By Martin D’Souza | Opening Doorz Editorial | August 17, 2018
Exactly a year ago, a girl playing Despacito on the Electric Harp went viral in India. It was a casual video, with professional audio recording and a one-take presentation. The playing was “wow” and the girl in question was having the time of her life, improvising and playing to the beat. Her body language and her electric smile (like her playing) was a winner and an instant connect.
I kept listening to her performance, time and again, over months. The harp and she were one. It was a smooth flow, a love affair. There was expression in every note and watching her play and listen to her mastery of the harp was a joy in itself. Two weeks ago, I researched her performance and learnt she was a professional musician and her name is Enki Semíramis Bello Maldonado.
Internationally, she goes by the name Enki Bello.
Her team was quick to respond to our communication to connect with Enki and willingly Opened their Doorz to us for a chat over the telephone with the down-to-earth Enki who, like her performances, took delight in answering every question in detail.
Originally from Bogota, Columbia, and now living in Connecticut, in the USA, Enki is busy planning her marketing strategy for the years to come, apart from recording her own songs. Enki, who floors you with her mastery of the Electric Harp, candidly admits that “there was a time when I wanted to punch the harp and throw it in the garbage.” She fought the odds, challenging herself to become one of the best in the business today. Coming from a family of musicians, was one of the things that has helped her reach this far. Her fierce dedication and love for music is another.
Shakira, also from Colombia, is someone she looks upto on this planet and when people tell her watching her perform on stage is like seeing Shakira, “It just makes my day, my week, my month, my year,” reveals the 27-year-old who graduated in Music Business and who released her new single Dame Damelo on August 9 of this year.
The Electric Harp is not the only instrument Enki is good at. “Any instrument you put in front of me, I’ll find a way to play it,” she reveals.
Over to Enki Bello…
At what age did you get fascinated with the Harp and at what age did you really start learning it professionally?
I was six years old I saw my dad play the harp in the living room. I was fascinated. It was a Sunday and he was playing his harp and I kept staring at him. I asked him if he could teach me. He started playing the harp when he was 16 and he had me when he was 29 so you can imagine how many years he was playing the harp. He was a musician. He did it as a hobby and then he became an architect. But the harp was always at home and that’s how I fell in love with it. I started to learn the Harp in a school of Music in Bogota which is the capital of Columbia. I was there for about 10 years and then I became an instructor there. My first gig was at the age of 9. I bought sneakers from the money I earned! It was pretty cool.
Were you able to handle the harp at that age? I mean it is quite a huge instrument…
I started with the traditional Colombian Harp so you don’t really have to carry it; you just lean it on your right shoulder (I am right handed). The weight doesn’t really matter because you can stand or sit and you won’t feel the weight because it will be leaning on your shoulder. I started with a smaller harp; it was my Dad and Mom’s Harp, a smaller instrument. I was able to sit down and play it.
Was learning music something that you wanted to do or did you have no choice since your parents decided they wanted to teach you a musical instrument?
It was a 100 percent my choice. My parents are the coolest parents in the world. They never forced me to do anything. They introduced me to different things—sports, poetry, singing. They showed me different musical instruments—guitar, piano, harp, percussion, but it was my own choice to get into music. They gave me the opportunity and put me into a good school of music.
You don’t generally find children taking to a harp: it’s either the guitar or the violin or the piano or even the saxophone. How did this particular interest come up for the Harp?
Great question! I would say the majority of those who play the harp entered into the world of harp because of their family—it’s inherited. I chose the harp particularly because my dad and my mom used to play the harp. They actually met in a school of music where they were in a harp learning program. I grew up looking at them playing the harp. It was inherited.
I assume it would have been an Acoustic Harp you started learning on; when did the Electric Harp get into your repertoire?
Yes, that is correct. I started on an acoustic traditional Colombian Harp. I don’t exactly remember but it was when I got into college that I got intrigued with the Electric Harp. I loved traditional music but I knew commercially it wouldn’t take me very far. I really enjoyed playing traditional music but people were not reacting much to it because we are in a modern world. So after I graduated from Music Business, I wanted to explore the commercial journey. I decided to research on how I could play pop music, rock music, latin music that is modern for people because I wanted to target the young generation. I am young, and the only way that I could do that was to find a more modern harp.
How did you go about finding a more modern harp?
