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Harp maestro blows them away

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 | 2:46 pm

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Carlos Del Junco brings his stylish harmonica playing to the Minstrel Cafe for one show Mar. 25. (Photo contributed)

By Chris Stanford

While he doesn’t have any bones to pick with a pair of folk legends, Carlos Del Junco is steadily clearing up just some of the misconceptions about the harmonica.

A prodigious talent with the tiny reed instrument, the virtuoso player explained why it has been short-shrifted the respect that some other instruments automatically get when he spoke with Kelowna.com from his home in Port Hope, ON.

“It’s a deceptively simple little instrument,” said Del Junco. “Some people take to it much more easily than others.” Del Junco is currently on a Western Canadian tour that will see him make a stop for one Kelowna show at the Minstrel Cafe Mar. 25.

Perhaps it’s the fact that anyone can pick it up and at least get one or two notes out of it, but Del Junco has taken it to another realm entirely.

“I could go on about how it’s always had the stigma of not being a serious instrument,” he said, but he also points out singers like Bob Dylan and Neil Young for perhaps engendering that misconception.

“I only use their names because they’re very mediocre harmonica players,” he said. “An yet . . they’re the ones that give it exposure in mainstream radio. They kind of use it as a little accessory to what they’re doing, which is the brilliant songwriting.”

Del Junco will be playing songs from his fifth and newest CD Steady Movin’, which was nominated for a prestigious Juno award earlier this month in the Blues category, but his set here with full band will also showcase much more than just the straight Blues idiom.

Besides the Juno nomination, his second, Del Junco, who was born in Havana, Cuba and immigrated with his family to Canada at the age of one, has also received a well-deserved string of accolades through his career. Those include seven Maple Blues awards for harmonica player of the year, as well as two gold medals from the 1993 world harmonica championships in Trossingen, Germany.

Trained as a sculptor and visual artist, Del Junco creates a masterful sonic scape using only the tiny ten-hole diatonic harmonica, an instrument that is usually limited to only one key, but using what is known as the “overblow” technique, he manages to massage virtually any note at will from the small instrument.

“I heard a friend of mine play back in high-school. He had this harmonica mounted on a neck-brace,” said Del Junco. “And even the sound of him bending the note completely grabbed me. I was floored and I knew I had to make that sound.”

That happened at the age of 14, and the now 51-year-old Del Junco has worked hard to make that sound and many more happen. He still practices up to three hours a day when he can.

“I’m self taught and mostly play by ear,” he pointed out. “But I always hear ‘Wow, I never knew it could sound like so many different instruments’,” he said of the reaction to his live show. “It can sound like a saxophone sometimes, or a violin or a clarinet.”

All the hard-earned technique is only a means to an end according to Del Junco, who nonetheless spent several years studying under American virtuoso Howard Levy to perfect his style.

Besides that woodshedding, he’s also performed and recorded with the likes of Bruce Cockburn, Kim Mitchell, Dutch Mason and Holly Cole, as well as dabbling in theater music, composing the music for Tomson Highway’s play Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing.

In keeping with that resume, and in his live show as well, music fans can expect an eclectic mix of styles and Del Junco won’t disappoint.

“I’m more of an interpreter,” he said. “I keep saying to myself ‘Okay, I’m just going to release a completely straight-ahead record, but I don’t know if I could.

“I’d probably be completely bored . . . ”

  • Who: Carlos Del Junco and band in concert
  • Where: The Minstrel Cafe, 4638 Lakeshore Rd.
  • When: 8 p.m.
  • Tickets: $25 in advance.
  • For more information: MinstrelCafe.com

entertainment@kelowna.com

250-575-3981

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