Guitarist Victor Hugo Lopez Bustamente is a staple on the Latin scene here in Winnipeg—you’ve probably seen him perform with Trio Bembe or Papa Mambo. A recent graduate of the Jazz Studies program, Victor’s tastes are eclectic, running the gamut of jazz stylings, and out into funk, fusion, and hip hop. He’s just back from Chile and his first international gigs—he recorded with Orquesta Negroson and hit the stage with Chachareo, two terrific salsa groups. Curious? Drop by The Wednesday Night Hang, or Hermanos on a Saturday evening. Or catch the big Latin Strings concert on March 24, when Trio Bembe makes some magic with musicians from the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra…
When did you start playing guitar?
I didn’t pick up the guitar until I was in high school, but I was familiar with it by then—my mother has played in a folkloric Chilean group here in Winnipeg for years. I obviously had absorbed some of it because I remember when I was around 8, she was teaching a lesson to an older kid who wasn’t getting what she was asking. Being a precocious (and impatient) kid, I got fed up, walked over and showed him what to do.
I took a guitar course in high school thinking it would be a fun, easy credit. It was, but it was my year as a high school exchange student in Chile that really hooked me on guitar. I had a friend there who was an exceptional player—how he played, along with the regular parties and backyard jams at his place, lit a fire in me, and made me determined to become a musician.
How does your cultural identity factor in your playing?
Culture is a bit of a complex topic for me, as I’m sure it is for most second-generation Canadians. On one hand, you have the language and traditions and music of your parents’ home country, both the traditional stuff and the vernacular that keeps channeling in from relatives far away. On the other hand, you have the languages, traditions, and music of your new home country. Add to this the fact that you are most likely connecting with peers who are also from other parts of the world, so you get a sprinkling of what they bring with them too. Plus of course the specific expressions attached to youth culture. All of these influence your aesthetics, your vocabulary, and your musical palette.
So as you might imagine, the musical styles and genres I enjoy playing are as eclectic as the musical influences that were part of my daily life growing up. I love playing South and Central American and Cuban/Puerto-Rican music, because I grew up with it. I love playing jazz and R&B, and I like mixing in a hip hop aesthetic, because those are also genres that I grew up with.
What is on your playlist these days?
I actually got into jazz through listening to hip hop. A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, De La Soul, Black Moon, Gangstarr, The Pharcyde, Erik B and Rakim, Digable Planets, Lighter Shade of Brown, Mellow Man Ace—listening to these groups made me want to seek out the lush chords, bass lines, and grooves of musicians they were sampling. So lately I’ve been digging through to find the sources, then listening to the tracks and then full albums. This process has opened up a lot of great artists to me, including Ahmad Jamal, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Minnie Ripperton, and Grover Washington Jr, among others. I also listen to a lot of Latin music—my current favourite is the ridiculously talented Cuban fusion project, The Pedrito Martinez Group (PMG). (More on them in the dreamscapes article in this issue!)
What life lessons have you learned from jazz?
The biggest thing I’ve learned is to embrace the fear of failure and do the thing you’re uncomfortable with—basically, expand your comfort zone. I’ve actually revised this slightly and rewired myself to search out opportunities where I know I will likely fail, at least in the beginning. My mantra now: “there is no failure, only learning opportunities.”
Jazz has taught me to become a more process-oriented person, and to enjoy the process of growing, learning, practicing, and listening deeply. I’ve learned to be more present and aware, more in the moment, acting and reacting to what is around me—what my bandmates are doing, what the venue feels like, my own emotions and thoughts. I can see all these disciplines carrying over into other parts of my life.