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Jazz Musician Is No Angel On The Harp

Edmar Castaneda plays a traditional instrument of the cowboys who work the plains of Colombia: the harp. It's much lighter than the harp played in symphony orchestras, and it plays a key role in Colombian country music, where songs can become elaborate boasts or cutting contests.

Castaneda says he fell in love with the instrument as a boy in Bogota — and that, save for a few weeks of lessons, he is self-taught.

"I go into it," he says, "and I just — my fingers go, you know?"

When Castaneda was 16, though, he moved with his family to New York. There, he discovered jazz — Charlie Parker, Chick Corea. He started playing in restaurants and toting his harp to jam sessions. He's created a personal style that blends elements of both kinds of music.

"My father always wanted me to be a trumpet player," Castaneda says. "Then I came [to the U.S.], and in high school here, they have bands. They didn't have harps. And then I wanted to play jazz. So I went to college playing the trumpet, and it was great, because I learned all the jazz improvisation, and I just passed it to the harp."

These days, he performs with the likes of singer Lila Downs and Latin jazz bandleader Paquito D'Rivera. Castaneda recently tried to describe his approach to playing to independent producer David Schulman for the Musicians in Their Own Words series.

"Rhythm, the groove, you know? I like a lot of groove," he says. "Sometimes, [audiences] think of the harp as, like, angels' music. So I say, 'Oh, we're going to have a party with the angels.' "

Click the link at the top of the page to hear the full feature with Edmar Castaneda.

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David Schulman