by Jana Thevar
The first time I saw this incredible musician performing in front of Palacio Real de Madrid, my jaw literally dropped. I watched the entire performance, completely entranced, before I asked who he was. A friend from Ibiza then told me his name: Victor Santal.
I don’t know if it was the fact that he was dressed like he fell out of Skyrim. Or that he was busking with an instrument as elegant as a Celtic harp in the streets, like it was the most normal thing in the world. Or that he was actually playing a heavy metal song on a freaking lever harp. I guess it was everything merged together.
But one thing stood out to every onlooker who watched him, all equally as enchanted as I was.
He was GOOD. Really, really good.
Victor was playing “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, and he was doing that like it was written for harp. Anyone who has seen him perform various other songs, from challenging classical pieces to more modern music, will recognize the depth of talent and versatility of this musician.
Heavy metal or rock fans will appreciate his gift even more, knowing what kind of skill it takes to musically interpret “Nothing Else Matters” or “November Rain” – songs that were never initially meant for the delicate nature of a harp.
One would generally expect angelic, soft tunes from an instrument like this. Not Guns N’ Roses. Certainly not Metallica. But this guy slays it with his personal style, like the imaginary dragons he probably could in his medieval getup.
The real genius of this man lies in his interpretation of the music he chooses to play, from Yann Tierson to Michael Nyman. How does a musician transform a heavy metal song into this, on an instrument made of little more than strings and air? This guy single-handedly sparked a trend across YouTube, with various other harpists attempting to play this world-famous song.
I say this as a die-hard fan of Metallica and Lars: none of their versions come close to how he does it. Victor Santal played it best.
And nothing else matters.
About Victor Santal
Here’s an odd thing about this harpist: no one knows a damned thing about him. Well, at least, not much on a personal level. He’s like the wind. He comes and goes, he’s everywhere and nowhere.
He’s famous by word of mouth in his home country of Spain, where he is a regular street performer. Victor is known to occasionally perform in local shows, concerts, events and in collaboration with more famous bands like Trobar de Morte. He’s also been spotted around various European countries from time to time. It’s puzzling that a man of his talent chooses to remain so elusive, but I suppose he has his reasons. Not every artist enjoys the public attention that comes with fame.
The purpose of this article is not to dig up his private life or scrutinize his personal story, whatever it may be. He’s obviously a man who values his privacy very much. So rightfully, we as the public should respect that, so he can continue making the world a more beautiful place with his art. So let’s leave him to do his thing and focus on what really matters: his music.
So, what makes this musician so good? It’s not mere training or skill. Millions of classically-trained musicians around the world have incredible ability when it comes to wielding their instruments, a result of the (usually) rigid syllabus when it comes to the study of classical music. Examinations, grading, hours and hours of practice. Upon completion of this type of study, anyone can develop pure skill in terms of playing any musical instrument. YouTube is full of videos of child prodigies playing difficult classical compositions as effortlessly as they would make sandcastles on a beach.
Here he is in Amsterdam, playing Pachelbel’s Canon with Sergio Gonzalez:
From my observation, what makes Victor’s music so entrancing is simply love.
The love he has for art. His passion for music. The respect he has for his instrument. The love he has for people.
It’s obvious he’s not playing for money, not with that kind of talent. He plays for love. He enjoys what he’s doing and he’s happy to do it. His love spreads to everyone who is lucky enough to hear his music, and he creates this beautiful cycle of energy everywhere he goes.
He doesn’t simply play music. He becomes music.
At this point, I would like to say thank you to Victor. Thank you for bringing such elegant beauty to the common man in the streets. Thank you for giving regular folks concert-quality music and expecting nothing in return. Thank you for your humility to sit on a noisy, dusty sidewalk with that divine instrument, when you deserve to perform before an audience of kings. Just thank you, for your gift of music.
And that is what we can learn from this artist. How to create art with love and without expectations. How to spread love using love. How to become living art.
Valuable lessons for people like us who make up his audience, some of us who are complete strangers to the art of performing. Those among us who know nothing of timeless classical masterpieces like Pachelbel’s Canon, or the blood and tears behind great medieval compositions like Brian Boru’s March. People who are illiterate to sheet music. He merges with his art to become magic to those who have forgotten how to dream, the working class lost in the grind and suffering of mundane, day-to-day living.
We need more artists like Victor Santal. People who create real art out of love. If we want the world to be a better place, we need to appreciate, respect and support genuine artists like him.
Photo credits: Lady Ganesha, Victor Santal’s official website.