Edmar Castaneda 

by Sabine Meijers/IJHF 


The plains of Los Llanos in Eastern Colombia are home to a genre called musica Ilanera (plains music). More than two centuries ago, the Spanish introduced the harp to this cowboy culture, and it somehow became the percussion backbone to their musical and dance traditions. “It’s all in 6/8 time like a fast waltz, and you improvise in a percussive way,” Castaneda says of the local music he learned as a youth (1). Now, this Colombian harp prodigy has taken the instrument even further by redefining its place in modern jazz music (2). 


Harpist, band leader and composer Edmar Castaneda was born in Bogota, Colombia, where he started playing the Colombian harp at the age of thirteen. He has a unique style of playing the harp, blending the rich and colourful folk music of Colombia with its percussive cross-rhythms and driving bass lines against a Latin jazz backdrop. 

He uses several damping techniques with great excellence not only to mute the naturally echoing sound of the harp, but most importantly: for the percussive effect. Edmar plucks dynamic bass lines almost invisibly while picking out melodies with his right hand. This combined with the string (pitch) bending techniques to achieve musical notes outside of the normal tuning of the harp and Edmar’s fascinatingly percussive style of playing transforms the harp into a lead instrument to phenomenal effect. 

Edmar has performed with Paquito D'Rivera, John Scofield ,Wynton Marsalis JLCO, John Patitucci, Pablo zinger, Dave Samuels, Trio De Paz, Guiovani Hidalgo ,Lila Downs, Janis siegel, Chico O'farrill Afro-cuban jazz big band DJango Reinhardt NY festival, The united Nation Orchestra , among other renowned musicians. He also tours regularly as the leader of the Edmar Castaneda Trio, with trombone and drums. 


In reviews we find the following liner notes: 


“Colombian jazz harpist Edmar Castaneda, who made a more than convincing case for the harp as a jazz instrument. He was simply astonishing” Bloomberg news (August 3, 2007) By Jeremy Gerard 

"The phenomenal Columbian harpist Edmar Castaneda, whose technically astounding approach to the instrument normally associated with classical music has been registering with scenesters over the past year. Covering independent, heavily grooving bass lines with his left hand while chording and also running counterpoint melodies and dazzling triplet figures with his right hand (a kind of Charlie Hunter or Joe Passian approach to the harp)” BILL MILKOWSKI - JAZZ TIMES 


“ Producing cross-rhythms like a drummer , smashing chordal flourishes like a flamenco guitarist and collating bebop and Colombian music, he was almost a world unto himself.” THE NEW YORK TIMES 


His debut-cd ‘Cuarto de Colores’ is an explosion of high energy music with a Latin jazz twist. Most tracks are up-tempo with catchy melodies and ‘coros’ that stay in your head for days. Songs like Sonrisas and Negrita truly expose his percussive damping-technique. Cuarto de Colores comes out with a blasting speed from beginning to end, rhythmic patterns becoming ever denser, and with an almost cavalier-like attitude to the clave.. 


"Edmar is ... an enormous talent, he 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." - PAQUITO D'RIVERA 



(1) Philadelphia Weekly, published June 22, 2008 by David Adler 

(2) EC website, published January 23, 2008 by Paul Dryden 



Also read: 

Arpa Latina, product of cultural exchange 


Nice quote: 

Castañeda is no Harpo Marx, he is not at all matronly,and he sure as hell doesn’t play like an angel. - A. Gelfand - JAZZIZ 


Recent articles: 

interview, July 3, 2008: 


review, May 30, 2008 


review, May 2008 

Unheavenly harp  

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