It’s been almost two years since I accidentally discovered that Conrado Isasa, a Spanish guitarist of Uruguayan origin who is associated with the world of so-called American Primitive Guitar, but known for a very personal style, would be playing near my house. The discovery came through Facebook and thanks to the invitation of a “friend” (in the Facebookian sense, since we didn’t actually know each other), Simone Romei: a fingerpicking guitarist himself, but also a refined songwriter whom I had knew in 2018 thanks to his beautiful album “Like Freshly Mown Grass”, under the name Des Moines. Although I didn’t know Isasa’s music I decided to go to the concert. As a result, I got to know both Isasa’s music and Simone, with whom I talked a lot (about music, music and more music, of course). As a result of that meeting, of the chats of that evening and of all those followed over the airwaves since then, as soon as we heard about the release of the Spanish guitarist’s new album, an idea spontaneously arose: we decided to ask Simone to talk to us, as a musician, listener and friend, about this extraordinary and, alas, little-known Madrilenian artist.


Teo: Forty!
Gabriel: No no, not that one.
T: Fifteen?
G: Brown?
T: Green!
G: Count from one hundred to one in English… no, from ten, sorry, from ten to one. I’ll tell you: ten, nine, eight, seven, six…
T: Seven! Eight, nine, ten, elevennn!!!
G: …one, zero. All right, it doesn’t matter, Teo…tell me another number.
T: Ten!
G: Grey? …Come on!
T: Rrred!
G: Be a zombie… for an hour! Sixty minutes like this.

[dialogue from “Fradernidad”, track n. 8]

Two brothers are playing with a paper fortune teller on floating guitar chords. They’re choosing colors and behind each color there’s a sentence telling them what to do.

This is more or less like the beginning of Richard Linklater’s movie called Waking Life, from the early 2000s. In the movie, when the siblings reach the number they called, the little girl shows his brother the sentence behind the colour: ‘Dream is destiny’. Among other things, the movie talks about the experience of lucid dreaming, i.e. dreaming being aware that you are dreaming. The main character receives some advice on how to realise he’s in that state. He is told to try reading the time on the clock or turning off the light: while dreaming, you can’t do these things.

* * *

It’s March 22nd, 2017 and I’m playing at a venue called Mani Tese, Finale Emilia, Modena. Marcos, the drummer of Betunizer, the Spanish band with whom I’ll share the stage, shows me a short video he took me during the soundcheck. He sent it to a friend of his from Madrid, who is also a fingerpicking guitar player. After a while, talking about music, I confess to him that one of my favourite artists of the moment is a Madrilenian one called Conrado Isasa. Marcos looks at me with his mouth wide open: the friend he just told me about is indeed Conrado!

* * *

January 2018, I’m lying in my bed dreaming: I’m in the United States attending a music festival and, after a concert, I meet one of my all time favourite guitar players: Daniel Bachman. Then I wake up smiling like a child.
A few days later, I read somewhere that a festival, dedicated to the so-called “American Primitive Guitar”, called Thousand Incarnations Of The Rose will be held in April in Takoma Park, Maryland, the hometown of John Fahey. I get the full pass for all three days without hesitation. On the third, Isasa will play and Daniel Bachman too.

* * *

It’s April 15th, 2018, the third day of the festival. I’m in the backstage of the Takoma Park Community Center. I wish Isasa good luck a few minutes before he starts playing. I take a look around as the spring light reaches me through the big window of the corridor where I stood for a moment, still like a flower.

* * *

isasa_seaMay 17th, 2019, Friday. Conrado and I are in Riccione (en a renowned italian seaside town), the air is still cold and spring is late. We are eating in a small restaurant on the beach in front of the hotel run by Alice’s family. The grey sea behind us has rippled slightly. In a few hours, at the hotel lobby, Conrado will play one of the gigs of the tour I’ve organized for him in Italy. After the concert we’ll have a drink in the dim light of the porch, gazing at Riccione, out of season, deserted in the rain.

