10 questions with Visiting Professor of Music Jose Martinez

The Bogota music scene is known for its variety.

Spotlight: Visiting Music Professor Jose Martinez discusses different sound landscapes as a coastal Colombian and metal head 

Professor of music, composer and rock music connoisseur Jose Martinez recounts the Rock scene in Bogota and life as an immigrant. Injecting his Latin identity into conversatory music, Martinez explains the incorporation of soundscapes in his composition as a coastal Colombian and former metal head. 

1. Who is your current favorite Latin music artist? 

It changes every day. Today I woke up listening to Grupo Niche which is a salsa group.

2. What bands did you listen to growing up? 

Dream Theater made me think about music in different ways. It made me realize the amount of rehearsal it takes to make quality metal music. Especially as a percussionist, the amount of practice that is asked of me. I also really liked Metallica’s attitude. 

3. How did you mend your Rock identity in your upbringing? 

I was definitely part of the Rock scene in Bogota. The weather is really humid but I would still wear all black, go to shows, mosh. I loved it. It was a way to negate the dominated culture of clubbing. 

4. What was the predominant sound landscape in Bogota? 

 Salsa music was always all around. And I hated it. That is one of the main reasons I explored heavy metal and classical music. Because it was the opposite of that sort of culture. Now that I am here, I realize salsa music is quite a unique thing. And people here ask me a lot of questions about it, so I’ve come to appreciate it. 

5. What was the Rock music scene like in Bogota? 

There is a huge rock scene there, like Rock al Parque. I played in a heavy metal band and I actually played in Rock al Parque in 2008. It was called Fractal Flesh and I was the drummer. I have a lot of friends here and they talk about bands and it’s funny because I’ve watched most of them in Bogota. It’s a running joke between all of us to keep a list of bands I haven’t watched because I’ve seen so many in Colombia. Bands will go to Bogota and won’t go anywhere else in South America. The music scene is really lively. 

6. When did you move from Colombia? 

I moved to Missouri to start my masters degree in Kansas City at the University of Missouri in Composition in 2013. I met my wife, I had great opportunities. I went from a city of 9,000,000 people where there’s lots of traffic, public transportation and I arrived in a city of 100,000 thousand people. 

7. How did the shift in location affect your identity? 

As an immigrant you are expected to share parts of your identity. “How’s the food, how is the music?” You are asked all these questions and sometimes you aren’t ready to answer because you don’t answer these questions yourself, because why would you? There isn’t a time where you define the identity yourself. But when you move out – you are Colombian. Your national identity precedes your occupation. Having to foreground my cultural identity for other people was something I needed to learn to do. And at the time I wasn’t ready to answer those questions. On the other hand, I learned to believe that, as an immigrant, we have the capacity to look back and revisit from the outside. 

8. What themes do you explore in your music? 

Right now I am exploring themes of identity and migration in Latin America. 

9. On your website, it states that you incorporate Colombian folk music in your music. What aspects of it do you inject in your work? 

I use Currulao. Which is traditional pacific Colombian music. I am from Cali which is on the west coast so I grew up listening to it. It has a marimba, but it is a different type of marimba I was learning in the conservatory I was a part of. It had the same physicality. The instruments used are handmade. It’s two drums, a shaker, bombo, and a singer. So it is only percussion. There are no bass or wind instruments. So the only melodic content is the voice.  I used two pieces where I used Currulao. It’s a way to explore my black identity as a Colombian. 

10. How has your Latin-American identity informed your approach to composing?

How I don’t do it is refraining from using traditional melodies. I focus on the rhythm of the music. I have a piece called Mutaciones. I use the rhythm that the Bombo plays and give it to the strings. I try to garner a ‘pulse’ in the music by breaking the barrier between the audience and musicians. 

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