Rodrigo Tobar

Latin American Singer Songwriter

Let me invite you to get to know me, to retrace my musical and artistic journey through time and space. Join me on this journey in flashback.

In this most recent period, I released the album “De lejos” (“From afar”, 2021). This project is the result of a grant awarded by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Many of the songs that make up this production were composed in times of pandemic. I came from afar to Europe, like so many immigrants, and from afar I glimpse what is happening in my country and I sing of it.

In 2022, the European Union awarded Cologne the title of “European Capital of Integration and Diversity”. We are proud to be part of this diversity and we celebrated this recognition with the huge concert “Global Sounds of Cologne”.

At the annual public event of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in Bonn, we shared the stage with the German Federal President as well as the Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development. It was a day that broke temperature records in the region. Our song “¿Cuándo?” (“When?”), which speaks of the urgency of taking action to curb climate change, took on an unprecedented relevance in that summer of 2022.

The multicultural project “Grenzenlos” (“Without borders”) in the Ruhr region in the summer of 2021 was an enriching experience, as it allowed us to work and exchange experiences with musicians from different continents.

What future are we leaving to the young generation, what world will they inherit from us? That was the central theme of the project “Terra Nostra” together with the Junges Ensemble Ruhr (JER) at the beginning of 2021.

If you are given opportunities in life, you must take them! So, when I was presented with the option of an extended stay in Uganda, I didn’t hesitate. I immersed myself in the African culture and reality and nurtured new projects with the dreams and longings that life is made of in this country with a wrenching history and a youth thirsty for the future.

In 1997, together with my brother Lorenzo, I composed the Latin American mass “Espiritual”. It was an honour that 20 years later we were able to celebrate that anniversary with a performance in the Paderborn Cathedral, accompanied by the choir Paderborner Mädchenkantorei.

The “Kölner Musiknacht” festival was for years a showcase for Cologne’s musical excellence and diversity. The 2015 edition of this event allowed us to become part of the mosaic of international artists residing in this Rhineland capital.

Music is certainly the most universal language we can imagine. Continuing the experience started in 2010 with Interfaces, in 2015 we embarked on the fascinating adventure of an extensive tour around the province of Petorca/Chile with the youth orchestras of Hürth (Germany) and Petorca (Chile).

Ni hao! Never did I think that one day I would know how to say Hello in Chinese. This greeting is just one of thousands of memories I brought back from China in 2013, where we participated in the Zhangjiajie International Festival. It was the starting point of a tour that took us around the Hunan province. The highlight of this experience was undoubtedly to have seen with my own eyes and to have set foot on the Great Wall of China. The Chinese farewell “Zàijiàn!” implies the promise to meet again. Let’s see when China will greet me again with an affectionate “Ni hao!”

My beloved hometown La Ligua is known as the city of weaving. Fabrics that provide warmth and shelter to the body in winter days. I want to deliver the same with my compositions: warmth and shelter for the soul. The CD “Tejidos sonoros” (“Sound weavings”), which I published in 2014, is a compilation of instrumental songs that I composed with my brother Lorenzo and that were scattered in different albums published previously.

Many times, we had performed our Latin American mass “Espiritual” with our voices and instruments. It was amazing to hear it for the first time in choral arrangement when we performed it with the choir of Osnabrück Cathedral in 2013. It was a feeling like watching your children grow, develop and mature.

In 2009, the German humanitarian organisation “Brot für die Welt” (Bread for the World) invited us to support their activities. The concept was more than convincing: Music as a vehicle for a message of global solidarity. On the occasion of this campaign, Brot für die Welt sponsored an edition of the CD “Jacarandá” for social purposes.

In 2010, the former heart of the German coal and metal industry, the Ruhr region, became “Cultural Capital of Europe”. Where once chimneys smoked and miners extracted coal from the bowels of the earth, today a varied cultural landscape with its stages, theatres, and concert halls flourishes. In this context, a beautiful story of youth exchange between Chile and Germany began. The multicultural project “INTERFACES” enabled the first contact between the youth orchestra of La Ligua and its German counterpart from Duisburg in 2010. With my band we accompanied the young musicians from La Ligua on various stages and public squares in the Ruhr region in front of an audience eager to get to know the proposals and concerns of the new generations. This project was continued in 2011, when we travelled to the province of Petorca/Chile with young German musical talents and their teachers.

I opened 2010 with a series of concerts in Chile, at the crafts festival “Feria del Tejido” in La Ligua, at the club “La Piedra Feliz” in Valparaíso and together with the youth orchestra of La Ligua wiht several concerts in the province of Petorca.

