Johannes Linstead, a master of the Latin-guitar, calls his latest album Tales of a Gypsy for several reasons. “I travel around the world sharing my music, and each of my compositions is like another tale to be told. I feel like I am following in the footsteps of the original gypsies who traveled wherever they wanted and spread ideas, culture and art as they went. I also think of planet earth as one world and all of the inhabitants as one people, and that concept of ‘no borders’ represents the kind of true personal freedom that gypsies always appreciated.
The gypsies in Spain were the first to develop the Spanish guitar sound, flamenco and many Latin music motifs. Linstead has always had a bit of the wandering gypsy spirit. Born and raised in Canada to European parents, he now spends part of the year living in Canada near Toronto and the other part in the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean. When he was a child, his father, who passed down a passion for Latin culture, took the family on numerous trips to places like Spain, Mexico, South America and many islands in the Caribbean. Now Johannes, who has been to approximately 25 countries, travels both for pleasure and to perform concerts in such diverse places as India, Cuba and the Kingdom of Bahrain.
His music, including the new Tales of a Gypsy, is available: on the Earthscape Media label in CD format (distribution by SONY-RED) and can be found at most retail stores; and as digital downloads (through IRIS Distribution) via online websites like Amazon, iTunes, CDbaby, eMusic and countless others. Linstead also has seven previous best-selling albums under his name — Sol Luna Tierra, Kiss the Earth, Guitarra del Fuego, Zabuca, Mediterranea, Cafe Tropical and Mistico.
Most of his albums have risen high on the prestigious Billboard New Age sales chart and are regularly Top 10 on various radio airplay charts. Linstead’s last album, Mistico, went to #1 on the eMusic World Music and Jazz/Blues charts and Top 10 on the Zone Music Reporter international radio chart, and the recording also was the winner of “Best World Album” and “Best Acoustic Instrumental Album” at the ZMR Awards. Linstead’s albums have won dozens of other awards over the years, and as a musician Linstead has received many accolades. For example, at the time of Cafe Tropical, Linstead won “Guitarist of the Year” in the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards, and when Mistico was released, he was named “World Artist of the Year” at The Ontario Music Awards. Linstead also has played many prestigious concerts including the Catalina Jazz Festival in California and the Kettle Moraine Jazz Festival in Wisconsin. He also has become an “Influential Artist” with the Yamaha Corporation of America, the largest musical instrument manufacturer in the world, endorsing their classical line of guitars.
Linstead’s music receives acclaim and strong sales from both the smooth jazz and new age music audiences, but it is best described as world-fusion. While his guitar-playing has a Latin focus, Linstead is inspired by music he has heard all around the world, and he regularly works with top musicians from many different countries. “I enjoy creating music with musicians who bring different instruments, sounds, cultural experiences and perspectives to this art-form,” explains Linstead. “I am not particularly fond of the concept of countries, borders and the separation of people. My music is a way to cross those barriers because of its universality.”
On Tales of a Gypsy, Linstead is joined by violinist Vasyl Popadiouk from the Ukraine (classically-trained, but adept at the gypsy style of playing learned from the Carpathian mountain people in his homeland), accordion player Jordan Abraham (he attended the Berklee College of Music in the U.S., his parents are from India, and he has studied both the traditional Jewish style and the gypsy style of playing), and flutist Nicholas Gunn on bamboo pan-pipes (born and raised in England, and now living in the U.S.). Geoff Hlibka plays the oud (an early form of guitar) and acoustic guitar. There also are four percussionists on the album performing variously on congas, bongos, doumbek and timbales — Anastasios Bigas (from Greece), Jalidan Ruiz (from Cuba), Sina Khossravi (from Iran) and Alex Godinez (of Guatemalan heritage).
The album begins with “Jungle Love” which Linstead says “is inspired by my journeys to various rain-forests and my love for nature.” “La Lunada” is a catchy, upbeat, festive guitar showcase. There are five tunes featuring interplay between acoustic guitar and violin including the very gypsy jazz-sounding title track, “Bella! Bella!” which swings with a tip of the hat to Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, and the uptempo “Caravan of Desire” (“a rhumba flamenco piece that tries to capture both the mood of gypsies traveling and the sensuality of a love affair”). Three tracks feature accordion — “Swaying Palms” (reminiscent of the European cafe scene), “Vagabond Stomp” with a Cajun/Creole flavor, and “Sosua Bay Sunset” with a very pretty melody (“the inspiration came from relaxing on the beach in the Dominican Republic”). There are two slower numbers — “September Remembered” (written at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks) and “Flows Like Water” (“I tried to capture a zen-like sound of serenity and tranquility”).
