Music on Isabela

Philip Tanabe – Music on Isabela


And just like that, my time in the Galapagos has come to an end. It seems like just last week we had arrived to the islands, freaking out at the sight of a single sea lion. Now we are exceptionally knowledgeable on the culture, flora, fauna, management, and geology of the Galapagos islands.

My first half had me learning so much about the islands and generally getting used to how things are here compared to home. Things weren’t as accessible, sanitary, and thermally controlled, and it took some time for me to get used to. I had some trouble getting used to sleeping in a hot room (as I usually like to keep my bedroom freezing) but the fan allowed me to bear with it. 

One of my favorite parts of this trip is that while I was told it would be difficult to get access to a guitar while I was here, I found a few musicians who I got to jam with and one of them, Will, even lent me an African drum and a full classical guitar! It was amazing that he trusted me so much with these instruments despite me just meeting him! This just showed how relaxed and unstressed the people here really are. The handful of musicians I met here were as follows: Javier, a Spanish guitarist who happens to be Shannon’s host-dad who is on his way to becoming an official tour guide. Will, a multi-instrumentalist who has a relatively extensive collection of instruments at his house (An acoustic and classical guitar, bass guitar, and many different drums) who is currently building a restaurant right by IOI. Mike, a Californian flutist who has been playing for over 50 years now (also plays the saxophone and likely many other wind instruments). Nelson, a guitar player who works at / possibly owns Maestro de Casa (owns an electric guitar and amplifier). Daniel, a guitar player who I played with a few times who I do not know much about. I have jammed with these people, mostly Javier and Will, many times and it exceeded my hopes by a mile. I was hoping to find someone who owns a guitar to let me play a few times while I was on the island but I got to own the instrument and even perform with the locals! The first time I played I was on the drums and we played at Bar de Beto. I am even part of a local musicians group chat on whatsapp, with many people who I have yet to meet being part of it.


My second half of time here was less stressful due to the classes being relatively easy. I had more time to practice and even started writing a few songs / pieces while I was here. This is the time where I met the last 3 members of the music group which I have talked about earlier and I was most impressed with Mike’s ability. Javier and I showed him a song (which I wrote about 2 years ago) that we liked to play and he was immediately able to jump in and play along tastefully. He told me that the song was trippy, and that he wishes he could write stuff like that and I took that as an incredible compliment (especially coming from a musician of over 50 years!). Javier also complimented me earlier in the semester saying that I write very unique sounding songs, it doesn’t “follow theory”, and that he enjoys playing what I write (which is just what I was going for so I felt very happy hearing this from a musician of such a high caliber). Playing with Javier especially has led me to pursue learning Flamenco and incorporating more Spanish flairs into my writing. He shared with me some traditional Spanish songs and techniques and, while it is a little weird learning all of this in the Galapagos, I still see this as immersing myself in local culture (despite it being a foreign culture). 

My final performance with them was at Iguana Point Bar, where we played the classic Dick Dale song “Misirlou”. We practiced for a total of no longer than an hour the day before and we never finalized on a song structure, nor did we figure out who was going to play which instrument (again, the culture here is very relaxed)! I ended up on the lead guitar, Javier on bass and rhythm guitar (switching partway through) and mike on the drums and Saxophone and flute (also switching partway through). We had to improvise a large part of it due to the lack of preparation but it was such a fun time and the audience looked like they enjoyed it as well! While I am usually stage-shy and prefer to do a lot of practicing before performing, I was surprisingly comfortable and had an incredible time up there. I believe this experience helped me become more confident in myself while performing and communicating with fellow musicians without words. While I was supposed to only play the one song, they wanted me to drum for them for the rest of the set (roughly 20 songs which I have never heard of and did not practice for beforehand) but we all played well enough (looked to me like some of them didn’t know the entire songs). I wished that I could have performed with them a few more times but I am more than thankful for how immersed I was with the music culture here. I hope to stay in touch and share more of my future music with them!