The sound of South American strings

Alfredo Muro’s Latin guitar journey

Dave Kirby | Boulder Weekly

We caught up to Alfredo Muro a couple of weeks ago just a few minutes after the Peruvian-born guitar maestro finished up conducting a long-distance lesson — via Skype.

Having only recently moved here from Portland, Ore., where he had lived and worked for 20 years, most of Muro’s longtime students are still back in the rainy Pacific Northwest, and Skype affords him a handy and affordable tool to maintain these relationships — sensible and practical, even if we found it a curious and unexpected intersection between slick modern technology and the deeply historic, aesthetically intimate legacy of the Spanish guitar.

Muro laughs a bit about it. “It works well, works perfect,” he says. “It’s like having a student there, face to face … Sometimes I have a little trouble with the sound, but in general it’s good.”

You can hardly blame someone like Muro, a virtuoso player fluent in many different forms of Latin guitar, for being a little picky about the sound. For all its simplicity and plaintively warm tone, the Spanish guitar is an absolutely essential voice of South American culture, engendering both its high art and folkloric traditions in a way that probably doesn’t have an equivalent in North America. On his recordings, fiery and reflective in equal measure, Muro glides effortlessly between them, with the patience and precise listening born of years of study extending back to his pre-teen years growing up in Lima, absorbing the wide stylistic palette of musical forms from the various countries of South America.

A cultural legacy, we suggested, too little known north of the border.

“Exactly, I agree with you,” he says. “Which is why I proposed this idea to do a concert to focus on Latin music, considering … Americans in general are not really exposed to the rich variety of Latin American music.”

“Since I was a kid [growing up in Peru], I was exposed to all Latin American music, not just Peruvian. At my house, I’d hear tangos, guarania from Paraguay, Brazilian music, pasillo from Equador, cueca from Chile … it all became a common language for me. So we decided to do a concert of all these types of music … music from Venezuela, milongas from Argentina and Uruguay, guarania from Paraguay, and Brazilian music. Not only the bossa nova and the samba, which are very well-known, but the choro music and the afro-sambas, very rich in the north of Brazil, especially in Bahia.”

And all of this traces back to the Spaniards?

“Yeah, with the only distinction that the Brazilian music all came from Africa … and the Portuguese.

“Most of the main ports in Brazil, like Montevideo, and Buenos Aires, they had the advantage of receiving those European immigrants, especially the Portuguese and King João, who had the great musicians. Very, very important musicians … and that’s why you find such a great tradition of music in Brazil,” he says. “Countries like Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay were exposed to all the culture the immigrants brought to America, but that didn’t happen with countries like Paraguay, in the center of South America, or Bolivia.

“And of course, Peru had the influence of the Spanish conquerors, along with Ecuador and Colombia.”

As part of the program for this special presentation at the Dairy Center for the Arts, Muro will also being presenting an afternoon lecture on the life and times of Agustin Barrios, the guitar virtuoso and composer from Paraguay who lived from 1885 to 1944 and is buried amongst generals and revolutionaries in the state cemetery in El Salvador. Barrios is still revered by his countrymen as a national hero, and by students of the Spanish guitar as an artistic peer of the great Spanish maestro Andres Segovia. Barrios’ music was largely forgotten until the late 1970s — unlike Segovia, who had the benefit of a longer life, a celebrated recording and performing career, and a European pedigree.

Muro will perform at this all-day event, both solo and with guest artists (Kevin Garry, Felicity Muench, Michael DeLalla, Steve Mullins, Lise Blumenthal, Rob Chirico, Mitch Helble and Jullien McVean) in duet, trio and quartet settings. And while Muro himself plays the master of ceremonies, ultimately it all comes down to playing this music himself.

There is a special kind of terror that band-trained guitarists know: playing solo. Two hands, six strings and a sea of faces. Unplug the amps, grab an acoustic guitar, and if you miss a note, everybody hears it.

We wondered if Muro ever feels that terror anymore. Not really. “My first public in Peru was when I was 12, I think,” Muro says. “And it was in front of 2,000 people. And when I played for the Pope in the Vatican, in 1984. You know, you forget about all the people watching you. You get experience. … For me, my passion is to play.”

On the Bill

Alfredo Muro and other guests play the Dairy Center for the Arts on Saturday, April 23. Lectures start at 2 p.m., with other lectures and musical performances throughout the day. Tickets start at $18. 2590 Walnut St., Boulder, 303-444-7328, or visit