Johannes Linstead, one of the most popular Latin-guitar performers in the world, wants his latest recording, Azul, to “whisk the listener away on a musical vacation to the sunny climes of the tropics.”
According to Linstead, “The word ‘azul,’ meaning ‘blue’ in Spanish, represents the far-reaching skies and ocean that reflects it. The color blue is abundant in the tropics, on the islands and along the coastlines. With the bright green foliage and other colors found in the lush jungles and rainforests, it seems like all the colors are more vivid and bright. I wanted the music to reflect that colorful vividness and vibrancy.”
Linstead lives part of the year in the Dominican Republic, where several tracks of the album were written and recorded. He notes, “When you visit any of the Latin countries on either side of the Atlantic, you discover these places can be festive at times but also laid-back and relaxing as well. Ideal for vacations, these warmer locations are exotic and exciting as well as perfect for laying on the beach under an umbrella listening to the radio and unwinding from the pressures of life. On this album I tried to musically capture both moods -- some uptempo and others softer and slower -- fiesta-time and siesta-time.”
Known for his fiery and passionate Latin-style acoustic-guitar playing, Linstead shows other sides of his musical personality on this recording by also playing electric guitar on several tunes and singing on two numbers (in English on one and in Spanish on the other). “Not long ago I received a custom-built electric guitar from a dear friend in the Dominican as a gift and when I played it I was reminded of my younger rock’n’roll days so I decided to use it on this album, although I play it in a Latina style.” Linstead always composes beautiful melodies and then arranges them into an ensemble sound featuring an array of talented international musicians which gives the music a universal, world-wide appeal.
Linstead’s music, including the new Azul, is available on the Earthscape Media label in CD format (distribution by SONY-RED) and can be found at most retail stores; and as digital downloads via online websites like Amazon, iTunes, eMusic and countless others. Linstead also has nine previous best-selling albums under his name -- Sol Luna Tierra, Kiss the Earth, Guitarra del Fuego, Zabuca, Mediterranea, Cafe Tropical, Mistico, Tales of a Gypsy and Midnight Rhumba. More information is available at his website, johanneslinstead.com.
Seven of his albums have gone Top 10 on the prestigious Billboard New Age sales chart. All of his music is regularly at the top of various radio airplay charts. Linstead’s last two albums were both Top 3 on the Zone Music Reporter international Top 100 radio chart. Many of his recordings have been #1 on the eMusic.com Charts for World Music, Jazz/Blues and Flamenco/Tango. As a musician, Linstead has received many international accolades. For example, he won “Guitarist of the Year” at the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards and was named “World Artist of the Year” at The Ontario Music Awards. He received a People’s Choice award from One World Music Radio in the U.K. Linstead tours regularly and has played many prestigious concerts around the world. He also has become an “Influential Artist” with the Yamaha Corporation of America, the largest musical instrument manufacturer in the world, endorsing their classical line of guitars.
Linstead’s music receives acclaim and strong sales from both the smooth jazz and new age music audiences, but it is best described as world-fusion. While his guitar-playing has a Latin focus, Linstead is inspired by music he has heard all around the world, and he regularly works with top musicians from many different countries. “I enjoy creating music with musicians who bring different instruments, sounds, cultural experiences and perspectives to this art-form,” explains Linstead. “I am not particularly fond of the concept of countries, borders and the separation of people. I want my music to be a way to cross those barriers because of its universality.”
On Azul, Linstead is joined by Geoff Hlibka on rhythm guitars, Anastasios Bigas from Greece on drums/congas/timbales), Jordan Abraham on accordion and piano, Cuban trumpet player Alexis Baro, Dominican bongocero Colibri, and Australian bassist Jarrod Ross, along with Jenni MacNeil from Cape Breton adding beautiful vocalizations on a couple tracks.
The album begins with the catchy uptempo title tune. The energy continues with “Cha Cha Chu” featuring Linstead on fiery electric guitars plus a Cuban-style horn section and trumpet solo. There are two versions of “Be My Girl.” The first has Linstead on vocals and melodic electric guitar soloing, and there also is an instrumental version with a smooth acoustic and electric guitar duet. Linstead includes two soft and pretty numbers perfect for relaxation and falling in love -- “Lazy Sunday” and “Surrender To Me.” He touches on the mystical with the tunes “Heaven Meets Earth” (“I often feel my music is divinely inspired”), “Hechicera” (he sings in Spanish about a woman temptress who practices her own brand of magic), “Moon Child” (“a ceremony on a full moon night”), and “Dance of the Shaman” (“inspired by a ayahuasca ceremony I participated in which I played my wooden flute”). The rhythmic, vibrant Latin-jazz tune “Starlight” was inspired “by the awe and wonder of looking at the millions of stars in the night sky, just as humans have done since the beginning of time.” The fiery, festive spirit of “Friday Night at Babaluu” is “all about people going out at the end of the week and salsa dancing.” Linstead demonstrates on Azul why he is recognized internationally as one of the most popular and best-selling guitarists and composers in the world-fusion field. Once again he melds far-ranging influences and global styles into his own signature sound.
Growing up in Canada, Johannes was exposed to other cultures all his life. Both of his parents came from Europe (his father from England with Spanish background and his mother from Germany). He grew up listening to classical music as a child and had admiration for Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. When he was a child, his father, who passed down a passion for Latin culture, took the family on numerous trips to places like Spain, Mexico, South America and many islands in the Caribbean. Johannes got a guitar when he was eight and took lessons for a few years. At first he gravitated toward classical guitar, but when he became a teenager he was exposed to flamenco and Latin-styled guitar as well as pop, rock, folk and jazz which broadened his musical outlook. He joined his high school’s jazz band and won the “Musician of the Year” Award. “I became interested in the different intricacies and beauty within each style. I listened to a wide variety of guitarists ranging from Al DiMeola and John McLaughlin to Paco de Lucia and Randy Rhoads.” Linstead also played in a rock band for a few years.
“During my travels I discovered some of the possibilities of Latin guitar in contemporary instrumental music. Because my mother used to teach Latin dance, I enjoy the art of dance and I was influenced by many Latin styles like salsa, merengue and cumbia, especially the rhythms and the horns. In my own writing I tried to emulate the horn solos on my guitar. In my early years I put together a band with percussion, drums and bass, and performed locally. The music went over so well that I began recording albums and started to play larger festivals and eventually performing arts centers.” On-stage Linstead became known for his energetic performances and the fiesta atmosphere his music creates.
During his musical journey, Johannes also was on a spiritual path. He has studied and taught kundalini yoga for many years. “Music plays a part in kundalini yoga, so it is a good fit for me. I am not just a musician, but also a spiritual being who tries to help others. I want to see more and more people find a unifying energy and connect spiritually with other human beings.” He founded the Divine Earth Organization (divineearth.org), an online humanitarian community where members post information about spirituality, health and even world politics. The philosophy of the organization is that in order to attain a happier and healthier world, people must first identify and overcome any conditions that undermine their ability to find inner peace. Linstead also emails a “Weekly Wisdom” newsletter “to guide people towards their own inner wisdom.”
According to Linstead, “My music is inspired by my spirituality, by cultures from all over the world and by people’s everyday triumphs over hardships. I have become interested in what music can do to help create universal connectiveness.”
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