“If he were to turn into a word, it would be abundance.” – Dana Lupton, co-Founder, Executive and Artistic Director, Moving in the Spirit
Santiago Páramo calls himself a “creative enthusiast.” He is a musician (his main instrument is the electric guitar), composer, visual artist, avid reader, overall generous person, and someone whose intention in life is to do what he can right now to make the world a better place.
Páramo is from Bogotá, Colombia and has been surrounded by music since before he came into the world; his passion for the art was predestined. His father exposed him to classical music, jazz, Bossa nova, and even the harmonica, which gave him an early connection to Stevie Wonder. His grandfather, who owned an extensive record collection, is responsible for a defining moment in his life: When Páramo was around ten years old, he would spend hours choosing albums to play, usually opting for the ones with the most fascinating artwork. One particular Queen album stuck with him and at the time, he had no idea how famous they were; he just knew that he never tired of hearing their music. Queen became his gateway into rock music.
As a little boy, he cherished dreams of being like M.J.
Michael Jordan, that is.
He never sought to be a DJ, but he did seek out music, which inspired him to run his high school radio station. For him, the connection was simply that he loved music and he wanted to share with others. With the enthusiastic support of his family, he went to college to study music and there he was exposed to more genres, particularly funk (James Brown, George Clinton) and jazz (John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk). During his first year in school, he became a server at Andrés Carne de Res, a world-famous international club.
He describes it as a “beautiful universe of creativity, joy, and stress.” There, Santiago made many friends, including the head DJ, Arturo, through his openness and hunger for musical knowledge. Thus, when Arturo shared that he was going to step down and was looking for a replacement, Santiago said, “Arturo, don’t look anymore. I am your guy.” There, he got a crash course in the art of being a disc jockey, with Arturo as his mentor.
For years, he learned how to play a variety of music for different audiences based on the time of day. When he started, he was able to mix for 20 minutes at a time, and as he built his skill over years in that high-pressure environment, he mastered the biggest challenge—programming and mixing music for eight hours nonstop—and became head DJ. That experience gave him incredible exposure; people liked his work so much that they requested him for their outside events. Though he wasn’t looking for it, he had become a professional DJ.
“one of the best gifts I have received in my entire life”
Páramo’s sister and mother moved to the States and, in 2007, he followed them after being accepted into a one-year program at the Atlanta Institute of Music. After about a year and a half, in which he worked DJ gigs and finished school, he was bored. He missed his home and the vibrant art scene that existed there and he hadn’t found that in Atlanta. Just as he was considering going back to Colombia, a friend invited him to a concert at Eyedrum.
That experience opened the door for Páramo into Atlanta’s art scene.
His first experience with contemporary dance was Dance Truck, a mobile performance platform created by Malina Rodriguez, Danny Davis, and Vii Kelly. He was so excited about their performance that he welcomed an opportunity to work with them and after some time collaborating, they asked him to compose original music for a work that Blake Beckham (who also worked for Moving in the Spirit) was creating. He had never done such a thing before, but he was inspired by the challenge and willing to give them1,000%. He calls it “one of the best gifts I have received in my entire life.” His work with contemporary dancers and choreographers, like T. Lang to Corian Ellisor, has been defined by an innate sense that music and dance go hand in hand.
“I knew we could take it to the next level, but what would that level look like?”
In 2014, when the time came to find a sound technician for Moving in the Spirit’s new show, The Wonder Years, Beckham’s first suggestion was Páramo. Dana Lupton expected to have a sound tech to blend the music together and “create a seamless work that made an arc from start to finish.” What she got instead was a “musical designer” who created “musical choreography.”
Páramo knew that he could easily do what Lupton asked, but he felt compelled to do more. “She had no idea that I had other plans,” he said. “I knew we could take it to the next level, but what would that level look like?” He threw himself into research on Stevie Wonder’s life and music, dug deep into the lyrics to discover the messages of his songs, read a biography, watched documentaries, discovered all he could. Then, he wanted to find out what the students knew and understood, so he interviewed them and wove them into his mix, creating what Lupton calls a “sound collage of their voices.” “His commitment to the highest quality is unprecedented,” she says.
For the final performance of The Wonder Years, Páramo will appear onstage with the dancers and mix some of the music live. He plans to weave in current voices that are delivering the same messages that Stevie Wonder has been sending for years. Both Páramo and Lupton believe that his presence on stage will create a lasting effect: Páramo thinks of the authenticity and nostalgia attached to the vinyl records he’ll be playing; Lupton speaks of the magic that happens when “folks are physically present with one another.” Undeniably, this performance will be one to remember.
It is impossible to say enough about Páramo’s humility and openness. When he speaks of his accomplishments, he never misses an opportunity to give credit to the people in his life. He says, “I think I’ve been blessed with very great people in my life, very generous, very loving, very kind… I want to be like that. Being kind to others is what I want to do with my life.”
By sharing his art and himself with the world, he is achieving that goal.
Come celebrate the final year of The Wonder Years with us on May 5!Purchase Tickets