From 2010 onwards, Chile has been suffering from an uninterrupted drought, affecting geographically half of the country, and thus the majority of the population: water shortages, unbearable heat and forest fires are just some of the most dramatic and visible effects of this consequence of climate change. I wonder: When are we going to act accordingly and change our economic patterns and consumption habits? How much longer can the thirsty earth, the thirsty animals, the thirsty people – not only for water, but for environmental justice – endure? These are the questions I captured on the CD “¿Cuándo?” (“When?”, 2012).

The memory of the jacaranda trees with their profuse purple blossoms lining the street of the high school where I studied in La Ligua was the inspiration for the CD ” Jacarandá” (2008). This album is perhaps my most personal production to date.

With the filming of the video clip Desaparecido” (“Missing”, 2007) I was finally able to pay homage to my uncle Víctor Cárdenas Valderrama, who disappeared in 1976 under the civil-military dictatorship in Chile. Until today there is no trace of his remains. We have not forgotten him.

A special milestone for me at that time was the fact that we were invited to perform at the annual party of the German branch of Unicef, in Cologne.

Violeta Parra is undoubtedly the most iconic figure of Chilean and Latin American popular culture. Almost ignored during her lifetime, she only gained the recognition we owed her after her tragic death. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of her passing, we mounted a big show with choir and instrumentalists, actors, and actresses, in order to bring her immense cultural legacy also to the German public. “Gracias a la vida – Homenaje a Violeta Parra” (Thanks to life – Homage to Violeta Parra) was published as an album in 2007.

Being an immigrant myself in Germany, I wanted to tell the stories of those who came to Europe in search of what is often called “a better life”. They range from radiant to dark and sad. I tell these stories in the album “Sueños perdidos” (“Lost Dreams”, 2005). Deutsche Welle (DW) devoted a whole week in its cultural slot “CD of the week” to “Sueños perdidos”.

Of what colour is freedom? Of what colour is poverty? Of what colour is love? Of what colour are the struggles of the indigenous peoples of Latin America? With the album “Del color de la tierra” (“Of the colour of earth”, 2002) I embarked on the search for answers to these questions.

I took the themes of this new production to different stages in Germany. Among other milestones, we opened the Cologne summer festival “Sommer in Köln 2002” with a big open-air concert.

We were the cultural ambassadors of Latin America at the events organised by Adveniat in the context of the ecumenical assembly of the German churches in Berlin in 2003.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the military coup in Chile, we played at the main commemoration event organised by Amnesty International in Cologne in September 2003.

For me, the new millennium began with news that I received with great gratitude and humility: my city of La Ligua awarded me the title of “Illustrious Son”, in recognition of my international musical career. Beyond the satisfaction, this distinction means a commitment and an incentive for me to continue as a cultural ambassador of my country and my people.

Two very different albums mark the end of the century. “La Fiesta” (1996) brings together songs that are part of the sound of the 1990s, when new Latin American rhythms conquered European discotheques.

On the other hand, “Espiritual” (1998) reflects the deep religiosity that defines the daily life of the people of Latin America.

With both repertoires we toured different cities in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It is worth mentioning the performance in 1998 at the PopKomm, the biggest popular music fair in Europe, which was held in Cologne/Germany.

For two consecutive years I took over the artistic direction of the musical project “Misa Criolla”, in which I was also a soloist. We toured extensively in Germany, the Netherlands and Austria, performing at such prominent venues as the Philharmonie in Berlin, the Beethovenhalle in Bonn, the Gürzenich in Cologne, the Tonhalle in Düsseldorf and others. From this project the double album “Misa Criolla und  weihnachtliche Musik aus Lateinamerika” (“Misa Criolla and Christmas music from Latin America”) was published.

One of the most emblematic musical experiences that I promoted during these years was the Maipú project. The result of this work was the recording in 1992 of the album “Maipú – Music from the Andes”. With the music from this album we toured Germany that same year, presenting “La Conquista continúa” (“The Conquest continues”,) a programme dedicated to the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America.

We also participated in the project “Music of the World” on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.

Together with the choir of the German trade unions DGB we participated in the staging of the oratorio “Canto General” by Pablo Neruda and Mikis Teodorakis, taking over the instrumental part. We toured Germany extensively with this production.

Another experience that I enjoyed very much in those years was the recording of the music for different radio plays produced by the German public radio WDR: “Eine Verabredung im Herbst” (A Date in Autumn), “Die Belohnung” (The Reward) and “Mir” (Space Project).

In October 1983 I came to Germany and Europe on a tour with the Chilean group Ortiga, with whom I also recorded several albums.

After this period, from 1988 onwards I started my career as a soloist and studied musicology at the University of Cologne.

I studied music at the University of Chile in Santiago, where I graduated as a music teacher.
During this period, I participated in various musical projects, both instrumental and choral, and was a member of the folk group Palomar. Later I joined the Canto Nuevo musical movement group “Ortiga”.

My musical adventure began when I was very young in my hometown La Ligua/Chile.

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