Every year, from the end of November to December 6, the people of Quito in Ecuador celebrate the foundation of the city. They call it Fiestas de Quito and it takes many forms. There are bullfights, parades, dancing in the street and of course the famous chivas – buses or lorries crammed with people dancing and drinking to loud music.
I was fortunate to witness all this happening. The highlight of the festivities for me was walking along La Ronda. It’s the historic centre of the city with all the little shops and restaurants offering traditional delicacies and products. Seeing all the bands and dancers march on the La Ronda was a very special experience.
I saw some street artists on La Ronda. One was creating breathtakingly beautiful images with a technique I’d never seen before. He sprayed paint on canvas and altered it using different tools like pieces of paper, a razor and other unconventional brushes. I watched him make a picture from scratch in about 15 minutes and it looked like the result of hundreds of hours of work. I was so impressed I would have liked to buy one of his paintings, but not having a permanent wall to put it on, I just gave him some money.
And I admired him. A lot.
For having the balls to do what he loves doing despite the uncertainty he had to live with all the time.
I met Sandra in the last weeks of my stay in Quito, Ecuador. She is also someone who has the balls to do something she loves despite all the challenges that creates for her.
Sandra is native Ecuadorian, but speaks perfect English. She studied in the US and has a very open mind, but she has also been faithful to her Ecuadorian cultural heritage as a musician.
With her partner Martha Artola, they play high quality music that has traditional Ecuadorian roots and is spiced with modern elements under the name of Duo Passionato. They have recently finished recording their second album of Latin American music that I liked very much personally. It’s the kind of music you’d listen to when you’re in the mood for something deep, exciting and inspiring.
I asked Sandra why she is a musician. She replied without thinking: “I do music because I am madly in love with it.”
She also told me the story of how she fell in love with music: “After I heard a jazz pianist play in a bar something changed inside of me, the way I approached music changed completely. I love playing for people now. I enjoy sharing it. I had been scared to play in front of people before. Now, I feel more comfortable on stage than in my mother’s house. The way it happened was this pianist started playing, and I just cried throughout the whole concert, like I couldn’t control myself… that never happened to me before. I had to meet this person. He invited me to play and we became great friends. He is my mentor really.”
I love that story. Not only because it’s literally falling in love, but also because it proved to be a real, lasting passion. Several years later she is just as crazy if not more about music.
Sandra also shared a beautiful thought about music as the universal language of the world: “It’s fascinating how there are expressions in each language that are impossible to translate, because there are life situations or things that are unique to a culture so other languages don’t have the same concept. That’s why I’d like to speak all languages in the world. But that’s impossible so I play music, the ultimate language that everybody understands.”
I think that’s so true. I used to be a musician myself for a fair bit of time and played in front of audiences in many countries. I was always amused to see how we got the same reactions from any crowd regardless of nationality. Music can’t be misunderstood as it touches on our basic emotions that all humans share.
I asked Sandra the inevitable question, whether she can make a living as a musician and if she might like to play more commercial music that sells easier.
“I play and write music that comes from my heart. If I let my rational mind choose what kind of music I play, I’d be going against myself. I’d rather have 5 people listen to the music that comes from my heart than 5 million to something I’m playing because it makes more money.”
You may call that having integrity, or principles, but it’s more than that. In a society that adores consumption, and conditions everybody to put money before everything (Ecuador is no exception), it takes more than principles to swim against the current.
It takes tremendous courage, conviction and a pinch of stubbornness.
I wish more people had what it takes. If enough people did, the current itself might change directions eventually.