Musician, musical director, and actor- Santiago has a dream, and hopes to create it in Hamilton.
As a kid, the second-year Mohawk College student Santiago Rozo was snuck into bars.
"My uncle is a professional musician," said Santiago. "When I was 8 or 9 he would bring me to bars where he was playing, so for as long as I can remember music has been the biggest part of my life."
Being raised by a family of musicians opened the door for Santiago to explore music, but nothing peaked his interest like the piano.
"My dad is a percussionist," said Santiago. "That kind of rubbed off, so I played drums for a bit, but it didn't stick. He would actually let me collaborate with him as a kid, whether it was just playing drums or eventually helping with production."
Born in Bolivia, the 21 year-old has moved around his entire life.
"My mom worked for the UN, so we moved around a lot and lived in different places," said Santiago. "We ended up moving to the U.S., and I wanted to find a place where I could develop personally as a musician while still being part of the large music scene, which was Toronto. So I did some research into some solid college jazz programs and Mohawk was one of them. I had a contact in the faculty and they recommended it, it was honestly one of the smartest decisions I've ever made."
Santiago is majorly inspired by the icons of jazz.
"I try not to have 'top 5' or 'top 10' musicians because it changes so often, like weekly," said Santiago. "I guess lately it's been mostly jazz players- I've been studying the work of my teacher a lot lately, as well as mainly the titans of jazz, like Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Kirby Hancock, Chick Corea, those are the guys who I study all day and all night."
The contemporary piano student has had quite a few musical mentors throughout his life.
"There are way too many to list," said Santiago. "Besides my dad and uncle, I had a teacher in Switzerland who was my mentor for 6 or 7 years, at Le Conservatoire De Musique De Genève, and then probably my mentor right now Adrean Farrugia, an award winning pianist."
Besides studying music, Santiago works as a Musical Director.
"Part of my musical direction is playing the keys, but it's mainly the artists bringing me ideas, or tracks and songs that they've prepared, and my job is to arrange everything for it to work with the other instruments," said Santiago. "Rehearse the parts, and also to make a show- taking the tracks and arranging them. We choose who's going to play in the band each night, we also end up producing most of the songs. It's a broad position, I guess the main idea is that the artist has the vision and I put it together. I'm always hired directly by the musician, not by any managing company."
Santiago works with three musicians.
"I have a few acts that I'm involved in- like LT the Monk, a rapper based in Hamilton," said Santiago. "I'm his musical director. He was originally known for a few tracks that he made with a DJ, but we had this idea of bringing a three-piece band along with him- including bass, drums and keys, and now it's this really interesting fusion of rap and jazz."
"I also play for Cassidy Taylor, she's an artist from northern Ontario and based in Toronto. She's a singer-songwriter. Her music has a variety of roots, but I'd say it's like a pop-blues, pop-country, folk style. It's a pretty large band- I'm also her musical director."
"I'm also playing for a singer called Viktoria Csik, she's also based in Hamilton. She's more of a darker R&B, heavy hip-hop type of thing," said Santiago.
"I also have a jazz-trio that I perform my own compositions with, but with us being so busy we haven't been playing any gigs recently. Right now I'm focusing on the MD side of things."
Creating personal music has taken a backseat to his musical direction.
"For my career and for where I can profit the most, I'm focusing on musical direction," said Santiago. "It's been going pretty well so far and it's the easiest area to get work in. Personally, I'd always like to keep writing and making my own music, but to what degree I'd focus on that, I have no idea. I need to figure out how I'd balance those out."
Although used to moving around, Santiago is happy to be in Ontario for now.
"I'd like to stay in the GTA- I commute to Toronto for a lot of my work and I honestly don't mind it," said Santiago. "Super cheap, and getting from here to Toronto is super easy. The GTA is a perfect place to work. Toronto is super connected to the music industry in the U.S., and getting work around here is really not that hard."
"I'd like to stay in one place for a while. I always felt as though we moved right at the point where I felt like I was making a connection with people, so I'm hoping to finally call this my home for a bit, I really want that."
"I'd like to stay here for a bit, then maybe move to The States in 10 or so years, definitely between the East Coast major cities. I did come to North America with the intent of working in the North American music industry, so whether that's New York, L.A., or Toronto, I think I'd be happy either way."
Mar. 7th 2019 w/ Cassidy Taylor @ Mod Club Theatre 722 College St, Toronto, ON.