Keyboardist and composer Gabriel Iwasaki has been making waves lately. Gabriel joined Flor de Loto in 2016, and has added a new sonic dimension to the band with his compositional skills and keyboard wizardry. Apart from his work with Flor de Loto, Gabriel is also an accomplished composer, receiving classical training at Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. His compositions have won international awards, and he has released several solo albums as well, among them The Journey of Life and The Journey Continues. I caught up with Gabriel to talk about his work with Flor de Loto, his solo career, and what’s next.
When did you first start playing music? Tell us about your music formation.
I started playing piano when I was around 5 years old, but never took it seriously. It wasn’t until I was around 13 years old that I started playing drums (yes, drums) and my love for the music just flourished. I started practicing and composing more and more, until I eventually needed to learn about harmony, counterpoint, etc., so I got back to intensive piano lessons and took it reaaaaally seriously.
So seriously in fact, that I went to music college after high school, going for a degree in Music Composition in the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, where I did not enhance my music playing, but I also learned how to score for orchestra, about to record, mix and fully produce music, which actually has helped me tremendously in my music carreer.
How did you discover rock music? How about progressive rock? What was your first experience with prog?
I have always loved rock music, just like a kid loves chocolate (just ask any kid). Listening and loving to rock are not things I choose to do, but rather things I can’t help to do. Though just like with chocolates, some people are Snickers people and some are Milky Way people, everyone has their own preferences
For me, it is progressive rock (So, I am snickers guy). I started listening to prog when I was around 12 years old, when my brother showed me a Dream Theater record (Live at Budokan 2004) and I just fell in love with it. Oddly enough, I really like the band because there was a riff on one of their songs (Stream of consciousness) that sounded just like a riff I had recorded a few days prior, so I figured I would like the band. I really have loved them since that day.
After that, I decided to do some research, to know where did guys came to be, who were their influences, and that is when I got to learn about Yes, Gentle Giant, Genesis, and all of the big names in prog. And you know, once you dwell through the halls of prog, there is no going back.
How did get to play in Flor de Loto? Tell us about your bandmates!
This actually a very interesting story. I discovered Flor de Loto when I was around 16 years old, when I attended the release concert of their their album “Mundos Bizarros”. I immediately fell in love with their music and started looking up to them. I went to all of their concerts (as much as I could).
While in music college, the band was aware of my work with progressive music (mainly because of my 2015 solo album “The Journey of Life”), so they decided to contact me to lay some keyboards for an album as an invited musician. They later invited me for the release concert of that album “Árbol de la Vida” and we just hit it off. I was invited to join the band soon after that.
I feel blessed for having looked after this band for so many years, and later become a part of it. It is like a dream come true. This doesn’t happen everyday!
Flor de Loto’s new album “Eclipse” begins with a cover of “Locomotive Breath” by Jethro Tull, with “El Condor Pasa” by Peruvian songwriter Daniel Alomia Robles as the intro. How did this come to be?
¡Good question! This is a good one. So, for “Eclipse” we had with Roy Z (Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford, Helloween, etc.) as our music producer. He had the idea of doing a cover for a classic prog band and he suggested “Locomotive Breath”. Everybody liked the idea, and the song was a good fit for our music style too.
But, because we were recording and rehearsing the album before RosFest 2018, and we knew that concert was going to be very special and recorded in DVD, I wanted to do something out of the ordinary for this. So I had the idea of doing a version of a Peruvian traditional song, “El condor pasa”, and exploit (in a positive way) the fact that we have Checho Cuadros as our wind player (the best quena player in Peru, hands down). The guys were dubious about the inclusion of the track, but they decided to give it a try and it was a huge success. Given the amount of positivity the song received in RosFest, we decided to include it in our record. I am really glad it worked out that way!
One distinguishing factor in your music is the prominence of the quena, or Peruvian flute. How does Peruvian music influence your sound?
The quena is one of the most beautiful instruments you can find in the southern hemisphere. It is relatively similar to a traverse flute, but it has that native, folk sound to it that makes it so special. It is also NOT EASY AT ALL to play (give it a try one day…not even classicaly trained flautists can play a quena just like that).
Peruvian music has a lot of influenced in our music, particularly the music from the Andes or mountains. For instance,“Espejo de Alma” features a native Peruvian style pattern called“huayno” in the middle section. Huaynos are always on 4/4, but since we are prog, it appears in alternating 5, 4 and 6/4. “El charango perdido” also features very traditional peruvian rhythyms, as well as panpipes.
One thing worth mentioning is that Checho builds his own Quenas (he has his own signature line called “Checho Quena”), which are rigorously made FOR him and BY him. This is important because the sound he produces out of his instruments is just unbelievable, and he just sonically blows all of the other quena players out of the water.
I’ve seen Flor de Loto post some pretty great live videos. Tell us about your plans for live shows in 2019!
This year we have the “Eclipse tour 2019” here in Lima, Peru until roughly april. A particularly special show for us here is the premiere of “Songs of Injustice”, a documentary about metal in Latin America where we were featured as a band. It is going to be premiered in my university, which important for us too since the number 1 university of Peru is promoting both metal and progressive music with this event. This is great news!
Also, in September we are travelling to Verona, Italy to play in “2+1 Days of Prog” Festival. We could not be more excited about this!
*Note to readers*: Due to US Visa regulations, Flor de Loto’s appearance at RoSFest 2019 was unfortunately cancelled.
You have also two released records as a solo artist. Tell us more about it!
I started my solo carreer at 22 years old when I released “The Journey of Life”, my first solo record where merged my love for both progressive rock and classical music. This record becomes part of suite of records about my musical “journey” through life (hence the name of the album).
In 2018, I released my second solo record “The Journey Continues”, which was definetely my most ambitious music Project to date. The songs got longer and more complex, and the lyrics were more entertwined, even suggesting what will come in future albums. For this record, I also formally assembled an stable solo band who will accompaign me in this journey. They are: Gustavo Michael (vocals), Wilmer Pachas (guitar), Gabriel Leon (Bass), Miguel Galdos (Drums).
We will be releasing a series of studio playthrough videos as well as videoclips in the near future.
I see that you went to Europe last year for an international composition competition. How would you describe this experience?
This was one of the greatest experiences I have had as an orchestral composer. Last year I entered at last minute to the “International Antonin Dvorak Composition Competition”, for which I send the orchestral score of my piece “Cinematic Fantasy No. 1”. The competition was fierce, having people from around 80 countries participating. I was later told I was selected for the finals, and became the first peruvian to get to this stage.
The competition was held in Prague – Czech Republic, where we had to compose two classical pieces in only 5 days with a theme given by the czech jury. It was insane!
There I wrote my “Cinematic Fantasy No. 2”, which I named “From the Old World” in honor to Dvorak’s famous 9th symphony “From the New World”. Dvorak travelled to America from the Czech Republic to write this piece, and I did the exact opposite, hence the name (see what I did there?).
You can listen to the piece here:
Check out Gabriel’s website here.
Flor de Loto’s MRR Band Profile and Bandcamp.