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Meet Trailblazer Zahili Gonzalez Zamora

Today we’d like to introduce you to Zahili Gonzalez Zamora.

Zahili, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born in Manzanillo, Cuba and my curiosity towards the piano started at the age of six. I began my elementary music studies in my hometown, then pursued my high school conservatory level of music in Havana, the capital city, where I graduated as a classical pianist with a performance diploma from the National School of Music. At just 18 years of age, I proceeded to dive into the professional music world and began performing and touring with traditional Cuban bands. Ten years later, I moved to Canada and aside from playing Cuban music, I started to collaborate with musicians from all over the world. I became acquainted with other genres such as traditional Ecuadorian, French and South African music. I even traveled to Asia for six years to perform with a pop band.

During this period, I gained an interest in improvisation, which showed me the door to a different kind of musical expression. This was Jazz. In the midst of artistic self-realization, I understood that it was time for me to explore it in depth, so I self – started an EP that launched me as a bandleader, pianist, singer, composer, and arranger. The experience confirmed that Jazz is the genre that I identify with the most and that I needed more eloquence in my own expression. Thus, I decided to become a student once again.

I spent four and a half years at Berklee College of Music, where I was able to immerse myself in the study and analysis of Jazz performance and composition. My mentors provided a safe space for self-expression, experimentation, and development. They also allowed me to realize how much of the creative process is a reflection of who we truly are. These practices helped me to mature as an artist and as a human being, leading me to fall deeply in love with the process of creating and arranging music.

Having recently graduated summa cum laude with a dual degree in Jazz Composition and Piano Performance from Berklee I am now focused on the completion of my first album with my Latin Jazz trio, MIXCLA.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
No, it hasn’t.

Leaving home, family, friends, a known environment that’s the core and essence of who we are, is never easy. Throughout my almost 17 years away from Cuba, I have fallen many times and gotten back up many more. But rather than focusing on that, I have redirected my energy at the times I have had a helping hand or as I like to call it, the angels.

Believing in oneself, and one’s dream is the driving force of everything. My advice to other women starting their journey is to never lose focus from the ultimate goal. The road will never be easy, and there will be mountains to conquer and wounds to patch, but I say to them – just keep going, one step at a time, and you’ll reach your goals.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
While searching for an artistic identity, I began reconnecting with my Cuban roots and utilizing elements of my rhythmic idiosyncrasy with American Jazz. Slowly, I began adding and developing skills that encompass that which I am today, a Latin Jazz pianist, singer, and composer. With Gerson and Takafumi, two talented musicians, colleagues from Berklee College of Music who have a love and passion for Cuban music in spite of being from other nationalities, Chile and Japan, we form this musical triangle called, MIXCLA.

MIXCLA was born from our desire to relate to one another as artists, from an innate passion to do what we love as professionals in service to people, and from an unconditional devotion to unite and connect with an audience no matter what language or country they are from. Our music represents multiculturalism and global unity in times in which there are so much division and oppression.

From diverse modern Cuban rumba grooves, to a traditional Cha, and even a Classical Piano Cuban piece arranged for the trio, we encompass cultural diversity. We are the entertainers of today.

Finding a mentor and building a network are often cited in studies as a major factor impacting one’s success. Do you have any advice or lessons to share regarding finding a mentor or networking in general?
The importance of having a mentor goes beyond description. It is essential! My advice is – don’t shy away from those whom you admire. Let them know how you feel about them. Try to arrange a meeting, be observant of their ways, don’t try to impress, just be YOU and allow YOU to be vulnerable in your own artistic way.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
(Brown Bag Concert image), David Royal (Monterey Herald), Tom Ehrlich, Dave Green

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