Robert Michaels is a Juno-winning Canadian musician who plays jazz, flamenco, and Latin acoustic guitar to enthusiastic audiences and who has won kudos from across North and South America and Europe.
His recently released album Cubamenco is a tantalizing mix of romantic melodies and danceable rhythms and his playing has all the ancient, thrilling, brooding sensuality of flamenco coupled with the celebratory élan of Cuban sounds.
Robert recently took the time to talk with Wanda Waterman St. Louis about music, creativity, and making your own guitar.
?Cubamenco? is a word I came up with, a combination of ?Cuban? with ?flamenco.? There are a lot of technical differences between Cuban and flamenco music but to put it simply I would say Cuban music is much more melodic, with sweeter sounding harmonic progressions, and flamenco is more dissonant and much more complicated rhythmically.
I grew up in Italy and Canada. As a child I was always fascinated by how things worked, and I loved to listen to music. At the age of 14 I asked my parents to buy me a guitar. They were not too excited about this, thinking it might interfere with my schoolwork, so they refused.
I decided to build my own guitar by nailing strings to a piece of wood and drawing on frets so I could at least learn the fingering of the instrument as it would not produce sound. My parents finally gave in and purchased me a guitar several months later.
Training the Vine
I studied privately for five or six years, then I studied music at Humber College, but most of my musical training came as a result of travelling and performing with other musicians in other places such as Cuba, South America, and Europe. My style was derived from life experiences and studying various techniques such as flamenco, jazz, Latin American, and Mediterranean styles.
It’s a mesmerizing experience every time I play in front of an audience; something magical happens that seems so personal, almost like an experience we share together that can’t be repeated the same way. It’s very powerful.
Feeding the Creative Self
Love is the only condition I need in my life in order to go on being creative. The one thing that has inspired me the most is my family, especially my children. In my downtime I try to build things, like doing some woodworking. It seems to help me expand my mind and be more creative musically.
A Secular Holiness
I try to stay away from politics and religion as I don’t have too much faith in them these days. But I think being aware of the world and the struggles of others will always affect the output of art. I do believe that there are greater forces out there guiding my music and me.