On February 6, it was announced that Johannes Linstead one of Canada’s top guitarists was nominated for the nation’s top music prize a Juno Award. The Junos are Canada’s equivalent of a Grammy and Linstead’s guitarra Latina CD Café Tropical is being recognized in the Instrumental Album Of The Year category.
When contacted Linstead had this to say about his nomination, "I was thrilled when they announced my name for the nomination. However, what made it even more special were all the phone calls and emails I received from my friends congratulating me. It was beautiful to be surrounded by the love and happiness of those that really believe in me."
Linstead first appeared on the music scene as an independent artist in 1999 with his debut album Sol Luna Tierra, which sold more than 100,000 copies and made the Billboard charts. Since then he has released five other projects, while receiving high marks from critics, fans and those in the music industry.
The obvious question that people raise concerns his name, not exactly the type of name you associate with Latin vibes, leading the uninformed to question his authenticity as an artist. Those thoughts are quickly dispelled first when you listen to his music and secondly when you learn that although he grew up with an English father and a German mother he was immersed into Latin culture at an early age.
"Before I was born my dad lived in the Bahamas, he always loved the Caribbean and my mom taught Latin dance. When I was a little kid we always traveled to the Caribbean, Latin America and Spain," Linstead says.
It was while traveling with his family as a child that Linstead began to befriend some of the native musicians and took up a keener interest in Latin music. "When you immerse yourself in any culture it gives you a sense of the authenticity otherwise you are trying to interpret it secondhand," he says which is why, "I taught myself Spanish and Latin dance. a (developing) friendship, learning the language and dance gives me a bit of authenticity even though I was born and raised in Canada," Linstead concludes.
On the home front, Linstead and his family were falling even more deeply in love with the Spanish culture. "When I was a kid my dad loved everything Spanish, He bought Spanish furniture and our home had a Spanish décor. I also fell in love with the story of Don Quixote, saw the stage play and owned the record The Man of La Mancha. I listened to that record everyday after school and there were certain pieces that made me cry. It was something that touched me at a very young age, probably when I was about seven or eight. I love that story," he says.
Linstead has honed his craft so finely that in 2006 he was able to walk into one of the bastions of Spanish flavored music, southern Texas. John Powers, with the Woodlands Community Associations located in an upscale suburb of Houston says, "I initiated bringing Johannes to The Woodlands for our concert series after I fell in love with the music from his CD Guitarra del Fuego. Typically, our artists are from Houston, Austin or San Antonio. We wanted to take our concert series to the next level with great talent and world wide appeal; we felt he could certainly do that for us."
Powers reports, "The crowd responded to Johannes with repeated applause, cheers and calls for encores. They didn’t want him to quit. He was quite gracious during the intermission and afterwards with a long line of autograph seekers as he talked to the fans, "and on a personal note he adds, "His music takes me away to those Latin tropical exotic places that soothe my soul."
Texas is not the only part of America that is sitting up and taking notice of Linstead’s music, in December of 2006, he toured with smooth Latin jazz artist Bryan Lubeck and Lubeck had this to say about the experience, "I recently wrapped up a tour with Johannes and what I learned is that he is the complete package. He is a great songwriter, one of the finest guitarists I have ever seen live and a showman who makes the audience roar after every song. The difference between Johannes and most great live musicians is his ability to capture that live performance energy and fun in the studio. He is a performer’s performer and a musician’s musician."
Linstead says, "The common theme (throughout my records) is lots of strong percussion. On Café Tropical, I had my usual guys Alex Godinez and Anastasios Bigas (play percussion). Alex has his own salsa band so he has a rich knowledge of Latin rhythms and percussion."
"In Latin music clave, which is the pulse of the music, is very important. I really need someone there who understands how clave works and how to play around it because I don’t want people who understand (the genre) to say, ‘That guy doesn’t know what he is doing.’ For me it is important to have the entire rhythm (section) following clave. In that respect Alex is very valuable to me," says Linstead.
Percussion is such an important part of Linstead’s music that he taught himself how to play the West African djembe-well sort of. Laughing the singer/songwriter tells me how he came to play the instrument which looks like a goblet shaped tom drum, "I picked it (the djembe) up because when I was in the studio by myself I needed some form of percussion. I decided I had better get a little better at it and started practicing. I love playing it." He plays the djembe on Café Tropical’s "Ole Ole Ola" and "Chica Chica."
Adding texture to many of the syncopated rhythms on Café Tropical is highly regarded percussionist (tabla) Hari Pal who refers to Linstead as, "a rising star of Latin melodies and rhythm." Pal can be heard on the more ethereal sounding "Tides of Eden".
Linstead becomes reflective and says, "I have done six CDs of Latin guitar music and I feel that I need a bit of a change now, just to make myself happy. I have two ideas, one is to incorporate electric guitar and maybe to a few Santana like Latin rock songs or I can infuse classical music into what I do."
If you think those two ambitions are at opposite ends of the spectrum consider his next comments, "What I would like to do is write a Latin guitar opera that incorporates a soprano voice and choir. I have a few songs that I have already written that I think would be perfect for an album like that. I would add some orchestration as well."
For now, all his fans will have the eyes and ears focused on their television sets April 1 the day the Juno Award winners are announced.