Home and home: Claudia Salguero stays true to her roots through music

Claudia Salguero moved to Canada in 2001. She didn’t want to leave her hometown of Bogota, Colombia. Everyone with a chance was getting out and she didn’t really want to abandon her country and her city, but opportunity beckoned and so she moved with her family.

It was a life-changing and ultimately life-affirming decision, Salguero said in an interview.

“Somebody once asked me,” she said, “‘Where is home?’

“It is such a hard question. I am a proud Colombian, proud of who I am. But I have a beautiful life here with friends from all over the world. This is one of the gifts of living in Canada. I believe this has made me a better person.

“I love both places. You don’t lose your identity when you move, you gain another one. I never thought it was going to be so easy to adapt. I see friends of mine who have been struggling for five even 10 years. But I discovered that I was a very open-minded person. 

“I didn’t cry when I came here. I learned to ski and skate and do angels in the snow.”

She’s so adapted to winter that she has been asked to take part in Winterlude as an ice sculptor. 

She is living her life to the fullest and enjoying her liberty.

She grew up in Bogota. It’s a massive city with lots of potential pitfalls and she was sheltered from them by her parents. 

“I was very sheltered. I grew up in an apartment. I wanted to go out like my brother who was a boy scout. I wanted to be a girl guide but I wasn’t allowed. So now that I can do it, I’m doing it. This is my chance.”


Claudia Salguero at work on a mural. Photo: Dwayne Brown

These days Salguero is an artist who is likely best known for the public murals she creates in the community. She just been working on one in the St. Laurent Mall with some students. This past year she worked on a Neighbourhood Arts 150 mural project in a community centre in Ottawa South. And she has another passion. She is a singer with a band of musicians all of whom hail from different countries in Latin America. Every year since 2011, Salguero and her band have performed at the National Arts Centre. This year they are in the Fourth Stage on May 5 and 6, performing a show called Madre Tierra (Mother Earth), playing tunes from different traditions and nations in Latin America from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Spain, North American and, yes, Colombia.

The band features an eclectic national mix too: The piano player Sylvio Modolo, is from Brazil, guitarist Izzy Martinez is from Mexico, on bass is Juan-Pablo Carmona, from Colombia, on percussion are two Chileans J.L. Vasquez and Alvaro de Minaya, Jasmin Lalande, from Canada, plays saxophone and Luis Abanto from Peru plays flutes.

The band will be joined by guest artists: theatre artists Gabrielle Lalonde, Antonio Llaca, who teaches at Carleton and leads choirs in town and is originally from Venezuela, will play the Venezuelan Cuatro and Jacinto Anguaya from Ecuador will play the charango.

The performance is in constant motion, Salguero says, with musicians moving from instrument to instrument.

She sings songs from Colombia which are a blend of traditional Indigenous tunes and the music brought to the country by the African slaves of the Spanish.

“I explain the lyrics and I explain the context. I am singing Cumbia songs from Colombia. There are people who go to these concerts saying they have an idea of Colombia and Latin America and they leave with a completely different view of what we are.

“There is a lot that we have in Latin America that it’s very hard for me to choose what to perform.”

The music touches Salguero very deeply. When she talks about the music in concert, she says, she is also talking about herself.

“This concert is meaningful one,” she says. “It involves all who I am as an artist, musician and as a person who works with culture.”

She doesn’t do it for the money, she says.

“It’s for the love of the music and the culture. It’s also kind of a mission to tell people what Latin America is and to share the beauty of my country which has such a big stigma on it.”

It’s therefore an opportunity to talk positively about Latin American and Colombia.

She has been home to Colombia, most recently a year ago, and many things have changed. The peace deal with the FARC rebels is in effect and for the first time, she said, she was able to go back-packing in the countryside.

“I never thought I would ever see it and now you can go there.”

She is trying to help her country too. Some proceeds from the concert will go to a community housing project in Bogota.

“I have been working as a community engaged artist for five years. I see the power of art in community building. It is huge.”

The projects, Salguero does, allow people to relate to each other. “There are conversations going on. At the end, the projects are transformational for the individuals and the community.”

Her next trip to Colombia will involve her daughters, she says, who are now studying abroad. They want to know more about the country of their birth and Salguero is more than happy to show them. 

Claudia Salguero presents Madre Tierra
Where: NAC Fourth Stage
When: May 5 and 6 at 8:30 p.m.
Tickets and information: nac-cna.ca

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.