Interview With Madrid/Chicago Musician Vivian Garcia



As a singer/songwriter, Vivian Garcia is a vibrant presence in the eclectic expat music community found in Madrid, Spain. Born to Cuban immigrants and raised in Chicago, she has performed in Chicago, Florida, and Madrid. She has performed with a number of individuals and groups, including Los Rumberos and Big Night Out in Florida, as well as guitarist Ricardo Abiel and trumpet player Domenichi Morris in Chicago. Vivian regularly plays shows and shares billings in Madrid with Peter Muller, Rafael Alves, Jaime Echagüe, and Mary-Elaine Jenkins.

We invite you to read Penumbra’s interview with Vivian on the intersections between her music, community, and words:

As a graduate student studying Spanish literature, do you feel literature has influenced your development as a musician? 

 VG: Well, it is rather curious that I would end up writing my FIRST album ever of songs written in English while studying Spanish literature in Madrid. I will say that while studying the works of Neruda last year, specifically Residencia en la Tierra, I came to discover that he wrote most longingly about home and things that were familiar to him in letters to friends while living abroad. It makes sense that one would seek out that which is familiar internally while surrounded by all that is foreign. So in a round about way of answering that question, studying the autobiographical aspect of that writer at the very least gave me some insight as to why these songs were emerging in English.

In a more general sense, reading ANY literature from any source is bound to affect the ways in which one thinks and processes information. Seeing as Spanish is a second language for me learned in adulthood, the lack of fluidity that I possess for expressing myself in that language has in some ways forced me to think of words and phrasings at their most basic, easily accessible and understandable levels. In some ways, this is reflected in the simplicity of the lyrics that define the album Cold Bed. Or at least that is what I tell myself, so as not to feel so bad for not being a great storyteller…yet.

Victor Hugo once said, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent.” Do you feel that music transcends the limitations of words and language? Conversely, does literature trespass where music cannot?

VG: Being still completely reticent to call myself a songwriter or a musician (insecurities abound), I will readily admit that I am more drawn to melody than verse when it comes to music. Where I can sit for hours and joyfully deconstruct poetry and prose, I am more than content to just “feel” music and bask in the sounds of things rather than the meanings. This is not to say I don’t appreciate and respect amazing songwriting, it is just that where I am currently in my life, I find myself drawn to good sound rather than great verse in music. I can’t believe I am putting this in print! I use music not just as an escape, but also as a conduit to yes, reaching a place that words sometimes cannot reach or do not do justice.

Conversely, there are literary works that move me to no end when they are read at just the right time in my life. Once, during my first year here I had to excuse myself from class because I was pretty much bawling. The professor asked me what was wrong. It was nothing more than the circumstances that the character of Yerma in García Lorca’s play of the same title had to live through moved me to tears. I am a sensitive crybaby (haha), but really, that play moved me in a way that perhaps a song could not—so yes, I also believe that literature has the ability to connect us to universal experiences in a more direct way than perhaps a song or melody.

As a musician who splits her time performing in Chicago as well as Madrid, how do you feel about the music scene in Madrid in comparison with the States? 

VG: Hmm…super subjective experience. I have been a gigging musician for about 14 years now and a lot of that time I have spent performing in Chicago and Florida. In the states, I play primarily covers of songs in Spanish, namely in the style of the Spanish rumba flamenca. I work in restaurants and clubs, and play for private events.

My experience in Spain has been that for the two plus years that I have lived here, but I have been much more experimental in my approach to music since I have NOT been using it as primary source of income. Playing at open mics and jam sessions allows me to discover a voice I did not know I had or one I had buried away long ago.

It is only in recent months that I have had to think about melding my original music written in English that has blues/jazz/folk undertones with the rumba flamenca covers I have always played. I feel like my original work has more room to flourish in Madrid than in Chicago, but possibly because there are fewer people singing those styles and the same holds true for the support I get for playing Spanish music in the states. I guess it is a niche market approach. As I am moving back home in a few months, it will be interesting to see what kind support I will get for my original music. I did have a CD release party there in January and it was well received, but I still tend to get people asking me to play the Spanish covers.

What makes a thriving artistic community and what do you consider unique about Madrid in that sense?

VG: Support is the obvious first word that comes to mind. I feel it is really important to attend the shows of others and invite people to share the stage whenever possible. A forum of expression such as a stage is a gift that, when shared, becomes something greater then a show. It becomes a shared experience where more than just a few people are creating an environment. For the most part, having met many of the musicians I currently work with at an open mic hosted in an Irish Pub called Triskel, I am part of a group of musicians who are native English speakers from the states and other parts of Europe, so many of the people in the community of musicians I am a part of have that in common. But there are SO many scenes here to be a part of and I have only begun to scratch the surface. Because of the open mics and jam sessions, I have been introduced to a world of Spanish and international musicians who range from classically-trained to self-taught who play huge venues one day, but also busk in the metro as well and who are more than willing to contribute their gifts and talents to help others with their shows.

There is so much talent here in Madrid, but not always enough venues to provide forums for expression of such talent. I hope to see more doors opening for locals and expats alike in this scene.

In December 2012, Vivian wrote and produced the album titled, Cold Bed, which can be purchased via the following site:

If you are in the Madrid area, check out one of Vivian’s upcoming shows, including Penumbra’s event at The Toast Cafe at 7:30pm on Sunday, March 10.

Other upcoming shows:

Saturday, March 2, The Toast Cafe, 10:30 pm.

Friday, March 8, The Irish Rover Madrid for Intl. Women’s Day, 8pm.

Sunday, April 14, Café La Palma (with Peter Muller).


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