Straight from Colombia with an original background and a load of talent, Jhon William Castaño Montoya, aka Montoya, is part of that huge movement of artists experimenting with traditional and electronic music.
Jhon is a violinist and a composer and his sound is a charming blend of delicate and cheerful melodies with jazz latin remarks and electronic broken beats. Even though he was classically trained at a top notch music academy, he believes travelling, researching and listening to music are the perfect elements to create and develop ideas that, no matter their diversity, can go anywhere.
Montoya is performing at Rooty, a series of talks and live events exploring electronic music and the sound of our roots. To find out more about his incredible work and we had a chat with him!
GRIOT: Tell us how your artistic journey started. Where did you grow up and how did you start playing?
Montoya: I was 9 years old when I started studying music at a music school in my city called “Scolani Santa Cecilia”. I was very lucky to be part of a musical movement inspired by the Venezuelan orchestra system. Now most of my friends are either working as musicians in Colombia’s best orchestras or travelling the world making music, like I do.
What brought you to experiment with the violin and electronic sounds?
It was a random series of events. I got into Fabrica – the communications research centre owned by Benetton in Treviso (Italy) – and thanks to this opportunity I had the time and space to research, experiment and share ideas.
Why did you move to Italy? And why did you decide to stay?
I moved to Italy in 2001. Somehow, a cycle of my life in Colombia had come to an end, life, love, work, friends moving abroad etc. So I felt the need to leave too, my brother was waiting for me in Italy and when I got there I thought it was great. Of course at the beginning it’s never easy, but then I started making friends, having dreams and it was natural for me to stay.
Do your ideas come from the violin, your research, or what else?
I think the creative development of my ideas is a kind of mystery! Because I never make two tracks in the same way. Though for sure, travelling and listening to lots of music is the perfect combination for ideas to flourish.
You are a multi-instrumentalist. What do you play other than the violin and stones? – Mohs is an incredible project you created at Fabrica in which you use sounds made with stones and harmonic structures to explore connections among people.
When I was studying at the conservatory I had to learn to play piano – I am actually glad they had that policy! With regards to Mohs, I can say that it was an amazing project and a very important period of my life without which I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
You live in Italy, so you are an immigrant and your music is all about your cultural diversity. How do you live the general atmosphere of hatred and fear towards others? Do you feel it’s the same in the music industry?
Yes, you can definitely sense fear, but I believe silent masses will prevail. Unfortunately you always hear about those burning palm trees or denying access to migrants in small councils and never about examples of mutual solidarity. It is very important at this time to think how to make diversity be seen as fundamental for our society. I think it’s different for the music industry, where you do whatever makes money. Certainly in this environment different ideas often struggle to get through, but I believe music has the power to go anywhere, whether people listen to it or not.
You performed at Sonar in Bogotà as one of the representatives of the new Colombian scene. So, how would you describe it and which artists do you recommend?
The colombian music scene is very rich, you can find amazing artists for each genre. In my particular scene I can recommend Bleepolar, who played with me, his dj sets are very engaging and full of rhythms; El Leopardo who plays crazy psychedelic cumbia; Dany F who performs at the best festivals in Latin America, that’s how Bomba Estéreo was also born ten years ago, from the underground till it became what it is today.
In 2015 you released Iwa, a very impressive record, what are your projects for the future? New albums? More research?
With Iwa I managed to finally find the type of sound I want, so my next album will certainly be a follow up in terms of structures and sound. I would like to release it next June and I’m very excited and curious to see what I’ll come up with.
If you’re in Florence next Saturday 18th of March, you can see Montoya performing live at Rooty at Circolo Culturale urbano BUH!. Before the show Jhon will take part in a conversation on Cumbia in the international electronic music scene, with Bia and Andrea Mi, the curator of the festival. More info here.
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I’m a very eclectic person with an obsession for music, writing and sociology. I was born and raised in Italy, but London has been my second home for over a decade. Here I make music, DJ, write, dance, sing and bake.