The album explores the many nuances of the Spanish guitar from the traditional to the contemporary, from fiery and passionate to soulful and swinging, sometimes lightning-fast and always beautifully melodic. Linstead demonstrates on Tales of a Gypsy why he is recognized internationally as one of the most popular and best-selling guitarists and composers in the world-fusion field. Once again he melds far-ranging influences and global styles into his own signature sound.
Growing up in Canada, Johannes was exposed to other cultures all his life. Both of his parents came from Europe (his father from England and his mother from Germany). He grew up listening to classical music as a child and had admiration for Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. He got a guitar when he was eight and took lessons for a few years. At first he gravitated toward classical guitar, but when he became a teenager he was exposed to flamenco and Latin-styled guitar as well as pop, rock, folk and jazz which broadened his musical outlook. He joined his high school’s jazz band and won the “Musician of the Year” Award. “I became interested in the different intricacies and beauty within each style. I listened to a wide variety of guitarists ranging from Al DiMeola and John McLaughlin to Paco de Lucia and Randy Rhoads.” Linstead played in a rock band for a few years.
“During my travels I discovered some of the possibilities of Latin guitar in contemporary instrumental music. I was being influenced by many Latin styles like salsa, merengue and cumbia, especially the rhythms and the horns. I tried to emulate the horn solos on my guitar. Locally I started performing traditional Spanish and Latin pieces along with my own compositions. I put together a band with percussion, drums and bass. The music went over well so I recorded my first CD and started to play festivals.” On-stage Linstead became known for his energetic performances and the fiesta atmosphere his music creates.
During his musical journey, Johannes also was on a spiritual path. He has studied and taught kundalini yoga for many years. “Music plays a part in kundalini yoga, so it is a good fit for me. I am not just a musician, but also a spiritual being who tries to help others. I want to see more and more people find a unifying energy and connect spiritually with other human beings.” He founded the Divine Earth Organization (divineearth.org), an online humanitarian community where members post information about spirituality, health and even world politics. The philosophy of the organization is that in order to attain a happier and healthier world, people must first identify and overcome any conditions that undermine their ability to find inner peace. Linstead also emails a “Weekly Wisdom” newsletter “to guide people towards their own inner wisdom.”
According to Linstead, “My music is inspired by my spirituality, by cultures from all over the world and by people’s everyday triumphs over hardships. I have become interested in what music can do to help create universal connectiveness.”
TALES OF A GYPSY (October 22, 2012 – #1 on Amazon.com Int’l Latin charts; #1 on eMusic.com; nominated for 3 ZMR Awards)
MISTICO (September 25, 2009 – #1 on eMusic.com’s World Music and Jazz/Blues charts, winner of “Best World Album” and “Best Instrumental Album – Acoustic” in the ZMR Awards, Top Ten on ZoneMusicReporter.com radio chart for two months)
CAFE TROPICAL (April 25, 2006 – #4 on Billboard’s New Age Chart, #1 on eMusic.com World Music Chart)
MEDITERRANEA (September 2004 – #6 on Billboard’s New Age Chart; Winner “Best World Album” NAR Lifestyle Music Awards; #7 on NAR’s Top 100 Radio Airplay Chart for Sept.’04)
ZABUCA (2003 – 34 weeks on Billboard’s New Age Chart, peak #8; NAR’s Top 100 New Age Radio Airplay for 2003)
GUITARRA DEL FUEGO (2001 – 36 weeks on Billboard’s New Age Chart, peak #6; “Best Contemporary World Album” NAV Magazine; #8 on Billboard’s Top Ten NewAge Indie Sales)
KISS THE EARTH (2000 – 9 weeks on Billboard’s New Age Chart, peak #12)
SOL LUNA TIERRA (1999 – 3 weeks on Billboard’s New Age Chart, peak #17)