James Keelaghan wrote a series of articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.

Oscar and Popo

If you love the music of Oscar Lopez, if you love the power and the artistry that he brings to the guitar, if you own any of his Juno Award winning CD’s, if you have seen him with Rick Emmett and Pavlo as the super group PRO, if you liked Oscar and I playing together as Compadres – you’ve got Henry Caballo to thank for that.

Henry was a Portuguese immigrant owned an auto body shop in Winnipeg. In the winter of 1980 he was concerned about a young Chilean working in the shop doing paint prep. Oscar had been in the country for 3 months, was working hard on his English and in the shop. Henry liked having him around. Oscar would bring his guitar to work and play on his lunch breaks.

One day Henry called Oscar into the office. “You shouldn’t be working in a body shop!” he says, ” You should be playing your guitar. I’m going to do you a favour”. Henry fired him. That’s why we should be thanking Henry.

Oscar took it to heart and began playing with local bands in Winnipeg. The rest of his family had moved on to Calgary and Oscar followed.

Oscar Lopez

I was just starting to play the clubs in Calgary myself. I kept hearing about this amazing Chilean guy, an unbelievable guitarist, but somehow our paths never crossed. We finally met one weekend in Sudbury, of all places, did some jamming and we have been fast friends ever since.

Oscar is born to what he does – entertain. He has developed a style that can only be defined as original. The speed of his left hand is legendary and blinding, the attack on his right hand is blistering. While he comes out of a Latin sensibility and a Latin culture, his guitar playing transcends those definitions. He is truly in a class by himself.

On stage he is as intense as Great Lakes Squall, but if you want relaxed, you’ve got to see The Mighty Popo. His guitar work is effortless, almost as though its being played by some unseen hand.

He was born Jaques Murigande child of Rwandan parents in a Burundian Refugee camp. The music of the region informed him, but he has always been as fluent in different musical styles as he is in any of the 5 languages he speaks. He moves naturally between blues, R&B and jazz, but there is always that accent from the Land of the 1000 hills.

He came to Canada in 1987 and like Oscar, began to settle into the music scene in Montreal where he was a sought after player on the blues scene. People outside of Quebec first met him at the Juno award winning  “African Guitar Summit”.

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At the Edmonton Folk Festival lat year, I saw him bring the crowd to it’s feet at the blues stage. I ended that day sitting on a workshop stage with him, Deep Dark Woods and De Temps Antan. He led a massive jam for the last song of the workshop that above all else demonstrated his remarkable generosity as a performer.

That same spirit of generosity helped Popo achieve something  remarkable. In 2011, he went to Rwanda with a group of committed people to stage a folk festival in Kigali. Kigali Up was an amazing success. People donated air miles for flights, sound equipment, cash, anything to get the festival off the ground. And it soared. The 2nd Kigali up happens in early July this year.

Generosity is the soul of music. Performers who don’t give generously to their audiences don’t last long just as audiences who do not give back don’t attract artists. I can’t wait to bring these two together in a workshop at Summerfolk and see where it goes.

One thing is certain. No one is going to get fired.