Paraguayan sound stirs harpist Niina
Weston musician Niina Chamberlain (22) wants to start a cultural movement which could see a part of South American culture become more widely known.
The classically trained professional, born in Japan but educated in London and Manchester, has become a self-confessed ambassador for the Paraguayan harp,
Weighing in at between 12 and 16 pounds, the national instrument of Paraguay is more than just a musical tool “but a cultural emblem”, according to American music professor, Dr Alfredo Colman.
Niina said: “I first started playing the classical harp in 2006 and got to a certain level when I was asked to take part in a concert with other musicians.
“That’s when I realised playing music for a hobby wasn’t enough for me and after watching the BBC Young Musician of the Year broadcast, I wanted to go to Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester.
“After four years, I went to Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London where I was studying the classical harp.
“But then I heard someone playing the Paraguayan harp and the style of music was so totally different that I stopped my studies and took a year out to pursue the study of the instrument in Paraguay itself.
“A private music teacher called Martin Portillo came to visit me and he gave me a lot of opportunities to play in concerts, including one where I played for Princess Mako of Japan, which was a big thing for me.”
Paraguayan harp maestros such as Victor Espinola, Celso Duarte, Mariano Gonzalez and the late Luis Bordon will mean very little to even classical music followers.
But Niina said: “I think the Paraguayan harp is neither classical nor cultural, but versatile and unique.
“No two people will play the instrument in the same way and whilst I still respect the classical harp, there’s a freedom, rawness and sociability with the Paraguayan harp that’s the same as playing the piano or guitar is in this country.
“I’d like to start something new by playing the Paraguayan harp where it isn’t known for people who like it.”