it starts from the idea that the spirit is the one who guides everything and everyone, and those who possess a harmonic spiritual life will see things in a positive light of happiness. Although I am sometimes shy and reserved, I always enjoy socializing in any outing with my friends. And, like any other guy of my age (and may I mention my Latin heritage), I feel happy, there’s always some place to go and I know how to have fun. I wake up every morning thinking this could be the last day of my life, and that’s the motto that I try to live by. I have my hands to play the piano, my mind and soul to compose music, and the path I lead in which what lies ahead is unknown, is a fascinating surprise… What more I could I ask for? Now, if you ask me about one thing that could define Julian De La Chica, I would have to say “New York”, because it is the city of love and hate, a city of magical energy that defies logic and rationality, a city of daily contrasts which constantly inspires me and that’s how I feel and wish to be.
RD - Tell us about your family and Manizales, your childhood and upbringing. How was your first encounter with music and the piano, and how or when did you find out that you wanted to devote yourself to music?
JD - Manizales is a wonderful city. It’s small yet abundant in culture at just about every corner, a city of “tango” tradition, pasodobles, and with a unique coffee aroma. My childhood was at the height of bullfighting, and my family is very traditional, religious, humble, and indeed a very happy one. My parents have professed love to one another (until this day) and they made their dreams a reality together, which made my brothers and I their biggest admirers. I reminisce how we used to spend Christmas in this little town, a few hours away from the main city. I remember how many of us there were, the immensity of “good teachings” and values that we were taught. What I don’t remember is if there was a specific moment that triggered my love for music, considering she was always present since the day I was born. My entire family has always loved music. We are each musically talented in some way, some of us play instruments while other sing. The thing that I will never forget is my first piano lesson with my teacher Martha Londoño when I was 5. My parents owned a small business near the Manizales Sport Zone, and Miss Martha Londono’s home was nearby. I remember standing on her door to listen to her piano lessons with other students. As my mother realized this, she took me to Miss Martha’s class…that is how my love affair with the piano began. After some years, I entered the conservatory and I owe the rest of the story to my desire and will power to take music to every corner of the planet. Shortly after I started playing many public performances and I began studying and traveling around the world, which allowed me to focus on music in a more professional and structured manner.
RD - Out of all the places you’ve lived in, which country would you say has influenced you the most in terms of personality, thoughts, and artistic work?
JD - I can say that Germany has served me very well. I started studying languages and some classic literature. During my time in Germany, I was able to develop my thought patterns, to be able to go further than what we normally perceive, and without a doubt I can honestly say that this life lesson has contributed to my music. Besides that, my comprehension of music, how she is to be composed and played, has changed completely. Let me tell you something… a musician needs to have his own concept, structures, and ideas to develop his/her own work, and as a result give their own music that meaning that they always wanted to project in order to reach their true destiny. That is the difference between prefabricated artists, and the real musicians. Yet every country I step into fulfills me with their culture and art, and these are key components to perfect my music, letting these elements influence her without having to change my own aesthetic. New York, the place that I call home, gives me the proper environment to polish my music and keep developing it in front of an audience that is very diverse and demanding. I could say that Germany has allowed me to discover my music, while New York helps me to develop that discovery.
RD - As you know New York is a very multi-cultural city, a permanent place for the artistic vanguard. How would you consider yourself? As a Latino artist or a Cosmopolitan artist?
JD - I just consider myself to be a musician who finds comfort and happiness through his music. I love New York, not because it’s always changing. I love New York because it offers the essential environment for developing my music, although I always carry my ideas around with me wherever I go. Sadly, I’ve tried taking my music to Colombia and it was not very well understood. But I’m not upset about it… I am also well aware that Latin American cultural development has occurred at a different pace. I try to remain enthusiastic, hoping that soon enough we can shorten these distances between the people and the musicians. I am hopeful that we, as musicians, will continue to come up with new ideas on how to grow with music. But above all I believe that music should have no nationality or serve another purpose other than bringing life to whoever listens to it. That is why I’m currently working in New York, because this city had helped me perfect the sound and color of my ideas. And, New York is always reflected in each one of my compositions. I have no doubt that New York has changed my life completely… it’s like there was a “before” and an “after”.
RD - You are an artist who likes to try different fields of art. Which one identifies you the most? A musician-pianist, or a composer-writer?
JD - Art has always been in my blood, much like music, completely independent from my talents. I mean, I can’t imagine my life without going to an opera or listening to a good concert; I love watching a good movie (I would sometimes watch 3 movies in one night), and I would cry at the end of Tosca without fail. When I paint, I feel like I am being transported to another world, and literature fascinates me. Now I do all these things without any work-related purposes. In other words, I compose because I need to do it, besides the fact that I could sell it or not, I do it because I feel the need for it. I have done some acting before, and if I ever get a good acting, of course I would love it. I write because I love to, and well, I also paint in my free time. Now, if your question is, “where am I more artistically inclined”, I wouldn’t know how to respond. It could be in all areas, or none at all. But as I mentioned before, I do art because I feel the need for it. What was once for work-related purposes can, as consequence, be transformed into simply a means of communicating and identifying with the public. I could tell you that art is the place where I can live my fantasies and its entire splendor, inexplicably in this world of anxiety and the terrible reality that we live. That is why I speak of this fantastical place as a universe created for my own livelihood.
RD - How long does it usually take for you to compose a piece or write a novel? What is the process that takes place behind your projects? Is there a certain method that you use to get yourself of a foggy mind or any frustrations that you may come across?
JD - Music comes to me naturally in a way that I don’t quite understand, and I don’t care to understand how either. “She” is the only one, she comes and goes, and I am only her notary. First comes the solid part, an uncut diamond, the communication, the philosophy, then comes the ego and the humanly quality: making her agree with your concepts, brainstorm some ideas, and make her interesting depending on the field of art or context, but the idea is always same. When there is a lull in creativity, it’s sad because I get depressed and lay in bed until it returns. I suppose this has much to do with my own mentality. Regarding the novels, I’m not a writer, but I love write. I have already written one short novel and I am currently working on an story based on my experiences here in NY: Short Stories at the Standard Hotel. It starts out as me sitting at the Standard Hotel in the West Village. The details are what are so special, like the perfume of the girl at the next table, the ticking of the clock of a man that sits nearby. The truth is, I have schedules for creativity, when she comes I start writing, composing, painting, or playing. And that how the work turn into reality.
“Paraphrasing a line of one my favorite films by Almodovar, I can tell you that fame doesn’t have taste or smell, and when you get used to it you almost don’t even feel it. I mean, fame doesn’t mean anything to me, I flourish when people enjoy my work. The search of the stories that occupy people’s minds and the fact that I can communicate with them is what inspires me on a daily basis” — Julian de la chica
RD - How and where do you see yourself in 20 years from now?
JD - Well, if I am alive and the world is still here after 2012 (he lets out a chuckle while referring to the prophecy), I see myself making music and being happy more than anything, enjoying day-to-day, traveling, and being a better human being…In general, enjoying what life has to offer. Workwise, I guess I continue to make music. Of course, if the “Universe” allows and if “she” still wants me.
RD - How does it feel to be young and be an artist with such success and recognition?
JD - Paraphrasing a line of one my favorite films by Almodovar, I can tell you that fame doesn’t have taste or smell, and when you get used to it you almost don’t even feel it. I mean, fame doesn’t mean anything to me, I flourish when people enjoy my work. The search of the stories that occupy people’s minds and the fact that I can communicate with them is what inspires me on a daily basis.