Celso Duarte plays many instruments, but it’s the harp that is his passion.
Duarte of Cuernavaca, Mexico, will perform Saturday in Olympia — and then he’s off to Carnegie Hall in New York, where he’ll play as part of a cultural exchange program.
“My harp is for me a magic instrument,” Duarte said. “You can feel the resonance in your chest, in your arms, in your body.”
His father, who was born in Paraguay, was a master harp player, and Duarte began learning the instrument when he was 10. “In Paraguay, the harp is the national instrument,” he said.
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“I started playing music when I was 5 or 6,” he said. “My family, they are musicians, too. I started with my brothers, playing like a game.”
But playing music was also a serious pursuit for Duarte, who was classically trained in both guitar and violin.
His talent has led him to engagements at harp festivals from Japan to Tacoma, where he’ll play in July at the American Harp Society National Conference.
He also is known for his appearances with Oaxaca-born singer Lila Downs.
Both Duarte and Downs played on “San Patricio,” a new collaboration by The Chieftains and Ry Cooder.
Bill Leonard, who is producing the Olympia show, discovered Duarte when he saw Downs play in Seattle.
“While Lila is the star, it was clear that there was another star on stage, and that’s Celso,” he said. “He’s most known for his harp playing but he plays five or six different instruments. I picked up one of his CDs and was just blown away.”
That CD was “De Sur a Sur” (“From South to South”), an album of Mexican and Paraguayan folk music, and Duarte is working on material for a second CD that he’ll record later this year – after he completes this tour and a European one with Downs.
The new album will include at least one original composition, but Duarte’s focus is on traditional music with different arrangements and instrumentation.
“The specialty for me is the arrangements of the traditional music,” he said. “For some melodies, I use traditional instruments, but in other songs, I’m using other instruments and the arrangements are more like world music.”
He’s also known for his skill at improvisation.
“We improvise a lot in the concerts,” he said. “We know the form, but in the solos, it’s a surprise for everybody. We don’t know what’s going to happen this night.”