I started researching online and found this amazing, wonderful woman, Deborah Henson-Conant. She is the pioneer and creator of the Electric Harp. When I saw her play the blues on the Harp I got goose bumps. She totally 100 percent inspired me to play the Electric Harp in a very passionate way. I can imagine the effort she put in trying to create a new modern harp, the electric harp that we see today.
Was it a smooth transition; from the Traditional to the Electric Harp?
I migrated to the Electric Harp around five years ago. It was a very complicated transition because the Traditional Harp is totally different. Honestly, it was like pretty much starting from scratch. It was very extremely challenging but I loved it so I kept on going, kept on practicing a lot.
Was there any time you hated your practice time, hated the Harp?
Well, that’s a great question. Nobody ever asked me that. I would say that only time I was really frustrated with the harp was when I switched to the Electric Harp. I got extremely frustrated because I didn’t know what to play, I didn’t understand the harp: the strings looked different, the tension was different. It’s like I have been playing the Harp for more than 15 years and suddenly I am starting all over again. All my 15 years were a waste of time. That’s how I felt.
There were times when I wanted to punch the harp and throw it in the garbage because I would put the harp on and I was not comfortable: I didn’t like the sound, didn’t like the tension. I was not enjoying playing the harp for a while. It was very frustrating. Thankfully my frustration did not last too long. I cannot say I hated the harp, but yes I hated the fact that I could not be as good as I was with the Traditional Harp.
Do you also compose your own music or you only play covers?
Excellent question! Actually, I just released my very first professional album on August 9, 2018. It’s a Spanish-Latin rhythm mix and the name of the Album is Dame Damelo which means ‘Give it to me’. The Music is all about spreading love. I wrote the song two years ago and then spent six months working on the video and recording. So I do compose and write my own songs. I do a lot of covers of famous songs on my Electric Harp because people know the song and they really enjoy it and I do it in my own style. But as of now, I will focus on my own songs—there is nothing like playing your own music.
How does an Enki Bello concert flow?
I do all kinds of things. I interact with my audience, I talk to them, I make them laugh, I tell them where I come from, I tell them what the harp means, I tell them the story of the harp. I make it very educational. It’s not just ‘me, me, me’ and my playing. I make sure people learn something and that I inspire them. I keep throwing quotes about life between songs and I talk about my personal experience. This will stay with them forever more than my actual performance.
Do you have a team (of musicians) who tour with you?
Yes, I have a lot of musicians who perform with me locally and who travel with me but as of now I love to play with beats. I have an awesome producer who helps me create beats for my song and sometimes it is much easier for people to take me out and travel. People just want to see the harp more than anything else. So it depends on the client, it depends on the concert or festival or event. Some people want me just solo; some people want me with musicians. I can do both.
Which are the countries you have toured and what is the best compliment you have received so far?
Since I moved to the United States, I spent about four years finishing college. I was focusing on getting my degree in Music Business. I have travelled a few countries, but mostly within the United States. People tell me that I inspire them to be a better person and I think that is the best compliment I could have ever received. I remember on ‘live’ TV there was a journalist who told me, ‘Enki is to the Harp what Jimi Hendrix is to the guitar’. It was an incredible compliment. Some people have compared me with my biggest idol ever, the person I admire the most on the entire planet—Shakira. People tell me that anytime they see me perform on stage it is like seeing Shakira! It just makes my day, my week, my month, my year!
Apart from you, are there any other musicians in the family?
Yes, almost everybody. My dad is an incredible musician, my brother is an amazing musician, he can play any instrument you can name. My uncle who was the one who inspired me a lot (my father’s only brother) also plays and musical instrument and sings. I have people who play the Percussions, Guitar, Piano… I have all types of musicians in my family.
Do you play any other musical instrument?
Yes I do, I play the Cuatro which is a bigger Ukulele. It’s a traditional Colombian instrument. That is the instrument on which I write all my songs. I also play the Ukulele, the Guitar, I do Percussions, I sing. Any instrument you put in front of me, I’ll find a way to play it. I just need to imagine the song and I go with the flow. I can play the flute as well!
Finally, when will you be touring India?
Touring India is a dream of mine. I have a lot of people from India who have asked me the same question so I am working on that. My India tour will be promoted as much I can when it happens, I cannot wait to come there. I have a lot of Indian friends here in Connecticut. I have a lot of Indian clients. I have played for a lot of Indian weddings, they are awesome people. Just hang in there and wait for me because I will come. I promise.
Also Read: There’s a fire, starting in her heart…