* * *

January 28th, 2021. For almost a year now, the pandemic that has brought humanity to its knees seems to have no desire to give us a break. I have just finished listening to a preview of Isasa’s self-titled album, which will be officially released on March 5th by La Castanya, an independent label from Barcelona. I listened to it half asleep and got up from the sofa on the final notes of “Teo”. In front of me, Veronica is reading a book sitting at the table, she looks up and says to me allusively: ‘It’s hard listening to Conrado, huh?
Yes, it is hard. Because his music summons what in everyday life remains hidden, concealed by the useless noise of the superfluous. It’s easy sometimes, you just have to lift the light veil and everything is there, like a wild animal standing still, gazing at you just for a fleeting moment, ‘till it runs away. And Isasa’s music reveals and reconnects those moments. It’s the vanishing evidence of things unseen.

* * *

As you can read somewhere, between 1997 and 2003, Conrado Isasa played electric guitar in the Spanish post-rock band A Room With A View. After their break-up, he quit the guitar and didn’t record anything for a while. He started learning to play trumpet, but in 2007 found inspiration to return to the guitar after listening to Geoff Farina playing a Mississippi John Hurt song. He thus entered a new period of apprenticeship, shifting his focus to the acoustic guitar and studying songs by Hurt, John Fahey, Jack Rose and Glenn Jones.
During his performance in Takoma Park, in the few shy interventions between songs, Conrado talks about the very reason he is there to play and that is the DVD ‘The Things That We Used To Do’ featuring guitar performances by Glenn Jones and Jack Rose. That movie, Conrado says, changed his life and opened up new paths and expressive possibilities on the instrument that he abandoned after the electric experience with his band.

Through his three previous records – Las Cosas (2015), Los Dias (2016) and Insilio (2019) – Isasa defines his own sound and style and he gradually moves away from the influences of his masters through an introspective journey aimed at transforming into music the emotional aftermaths of everyday life. Listening to one of Isasa’s records is like reading his diary, which transcends ordinary life to tell what cannot be explained in words. Songs titles seem like a note, a suggestion of something recognisable in reality, but which through the tune assumes a meaning that is intimate and, nonetheless, universal.
Absence is a vertigo that leaves us lost: the song “Ausencia” is recorded outside the recording studio. Freedom is the intimate and private one of the small moments we manage to carve out for ourselves amidst the events of this ruthless life. “Libertad” was recorded during an artistic residence in the Konvent space in Barcelona.

Water – be it the sea of Carrasco or Pocitos in Montevideo, the ocean lit by a lighthouse or a gentle summer rain that turns into a downpour soaking your favourite T-shirt – is the element that maybe holds the deepest memories.

Love – universal, for a woman, present or absent, whether it’s a feeling of brotherhood, referring to a family reunion or that for his sons Teo and Gabriel – is what Isasa doesn’t talk about, but love fills every note and every pause in his music.

* * *

May 16th, 2019: I’m driving to Milan. Conrado, my passenger, will be playing that evening at Volume, a wonderful record and book shop in the suburbs of the city. The car’s windows filtered sun, though the winter dust warms our faces and in the quiet afternoon of the flatlands Conrado tells me about the meaning of his latest album’s title, at that time Insilio.
Insilio is the inner exile. That’s what his aunt from Montevideo did for ten years, several years before, as a form of protest against the Uruguayan regime. Ten years locked up at home, ten years of refusing public life. I’d have never imagined myself thinking about this story so often only a year later, forced at home for the lockdown. I was convinced that those were the days of a new beginning, made up of almost clandestine gigs for a bunch of passionate people, guest artists in my house and nights spent talking about music.

That very day, for example, at Volume we would meet Enrico Marcandalli, a guitar player who, during the Italian 80s, had helped spread the word of John Fahey, Robbie Basho and all those obscure guitarists whose names here, in the culturally dying Italy of that period – but not yet cannibalised by the politics of sloppiness that would inexorably affect and reduce to the bone our cultural fabric a few years later – shone in their own light, admired by gold-diggers and suburbian oneironauts. I was saying, Enrico Marcandalli, Isasa and I, in a record store in Milan, after a concert, talking about music with a passionate guy who says he writes on a blog called La Linea Mason & Dixon.

Oh, these moments. Try to turn off the light if you can.

Isasa "Océano" [Official Video]