Bass player Benjamin Becerra came to Ireland from his native Venezuela in 2014. Now as a member of the successful international band - Baile an Salsa - he has the opportunity to play at major folk festivals. The 32-year-old shared his story with VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams.
(From the October - December 2017 issue of VOX)
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF
I come from Venezuela in Central America, which has a tropical climate so a lot of people ask, “Why did you come to Ireland?” I came to learn English. At the time, things were not going well economically in Venezuela and after I left, things became even worse, with people demonstrating against the government. So I can say I left at the right time.
HOW DID YOU FIND FAITH?
I grew up in a Christian family. I remember going to church, watching people singing and playing instruments. When I was five years old, my dad asked me if I wanted to ask Jesus to come into my life. I had learnt all the stories in Sunday School so when my dad told me, “You can invite Jesus to live in your life”, I said “Yes” to Jesus. He has been my friend ever since. I learnt that I can talk to Jesus whenever and wherever I am. Children run into the arms of their father. I feel like that all the time - I see God as my Father, my dad.
WHEN DID YOU START PLAYING BASS?
When I was eight or nine, my mum taught me the basic theory of music, how to read all the notes. I’m the youngest of three brothers and my oldest brother taught me how to play the flute. Then my parents bought me a cuatro (that is a traditional four-stringed instrument that is typical in Venezuela which is similar to a Ukelele). It is easy to play so a lot of children start with a cuatro. My middle brother was learning to play the guitar and when he took a break, I took the guitar and started to play as well. Eventually he told me, “I want to have a band and you are going to play the bass.” I said, “The what?” My brother told me, “It is similar to the guitar but you just have to play single notes.” I liked it! So I taught myself [to play] and improved by listening to music.
HOW DID YOU COME TO GET INVOLVED WITH BAILE AN SALSA? TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE BAND.
Baile an Salsa started in Galway city in 2012. It is a ten-piece band combining a love for Irish Traditional Music with Latin Rhythms to create a fusion that they call Salsa-Trad. I first saw them on Facebook and I started to listen to them. The fusion seems weird but it is really good - it makes sense! I used to gig with one of the percussion players. So when the band needed a new bass player, he got me an audition in December 2016. I arrived with the band at a good time because they were lined to play at the Folk Alive Festival in Kansas city in February.
IT SOUNDS LIKE THE BAND IS GOING FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH. TELL US ABOUT SOME OF YOUR RECENT SUCCESSES.
We got to play at the Philadelphia Folk Fest in August. We performed on the Celtic Stage and later on we got to play on the festival Main Stage. That was an incredible experience.
This last weekend, we spent four days in the Grouse Lodge Recording Studio recording six songs for our next album. It’s one of Ireland’s top music studios and apparently even Michael Jackson recorded there! Our album is being produced by Walter Flores, a top music producer who also works with one of the biggest Salsa singers in South America. He helped us a lot and has some really good ideas. The album should be ready by the beginning of next year.
DO YOU EVER GET TO PLAY IN A CHURCH? HOW DOES THAT COMPARE WITH GIGGING AS A PROFESSIONAL MUSICIAN?
I’m a member of Dublin Vineyard and if I’m not away with the band, I play with the worship band at church. I have learnt that I have to be professional whenever I play. For me, it is even more important to be professional in church because I am worshipping God. Everything that I have learnt is because of God so I’m really grateful. Every time I play in church it is amazing because I’m worshipping Him.
WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING A CHRISTIAN IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?
I have a lot of musician friends who are not Christians. Sometimes they make jokes. I just try to be myself. I don’t want to be one person with the band and then a different person on a Sunday. I want to be myself and hope that my friends will see the difference in my life. I need to do the thing that I love but at the same time, I want to be strong in my faith. I love Jesus and I love music. Everything I play is because of God!
You can find out more about Baile an Salsa on their Facebook page.
Photos: Terri Taylor Tattan & Matt Kavanagh