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Summer Music: Tijuana-Born Guitarist Israel Maldonado On His Musical Roots

Cover image for podcast episode

From his upbringing in Tijuana to life in Carlsbad, Maldonado opens up about his musical influences.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Concerts are on hold this summer, but not the KPBS summer music series. We've contacted some of San Diego's best known and best loved musicians to talk about what they do and play us some music on today's installment. We welcome to one, a born musician, Israel Maldonado. He's known for his unique take on Latin and Brazilian music as a classical guitar player, vocalist and percussionist. He's toured with bands, Agua, Dulce, and solely Mar and fronts, his own bands, Israel Maldonado band, and pointy. Israel joins us today to talk about his musical journey from Tijuana to San Diego. And our interview started with some music

Speaker 2: 01:28 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 01:28 That was the song, came a esta pasando by Israel, Maldonado and Israel. Welcome to the show.

Speaker 2: 01:35 Hi Marina. Thank you so much for having me.

Speaker 1: 01:37 Have you been playing shows during this pandemic?

Speaker 2: 01:41 Yes. I have done a couple like socially distant parties where like people are having dinner, like kind of far away. And I'm in the corner playing the guitar. Nothing much since the shutdown. It's a little depressing, but,

Speaker 1: 01:55 Well, it's depressing. Cause people can't mingle. Right? They can't dance to music.

Speaker 2: 02:00 Like I played at the cafe, I played at a cafe Sylvia like a couple of weeks ago and it was, I was like, wow, cool. I'm going to get to play again on stage. I'm super stoked. But then they tell you, you can't mingle with the people in the crowd and then you can't and people in the people can't dance. And it's just a lot of restrictions and it's luck. It's not fun. You know? And the thing for us, it's like when we're performing, it's like a feedback thing from the audience. We get zero now. So it's a, it's a whole different thing right now.

Speaker 1: 02:27 Different thing. Indeed. You started out playing in bands. Now you perform mostly as a solo act. How, how different is that for you?

Speaker 2: 02:36 Uh, you know, the solo act. I, I do it because with the band, you have to split the money with everybody. And usually with the band, it's usually like club gigs or things that don't really pay that much. You know what I mean? So, so you have to split your, you have to split the money with everybody, but I figured out how to play shows by myself so I can make a living actually playing music. And I mean, I like it because I can actually sound two people if I'm playing by myself.

Speaker 1: 03:01 So how do you sound like two people

Speaker 2: 03:04 Is a thing called looping. So I'll do a demonstration right now on a really simple two core loop. I will push the pedal like one, two, three, four, so then that's a loop right there. So I just did that right now on the spot. So it's basically when I figured it out, I was like, wow. So you can actually play chords first, lame down and then play lead guitar on top like this.

Speaker 1: 03:41 That was just a really great example. Thank you. Thank you very much for that. I was speaking with guitarist, Israel, Maldonado, and we're talking about how he creates his looping and how he is performing now that everybody's indoors with this pandemic. And do you prerecord the looped background tracks that you,

Speaker 2: 04:05 You can do it pre recorded, but I want to build it in front of people so they can see how I'm building it in. And people get a kick out of that. At some point, sometimes people don't even know what I'm doing. They think it's all prerecorded, but it's not, it's all being done on the spot.

Speaker 1: 04:18 We are creating it all live.

Speaker 2: 04:21 Yeah. Yeah. It's all right there. And that's, that's the thing. That's what people call me back because it's like, Whoa, like I just, you know, like the risk, you know, it's cause it's a risk, you know, you, you don't loop it. Right. It's going to sound bad. But I know if I, if I don't do loop ride, you have to know like plan B, plan C. You have to plan ahead. You know what I mean? Cause you know, sometimes you do kind of screw up a little bit, but

Speaker 1: 04:43 Did you grow up wanting to be a guitar?

