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How Ivan got his groove back

If The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley had aisles, people would have been dancing in them Jan. 30. As it was, there was a conga line of dancers’ feet snaking back and forth in front of the stage by the end of the show.

In a sold-out concert aptly called “Kaleidoscope,” guitarist Ivan Najera and 13 of his favorite musicians – plus select members of the Nevada Union High School Chamber Choir – brought the house down and people to their feet in two standing ovations.

Starting out with melodic, romantic songs and displays of virtuoso playing on a borrowed, $15,000 Flamenco guitar, Najera brought in just a few of his fellow musicians for each carefully crafted song.



After the intermission, Najera and his kaleidoscope of musicians filled the small concert hall with music that defies categorization.

While there was a strong Latin American influence – reflecting the Penn Valley musician’s Ecuadorian roots – Najera’s compositions fused Spanish, classical, jazz, rock and choral elements.




“It was a blast!” he said in a recent interview. It was the first time he had brought the NU chamber choir into his act – but not the last. “They were amazing.” He said he plans to include them in at least two of the songs on his next (sixth) CD.

It’s been said that getting fired is God’s way of telling you you’re supposed to be doing something else.

After 22 years as a digital TV technician with the Grass Valley Group, Najera was laid off last year.

“One day, poof! You’re gone,” Najera recalled. It was a difficult adjustment at first, he admitted.

But instead of looking back with regret, Najera realized he could take the restaurant and private party music he had been doing on the side all these years and return to his original profession.

A child prodigy in Ecuador, Najera graduated from the National Conservatory in Quito and was a national television star as well as the lead singer and guitarist for a Colombian Latin jazz/salsa group that played throughout South America.

Then he grew up, emigrated to the U.S. and earned a B.A. in management from the University of California, San Diego.

Ironically, however, it was the tech education he learned at Sierra College in Rocklin that earned him his 22-year day job with Grass Valley Group.

Looking back, Najera said it was fortunate that he followed a technical career track at GVG, because being in management would have never allowed him the time to continue his music.

It’s also been said that when one door closes, another opens.

“The doors are opening tremendously,” Najera reported happily, and with a little amazement. He said he’s easily booking concerts in the coming months from the Bay Area to Reno, Stockton to Chico.

Kaleidoscope was the “kickoff” for the concert tour he has set up. A core group of the musicians who performed at the kickoff show will go on tour with him.

But his next show will be right back at the Center for the Arts March 20 with his 11th annual Guitar Extravaganza – featuring his brother from Ecuador, Juan Manuel Najera, and five other guitarists with local roots. (See Know & Go.)

Najera feels a strong affinity to the Nevada County, and he is proud of local students he has mentored who have gone on to concert-level careers, including Yani Riley, John Roberts, Joanna Newsom and Emerald Mist.

That’s why, between the 2 p.m. show and the 8 p.m. show, the featured guitarists will be holding affordably priced, one-hour workshops for students of all ages.

Furthermore, Najera is planning to stage more local concerts with promising students to give them the experience of performing at the professional level.

In gifted students, having that exhilarating experience creates “almost a craving” to practice harder, learn more and perform better, he said.

Finally, Najera also has a fond affinity for his fans who want to dance. Reacting to the people who danced on the sidelines during the Kaleidoscope concert Jan. 30, he promised a show next fall with a dance floor.

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer based in Nevada City. For comments on this article, e-mail kmidboe@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4251.


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