With his prodigious chops and sensitive, dynamic musicianship, Diego Garcia — aka El Twanguero — is a Spanish guitar phenom who’s a perfect fit to perform for the Guitar Masters Series at the Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame on Sept. 7. But this show is going to be a little different than most Guitar Masters shows in the past: Garcia will be bringing his trio to perform a show that appears to be as tailor-made for a town as musically diverse as Bakersfield audiences as it gets.
From his beginnings, learning classical guitar at age 6 under the tutelage of Jose Lázaro Villena — a former student of the illustrious Andrés Segovia— at the music conservatory of Valencia, to to his Latin Grammy win in 2013 (for co-producing Diego El Cigala’s record “Romance de la Luna Tucumana”), Garcia definitely likes to indulge the many sides of his musician personality.
He’s acquired a vast and varied musical vocabulary that first began when he was exposed to American music as a young man. It hit him like an epiphany, and it’s an introduction of which Bakersfield was a significant part.
“(Back then in Spain) we didn’t have internet. We didn’t have anything, but we heard some news, some information, from the U.S.(about) the Nashville sound with Chet Atkins and the Bakersfield Sound, so we said, ‘What is the Bakersfield Sound?’ So we discovered Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. It’s iconic.”
“I’m a fan of Bakersfield and I’m excited to play there (again) and being part of the Guitar Masters Series. it’s wonderful.”
Garcia has performed here twice before as a featured performer for the Bakersfield Jazz Workshop. Steve Eisen, the workshop’s founder, was blown away by the Spanish guitarist’s range and ability, specifically noting Garcia’s gig at The Mark back in 2016 with local percussionist Marcos Reyes and saxophonist Isaiah Morin.
“The guy’s unbelievable,” Eisen said. “(He’s) just a combination of rhythmical precision and timing coupled with nonstop flowing ides that are amazing.”
“The cat was going from ragtime, to Chet Atkins picking-style bluegrass riffs, right into chorus after chorus of 'Giant Steps.' Completely amazing. The icing on the cake? He’s a super nice guy.”
So what is a “Twanguero”? It’s a portmanteau of the word “tanguero,” an aficionado of the tango, and “twang,” the guitar sound found in Americana music like country and rockabilly. So, basically, a twang aficionado.
The name also serves another function: exclusivity. There’s only one “Twanguero,” but a whole lot of Garcias.
"(It's) the most common last name ever," Garcia said.
“I like to mix the twangy with the South American and Latin rhythms like cumbia and cha cha cha… (as well as) all the music I was listening (to) since I was 4 years old. It’s my original influence because of my grandmother and mother. The music you listen at home when you’re a baby (stays) with you forever.”
The mixture of all those styles — Americana, Spanish, Cuban, South American, among others — could be best described using the name of the second song off El Twanguero’s 2015 album “Pachuco”: “Rockabilly Mambo.”
What the heck is rockabilly mambo? Well, in the best tradition of effective genre mashing, it’s two styles of music that seem — at least on the surface — completely dissimilar, but at first listen makes one wonder why it took so long for someone to come up with it. Try to imagine Brian Setzer or Dick Dale playing with the Gipsy Kings after a South American vacation with Los Lobos.
Twanguero’s style of music is a combination of American hollow-body, reverb rockabilly guitar, classical technique and a crisp foundation of Latin rhythms that’s just at home in a bar or a concert hall and equally engaging to both the ears and the hips.
His song “El Caminante” is a perfect example of this mixture: a playful, slinky rockabilly cumbia with a cool, confident attitude. Slightly haunting, it percolates and simmers at the same time.
The mixture of Americana and Latin music styles is nothing new. Artists like the aforementioned Los Lobos, Ry Cooder and even Santana, David Byrne and Paul Simon have been doing it — or at least at one time did — for years, influencing generations of musicians in the process. But what separates — and even elevates — Garcia from a lot of his genre-melding peers is his mixture of Iberian musical influences into the mix, He adds flamenco and Catalan rumba to create an inviting and fun sonic palette. You can take the guy out of Spain, but … well, you know.
One notable difference about Twanguero that’s a bit different from most rockabilly norms, is that the bassist plays an electric bass instead of the characteristic upright bass.
“(The band and I) were talking about it,” Garcia said, “but I prefer electric bass because it gives that sense of rock ’n’ roll.”
Garcia will also be performing a solo acoustic guitar set that he calls his “Spanish Rock Time.” It will undoubtedly reflect his most recent release, the solo acoustic album “Carreteras Secundarias, Vol. 1.”
“I (also) think that having an electric bass makes a difference between the two sets. When I play solo, I play like Andres Segovia meets Chet Atkins.”
Recently, the 40-year-old Garcia made the jump over the Atlantic to set up a new home base in Los Angeles, leaving an already-established band back in Europe.
“I feel very lucky to be in the U.S. following the dreams I had as child ... doing what I really love, which is playing music and trying to expand my musical territory.… It feels like I’m 20 years old again.”
“I’ve been coming to the U.S. twice a year for the last five years, (and) I feel very comfortable playing (here), especially in California. To be honest, that’s all I can say. I feel very lucky being here and working here; playing, having a band. It’s the American Twanguero dream.”