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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Edmar Castaneda's dad wanted him to play the trumpet, and when Edmar came to the U.S. to go to high school, that's what he did. But when he graduated, he went back to his first love, the harp. That's the Colombian harp, a smaller and lighter cousin to classical harps.

Castaneda fell for the harp as a kid in Bogota. Now, he combines the traditional sound of Colombia's high plains cowboy music with the jazz he discovered as a teenager in New York.

The harpist sat down with independent producer David Schulman for our series, Musicians in Their Own Words. And here's Edmar Castaneda describing what happens when he puts his hands on the strings.

Mr. EDMAR CASTANEDA (Harp Player): I go into it, and I just — my fingers go, you know? Like…

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASTANEDA: And, like, the bass…

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASTANEDA: Rhythm, the groove, you know? I like a lot of groove. So, sometimes they think of the harp as, like, angels' music. So I say, oh, we're going to have a party with the angels.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASTANEDA: This a Colombian (unintelligible) harp. It has 34 strings. This harp is made of cedar. They make - hang on, let me tune this.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASTANEDA: The traditional music from the plains of Colombia, it's the harp, the cuatro, it's a small guitar like a ukulele, they have the maracas.

(Soundbite of maracas)

Mr. CASTANEDA: So they just play under the tree or something. They start drinking, and it's very sentimental music and aggressive at the same time. You know, it's…

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASTANEDA: I like to show people that the harp, you can use it in different kind of music. The flamenco is very similar to the Colombian-Venezuelan music. Those effects, you know? Like you're playing like…

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASTANEDA: Really aggressive, and like…

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASTANEDA: For me, it's very similar to the flamenco.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASTANEDA: My father always wanted me to be a trumpet player. And then I came - in high school here, they have bands. They didn't have harps. So I went to college playing the trumpet, and it was great because I learned all the jazz improvisation, and I just passed it to the harp.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASTANEDA: My left hand is a bass player, pretty much.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASTANEDA: And on my right hand, I play the melody. So you take a line, right?

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASTANEDA: Then you put it on top.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASTANEDA: So you see, it's like two instruments in one.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASTANEDA: (Spanish spoken) Room of colors. Actually, that's one of my favorite ones. My wife, my girlfriend at that time, she had a lot of colors in the room. It was like really nice. So I start playing. I was in love. I'm still in love, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CASTANEDA: Everybody has something inside to say, to express. You translate something that you want to say from your heart with music.

(Soundbite of music)

LYDEN: You can hear more of Edmar Castaneda's music, including a full concert, at nprmusic.org. There's also an archive of other musicians in their own words.

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