Queensland Conservatorium jazz student Mario Conde is travelling to remote corners of the state as part of the annual Culture Train line-up.
The musical roadshow is part of Queensland Multicultural Month celebrations and features a series of free concerts in regional centres, from Bundaberg to Barcaldine, Longreach, Rockhampton and Winton.
Creating a musical melting pot
Mario originally hails from Bolivia and plays panpipes, fusing traditional South American and Western music.
Mario embarked on a Bachelor of Music (Jazz) at the Queensland Conservatorium several years ago, picking up several new instruments including trumpet, saxophone and flute.
“It was the best decision of my life,” he says.
“Learning to play jazz has changed me as a musician – I’ve learnt to play new instruments, but also been able to play jazz using traditional instruments like panpipes.
“I love creating a musical fusion – it makes my soul happy.”
Queensland Conservatorium Director Professor Scott Harrison said Mario was part of a diverse cohort of musicians who had travelled from around the globe to pursue their studies at the Con
The universal language
Mario has been part of the Culture Train line-up for the past four years.
“It brings together performers from all different cultural backgrounds – this year we have musicians from Nepal, India, Sudan and Spain,” he said.
“It’s a bit like cooking – you bring together all the spices and create something with a beautiful flavour.
“Music is at the heart of Bolivian culture, and it’s a great joy to share it.
“Music truly is the universal language – we play to people in small towns who’ve never seen the panpipes or flamenco dancing before.
“You get lots of questions and there is such a great vibe at the concerts.”
The Culture Train experience also gives Mario a chance to explore his adopted country and learn some new Aussie slang.
“There are so many different landscapes and people from all over the world – that’s why I love Australia,” he said.
“It also gives me a chance to brush up on my Australian too – I grew up speaking a dialect language and I speak Spanish, English…and now Aussie!”
Coming to the land down under
Mario originally came to Australia to play panpipes on screen – scoring a small role in Under the Lighthouse Dancing, starring Jack Thompson and Naomi Watts.
“They needed someone to play panpipes – so I came out to Australia,” he said.
“I actually thought I was heading to Austria – so I packed my ponchos and my thick socks, and I was surprised when I landed here in the middle of summer!
“I’m in the movie for no more than 10 seconds, but it changed the course of my life.
“I fell in love with this country and decided to stay.”
Continuing a musical tradition
Mario first learned to play traditional Bolivian instruments at the age of five.
It was a case of carrying on the family tradition – his grandfather was a musician and his parents were dancers.
“I’m not a great dancer, so it had to be music,” he said.
All that jazz
Mario didn’t hear jazz until he was a teenager – something he describes as a life changing moment.
“It blew my mind,” he says.
“Bolivian music is all designed to be danced to – I couldn’t figure out jazz at all, it’s like another language.”
Coming full circle
After completing his studies next year, Mario would like to bring his unique musical melting pot back to Bolivia.
“I would like to travel and keep playing music, but bringing my style of music back to Bolivia would be a dream – I want to get kids there excited about playing jazz on panpipes!
“I want to take back the knowledge I have and use it to create something completely new.”
Culture Train runs from August 18 until September 2.