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Edmar Castañeda

DCJF Performance Date(s) and Venue(s)

Artist Links
Artist Bio

“I was born to play the harp. It is a gift from God and like every gift from God, it has a
purpose. The purpose of my music is to worship Him and bring his presence and
unconditional love to people.”
- Edmar Castaneda

Since arriving in the United States in 1994, Colombian-born harp virtuoso Edmar
Castaneda has forged his own distinctive path in music. He brings not only an unfamiliar
instrument but a wholly original voice to jazz, branching out into a world of different
styles and genres. His wide-ranging career has been remarkable for discovering a brilliant
role for the harp in jazz, then continuing to innovate and spark creativity from a wealth of
formidable collaborations. His latest CD, Live in Montreal, features the latest in an evergrowing
history of thrilling partnerships, an utterly unique duo with the electrifying
Japanese pianist Hiromi.

Live in Montreal follows four acclaimed albums as a leader, as well as collaborations
with the likes of guitarist John Scofield, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, bassists Marcus
Miller and John Patitucci, bandolinist Hamilton de Holanda, Brazilian pop and jazz great
Ivan Lins, and Castaneda’s mentor, Cuban-born saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera. He’s also
shared stages with iconic artists including Sting, Ricki Lee Jones, The Yellowjackets and
Paco De Lucia. In addition to his innovative approach to the jazz tradition, he’s written
symphonic works for the Orquestra Clássica de Espinho and the São Paulo Jazz
Symphony Orchestra, and chamber pieces for the Israel Camerata Jerusalem and the
Orquestra Sinfónica Nacional de Colombia.

Born in 1978 in the city of Bogotá, Colombia, Castaneda took up the harp as a teenager
to play the folkloric music of his homeland. He discovered jazz shortly after moving to
New York City to join his father in 1994 and was immediately drawn to the freedom and
sophistication of the music. With no real precedent for the harp in the jazz world,
Castaneda studied trumpet by day while trying out his newfound knowledge on the harp
at a restaurant gig by night.

He was ushered into the jazz community by Paquito D’Rivera, who recognized
Castaneda’s passion and took the young harpist under his wing. D’Rivera has called him
“an enormous talent… [Edmar] has the versatility and the enchanting charisma of a
musician who has taken his harp out of the shadow to become one of the most original
musicians from the Big Apple.”

Since then, Castaneda has taken New York and the world stage by storm with the sheer
force of his virtuosic command of the harp, revolutionizing the way audiences and critics
alike consider an instrument commonly relegated to the “unusual category”. He’s been
acclaimed as a master at realizing beautiful complexities of time, while skillfully drawing
out lush colors and dynamic spirit and crafting almost unbelievable feats of crossrhythms,
layered with chordal nuances rivaling the most celebrated flamenco guitarist’s

Castaneda made his debut as a leader in 2007 with Cuartos de Colores, which features
the harpist in a variety of settings, including guest appearances by D’Rivera and the
explosive percussionist Pedrito Martinez. He followed that with 2009’s Entre Cuerdas, a
trio date with trombonist Marshall Gilkes and drummer Dave Silliman that also featured
turns by Scofield, vibraphonist Joe Locke, percussionist Samuel Torres and Colombian
vocalist Andrea Tierra.

Double Portion (2012) was divided into solo and duo pieces, with Castaneda engaging in
scintillating musical conversations with Rubalcaba, de Holanda and saxophonist Miguel
Zénon. Live at the Jazz Standard (2015) showcased Castaneda’s World Ensemble,
uniting musicians from a variety of global traditions. The stellar band brought back
Gilkes, Silliman and Tierra alongside Swiss harmonica master Grégroire Maret; flautist
Itai Kriss and saxophonist Shlomi Cohen (both from Israel); Chilean pianist Pablo
Vergara; Castaneda’s countryman, Colombian drummer Rodrigo Villalon; Turkish kanun
player Tamer Pinarbasi; and Brazilian Sergio Krakowski on pandeiro.

“The Colombian plays the harp like hardly anyone else on earth. His hands, seemingly
powered by two different people, produce a totally unique, symphonic fullness of sound,
a rapid-fire of chords, balance of melodic figures and drive, served with euphoric Latin
American rhythms, and the improvisatory freedom of a trained jazz
musician...captivating virtuosity, but in no way only virtuosity for its own sake.” -
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung