Every week, I will be profiling an extraordinary human being who lives in our community. If you know someone who is doing something interesting with their life, I want to hear about it. Send me an email at [email protected].
He can sing an original song, strum a guitar and rip into an amazing solo, slap the bass, and pound the drum. Juan Barbosa is a one-man band.
When he gets into the groove, he tilts his head back and closes his eyes. Like all great musicians, he feels music.
Barbosa’s been playing gigs around the area for the last decade. Listen to ‘Live Your Life’ from his first album The Road Back Home and you’ll probably find yourself rocking back and forth to the beat and maybe even tapping your toes. His style emulates the blues but with a touch of funk and a hint of rock. His voice is smooth but with a rough sort of edge. He takes you into his music with his soulfulness. His lyrics tell you a true story of where he’s been, what he’s done – ultimately what was going on at the time he was inspired to write a song.
“Both sides of my family were extremely musical,” says the 34-year-old, who moved to Huntsville when he was eight years old. “My father was from Puerto Rico and was a percussionist, and could also play the flute and the standup bass. My mom was a bluegrass musician, and she even did some touring, so it was kind of unavoidable that I would get into music too. They fed it to me from infancy. I remember when I was two years old, I got some pots and pans and grabbed the wooden spoons and pretended to play the drums. From the earliest point, music was always really powerful in my life.”
Barbosa is not typical in the sense that he can play all the instruments that would make up a four-piece band. He first learned the drums followed by the bass and didn’t get into playing the guitar and singing until later in his teenage years. As a teenager he admits to being socially awkward and shy, which is why, when he first started playing gigs in front of people, he’d often play with his eyes closed. He didn’t want to see them looking at him. It was almost a distraction. But with experience comes confidence and he was eventually able to conquer his fear of an audience. Now he gets a thrill out of seeing people get their groove on to his music.
What do I love about the blues? I just think it’s raw. It’s not dressed up.
He has three albums under his belt, all of which feature original material that he recorded and produced from his perfectly-quaint home studio in town. His debut album titled The Road Back Home came out in 2012. A year later he produced Listen! and his most recent Soulbot 6000 came out in late August. Barbosa is devoting much of his time these days to promoting that record and he’s still on the hunt for the perfect venue for a CD release party. But first he has to order some more CDs because they all sold.
“I think my music has definitely become more mature. There’s still some anger and comedy and some love in there. But it’s much more balanced now. I feel my sound has changed drastically since I discovered the blues. What do I love about the blues? I just think it’s raw. It’s not dressed up. All pop music, all American-pop, comes from the blues. It’s the mother of everything. There wouldn’t be rock or punk or metal if it wasn’t for that style of music and I think that speaks volumes.”
Barbosa has his own list of musicians who inspire him. He loves Jimi Hendrix and James Brown.
“In my heart, I’m both of them at the same time,” he says with a laugh.
But legendary bluesman Buddy Guy is at the top of his list when it comes to his all-time favourite.
“I saw him live for the first time this spring and it just changed my life.”
He’s been able to make a living doing what he loves to do. Prior to becoming a full-time blues musician, Barbosa spent five years making beats and inviting vocalists into his Toronto apartment as a hip-hop music producer. But “a bad element of the scene” drove him away from the city and back to Muskoka. He’s been pouring his heart out musically here ever since.
And getting up and heading to his small studio on a Monday morning isn’t so bad. He’s even lends his studio to other fellow musicians for recording. He’s worked with local musicians such as Jeff Stamp, Jamie Clarke, Jamie Oppenheimer, Patti Crozier, and Douglas MacLean.
He’s received airtime on CBC Radio and local radio stations as well. Barbosa has played at every possible local place to perform at – the Algonquin Theatre, Chaffey Hall, the legion and all the bars.
“I don’t think there’s a place I haven’t performed at yet.”
The thing about making music is that it’s a revolving door.
His goal? To go as far as he can musically. He recently submitted an album for a Juno Award in the category of blues album of the year. He’s also hired himself a good publicist. Playing at big-time venues like Toronto’s legendary blues bar the Silver Dollar Room and at the Horseshoe Tavern is helping Barbosa’s music surpass the local border.
“Winning blues album of the year would be the peak of my career this far and would allow me to play at top clubs and make a much better living at this,” he says. “Even being nominated would mean the world to me. Things are definitely on an upward slope for sure which I’m excited about.”
Those who love what Barbosa is putting out there musically can continue to track his latest gigs and sound at www.juanbarbosa.com.