A Music Man for All Seasons
Arizona Native American Gabriel Ayala has played his guitar for the president and the pope. He has performed with many of today’s leading musicians around the world and is perpetually on tour throughout the United States, Canada and other countries. He is about to release his 11th music CD and is codifying his experiential knowledge of the creative and business aspects of a music career into roles as a producer and consultant.
Originally known for his classical music performances, Ayala has expanded into the jazz world and has begun playing his own music genre of JazzMenco, a unique blend of jazz and flamenco. “I’m a music addict,” says Ayala. “Music is how I express myself, although I’m being asked to speak more and more.”
In his travels, Ayala advocates learning and education for all youth, while instilling his values of living a traditional lifestyle. “I get my juice from exploring the art of and playing music. Alcohol, tobacco or drugs do not play a role in my life.” He says humbly, “In this stage of my career, I am so creatively engaged I have to watch how many pans and pots are on my stove, because I already have many. Following my tribal traditions keeps me clear, so that the light can shine through me.”
Ayala relates, “Family is very important to me. I have many cousins, aunts and uncles. My people and our ways nourish me. Family keeps me grounded.” A member of the Yaqui people of southern Arizona, Ayala began as one of the new generation of Native Americans making a career performing classical music. But more than a trained musician who faithfully plays the canon, Ayala contributes panache and verve in his guitar performances.
Like the pianist Glenn Gould, he found competition judges and academics unappreciative of his renditions. When Ayala’s fingers dance up and down the fretboard, he plucks and strums his ben trovato challenge—he is true to the spirit of the music.
Ayala’s devotion to music has carried him past many obstacles. Raised by his grandmother on the reservation, he was instilled with a loving discipline of working at something until it becomes play.
A performer from an early age, Ayala became the designated entertainer in high school and college social gatherings. Attending A&M on a scholarship woke him up to the harshness of a judgmental world, and he answered with his grandmothers’ wisdom; “Be pleasantly persistent.” Ayala was relegated to a teaching program rather than the performer program based on his initial audition, but as would happen again and again along his musical path, he explored the landscape and ecology at A&M, practiced 15 hours a day for months and earned a new audition. Ayala’s performance opened the way to his acceptance into the performing program and a unique position teaching, as well as attending classes.
Classical guitar music opened the door to opportunities to perform before varied audiences. While earning his first degree, Ayala played classical guitar at art openings, weddings and high art events. That experience provided him opportunities to experiment and mold his stage presence, while classes deepened his ability to analyze music. His love of music broadened as his knowledge grew, and as his repertory of styles expanded, the spirit he evoked with his guitar grew in elegance as his mastery of the craft deepened.
Again listening to grandmother’s spirit, Ayala persisted at extracting himself from an unfair recording contract and recently celebrated recovering the rights to the music of his first commercial recordings. “During that struggle I needed a lift, so I created an app and put all of my music out there for free. I’ve heard from many who downloaded it that their heart felt appreciation to be able to bring my music up when they need a lift. I’ve been told I should charge for it, get royalties for my music, but that’s not why I created it. I created it first for myself, to be able to be calmed while a lot of turmoil was happening around me; and because it worked for me, I’m happy to give it away.”
Being a musician these days requires an entrepreneurial discipline. “When I got my master’s degree, I didn’t know to copyright a song soon after I wrote it, to understand a contract when booking a performance or to handle the pressure when they push you,” explains Ayala. “Not everyone has your best interests in their heart.”
Ayala reminisces about being self-employed and doing everything from playing the music to making the bookings, travel plans, social media marketing and a variety of other activities, from hosting a radio show to making himself available to the print and electronic media. Through those experiences, he has matured an ongoing operation that supports his art. Ayala is gathering his own wisdom now getting ready to pass it on to those that come to him. His artistic spirit is embodied by playing guitar and walking in beauty.
Ayala will debut his new CD, Live at the Mission, on August 30 at the Sea of Glass Center For The Arts, located at 330 East 7th Street, in Tucson. “My art is first, my passion,” he declares. “When the business becomes more important than my art, I will quit.” he declares.
For more information, call 520-271-5469, email AyalaGuitarist@yahoo.com or find him on Facebook.
Dale Bruder is a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Tucson.