Speaker 2: 04:46 No, actually I, my very first record, my vinyl record was kiss dynasty. So I used to be a little kid in like, uh, set up, uh, like woodblocks and set 'em like as a drum set. So I was always, always wanted to be like Peter, Chris, you know, like the drummer and uh, cause I just, I will always put the music on, on my record player and just play with it in and I just loved it so much. And then my mom got me a guitar and I was really bummed out and she's like, no, you're going to learn how to play guitar. I'm like, I'm going to be a drummer. She's like, no, you're going to play heavy. Take it dark. Cause we can't afford a drum set. So I started playing classical guitar when I was 10 and that's why my dream went away for being the drum for kiss. That was it pretty much long story short.

Speaker 1: 05:30 Now your family moved from Tijuana to Carlsbad during your freshman year of high school. Tell us about that. Was that a difficult transition for you?

Speaker 2: 05:39 Yeah, it really was. I mean, just leaving all your friends, especially with, at the age where like all the quinceanera parties were gonna start happening. Like all, you know, it was like, it was just a kind of a crucial time for us, you know what I mean? But that was the only time that we could move to the U S because, um, and my mom up marrying my, my stepdad and um, and they were, they were together for a long time, but they just decided to get married. Um, and then so he's like, we're going to go to Carlsbad. So we went to Carlsbad and, you know, had a mustache and everything, you know what I mean, showed up did not fit in. You know what I mean? It was like, who is this guy? Not even with the Mexicans either. You know what I mean?

Speaker 2: 06:17 It was like, I was just completely, it was like, I was like the odd man out there. Uh, I didn't really speak English that well. That's why, you know, sometimes you hear me fumbling the English screen when I'm, when I'm speaking, uh, is so I was in ESL classes and I, so basically I actually learned how to speak English by playing beach volleyball every day. I remember just practicing, you know what I mean? The English, you know, and I got a little bit better. Uh, but it was, it was hard. What got me through the was marching band and I kind of fit in with the kind of like the kind of the geeks and stuff. You know what I mean? That's kinda more on my Lightspeed, so, and that's how I got good at the, at the snare and the quads and I, and I, and I studied, you know, like drumming, you know what I mean? It was really cool. So that's why I got my training.

Speaker 1: 06:59 Let's hear some more music. This is Oh, code by Israel Maldonado.

Speaker 3: 07:22 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 07:31 That was the song. Oh, co by Israel Maldonado. Now, Israel, you were accepted at Boston conservatory for classical guitar, but you decided to go to San Diego state university that could have people scratching their heads. What made you decide to do that?

Speaker 2: 07:49 Uh, I knew my parents couldn't afford it. It was just really expensive. And I went to state, I stayed local and the good thing, if I would have gone to the conservatory of Boston, I would have just been a classical guitarist and probably never been a musician. You know what I mean? Cause I wouldn't have been exposed to the, to the Brazilian thing. And I've been in the Brazilian band. I took a Brazilian Samba class at San Diego state with Mark Lamson and it fit perfectly with what I was doing with the classical, my technique and everything. So it ended up being the right choice. And my mom always was always giving me crap for that because she wanted me to go to the conservatory. But I was, I always told her that, you know, if I, if I went there, I probably wouldn't have learned how to speak Portuguese and how to like, you know, got into Brazilian music. I probably wouldn't have been a musician. How many languages do you speak? Uh, I speak three languages. My first language is Spanish and a second one is English and a third one is Portuguese.

Speaker 1: 08:46 Now you grew up as you've been telling us with mentors and music teachers, uh, from, um, uh, Brazilian music to classical. And now you

Speaker 3: 08:56 Yourself are teaching music. Do you enjoy that? Do you enjoy teaching?

Speaker 2: 09:01 Yeah. I actually teach at the high school. It's called set high, um, school of entrepreneurship and technology. I teach pretty much all the time. Like during school year I teach every day. I love teaching. I love performing, but I love showing people how to play, how to play music

Speaker 3: 09:17 Maldonado. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 2: 09:19 Thank you, Maureen. Thank you so much for having me

Speaker 3: 09:47 [inaudible] to hear more of Israel Maldonado's music and just see a video of him performing go to kpbs.org/summer music series. Our KPBS summer music series continues next Thursday. [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.