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Bay Area musician taking his Colombian musical roots to Hollywood

Bay Area musician taking his Colombian musical roots to Hollywood
Bay Area musician taking his Colombian musical roots to Hollywood 02:54

SAN JOSE -- Any musician will tell you that music is its own language, and a way to communicate across almost all boundaries. Alex Arango is using his musical talents to tell his personal story and honor his cultural heritage. So when you hear him play, it's hard to believe Arango couldn't read music when he joined his high school's band.

"When you get put in the fire," said Arango with a small chuckle. "You kind of have to adapt. And so that forced me to get better."

Better at something Arango didn't even want to learn at first, when his father started him on violin at just around 4 years of age.

"I did not like it," said Arango of the violin. "So every time I had to practice, I began crying."

There is no crying now when Arango plays, but the Colombian-born professional musician does feel sad sometimes.

"I think about the people I knew growing up from the small town where I grew up," said Arango. "No matter how hard they work. It's going to be really hard for them to leave the town. And if they leave the town, maybe they will end up in a city in Colombia.
Those people have gone through very hard lives....those hard lives have helped them develop the music."

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That longing for home has found its way into Arango's music, along with his own pain. The 27-year-old's family came to the United States with virtually nothing.

"It was a difficult time," recalled Arango. "I remember the first night like it was yesterday. We landed at SFO at 2 a.m. and we had Cheerios for dinner, and we slept on a mattress on the floor."

Arango's parents struggled financially for years before they separated. His mother worked at any low-wage job she could find.

"We shared a house," said Arango. "We had one room. So I slept in the same bedroom as my parents."

Growing up in San Jose, Arango hated the classical music he was pushed to learn.

"I was forced to learn that music, Said Arango. "So if I let it, it can bring back bad memories."

Arango's childhood memories now play side-by-side with the courage and healing he found as an adult. Arango left classical music behind for Latin beats like cumbia, vallenato and salsa, which he has paired with hip-hop, rock and jazz to compose dozens of his own songs.

And his violin is gone, too. Arango replaced it with piano, accordion, and many other instruments.

"I love combining genres," explained Arango of his inspiration and method. "Basically, I discovered that music can be a form of expression. And so the way I express my background, and the feelings that I have is through music."

Arango has explored that self-expression joyfully and carefully, with a deep respect for the Colombian music he knows is not entirely his own. He currently lives in Los Angeles where he hopes to begin a career composing music for film and television.

"Context is very important when it comes to music. A lot of music has history, and that history may not be so positive," said Arango. "I can see me reconnecting with my roots through that music, connecting with the people, understanding them better ... so the conflict is, I don't want to take something from them, but I also want to connect with them and spread their stories."

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