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More Than Ever, Nicko Guerrero Says Musicians Have a Unique Responsibility

This Colombian drummer found an incredible purpose while at Berklee: fusing musical styles to unite people from all walks of life.

Girl with Micro Braids

MAY 4, 2020

It’s never too late to start pursuing your passion, and Nicko Guerrero is the proof. He didn’t begin studying drums until the end of high school, but he successfully completed an undergraduate degree in his home country of Colombia before being accepted into the prestigious Berklee Global Jazz Institute. After earning his master’s through BGJI, Nicko began his post-master’s fellowship, which he will graduate from this year. His debut EP, Pura Bulla, drops later this month; ahead of its release, I talked with Nicko about the inspiration for the project, his journey, and his passion for bringing diverse cultures together through the power of music.

How did your journey with music start? I started to study music when I was around 18, and now I’m 25. When I was in high school I was studying physics and mathematics, but I realized that music would be my career when I saw that it was like magic. I think I decided kind of late, but I did my undergrad here in Colombia and then applied for the master’s program at the Berklee Global Jazz Institute. After I finished my master’s I applied for the post-master’s fellowship, which is if you want to keep doing the program at Berklee, so I’ll be graduating this year after three years.

Who inspires your music and sound? When I started this career, I started traveling and making some connections with Berklee through the programs they have around South and Latin America. They have some summer programs where the teachers come to the countries, so I won a scholarship to go to Brazil, where I did a summer program called Berklee on the Road. It was the first summer program I did out of the country. Then I started to go to a music congress created by Berklee faculty Oscar Stagnaro, and I traveled with him to Mexico, Peru, and Puerto Rico. I learned about the music of the cultures, and of course I was interested to learn the Colombian music I hear in Bogotá. Our country has many, different cultures and each one has its own music. It’s pretty cool because it’s all music that comes from the African diaspora. So I started to relate my passion for jazz and American music like R&B and pop, and I found that there was a connection between them: the African diaspora. I think all the music I’ve been studying has that essence. That’s something that I think shaped my sound, and it made me create the music that I want to release.

What were the last three songs you listened to? I don’t remember the names—I have Alexa, and I’ll tell her “Alexa, play rock music at this hour” as my alarm, so it’s random. But I was listening to “I Gotta Feeling” today, and yesterday night I listened to a Colombian song.

What have been your best experiences at Berklee? Well, I think that the best experience is meeting with all the people from around the world. That’s the most important thing for me, and it’s something that really shapes my artistry and craft, meeting people from other cultures and learning from them. Berklee has a microworld where you can find music from China, Israel, Philippines, Palestine, South America, India—for me that’s the best experience, to learn from the people.

If you could go back to when you first started your master’s at Berklee and give yourself advice, what would you say? Don’t give up. And know that when you make music it’s not for me or for us—it’s for them, for the people. Know and understand that we have a mission beyond the music and beyond the sound. Now that we’re having these crazy times, music has become something important. It already is, but now it’s like you can notice it more, you know? Even though people are in their houses, doing their jobs, probably depressed and bored and sad, we have a power. We’re like superheroes who can help people—as all the bad news is coming to these different countries, we have the power to heal. My advice would be don’t give up, and really understand that in music, we have something bigger than us. In the society we are part of, music gives us the power. If you go and sing to your family, they’ll appreciate that more than before because of how we’re struggling; when you play guitar, your mind is out of this world. Go for it, and remember that we have a tool and a weapon to fight all of this. We need to be light in the dark.

That’s such a beautiful perspective! We need to understand that we aren’t just musicians. If we defined ourselves in one word that isn’t musician or artist, the word I would use is wizard, or superhero. Because we really have that power, and this is the right moment to use it. All the classes we took, all the things we did when the world was normal—now is the moment to apply all of those things.

Tell me about your EP! What inspired you to create it? What was your process? It’s my own project, called Pura Bulla. In Spanish it means “too much noise”—like when you can hear people whispering and the cars going by. But I chose the title from our traditional Colombian music, which is called Bullerengue. It comes from the Carribbean coast in the north of the country, originating from the musical tradition of African slaves with the influence of Indigenous and Spanish culture; the EP mixes original and traditional Bullerengue compositions with jazz.

Something that I realized at Berklee is that I had this microworld, and I thought, “What if I take people from other cultures that play their traditional music and put them in my music?” So in my project I have compositions based on the African-Colombian tradition with jazz, but the elements I wanted to add were musicians from other parts of the world and their traditional music. I have a guy from Palestine who plays Arabic flute; I have a guy from Greece who plays the laouto; I have a girl from the Philippines who sings Indigenous music from her country; I have a friend from California who plays traditional American music on the mandolin; I have an accordion player from Italy. That’s the vibe I wanted to create—it’s a global project. I wanted a reunion of different sounds from different traditions joining with my Colombian tradition.

How do you #getinthegroove? Something big for me is love. Love for humanity, love for people, love for music. That’s something that keeps me moving forward. When I understood that we really have something beyond the sound and the music, that we have a power, I realized that it gives us a huge responsibility. It makes me think that the things I need to do need to be the best I can make them. The music I create comes from my experience and my stories, so through my music I want you to hear my stories, understand them, and create sympathy for the stories of others. I want to bring music from around the world because I want people to feel good and be grateful for the things we have.

Music is something big; I am encouraging and supporting people who want to prove that. We have a mission with music! If we have love and patience and don’t give up, we’ll have something really successful in this industry and in this world. That’s something that I am using to motivate my music all the time—people, my family, and my friends. I understand that I have a responsibility as a musician, and you do too, and so do all the musicians around Berklee. Now is the time to be superheroes in the world. And with that mindset, all the things we want to do with our music are going to happen.

Follow Nicko HERE, and look out for the release of Pura Bulla in the coming weeks.

Nicko Guerrero

CREDIT TO: MISHELLE LOPEZ

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