The globally influenced music of Robert Michaels is ready to be heard at the Dream Café.
As a first-generation Canadian, Michaels was raised by Italian parents in Toronto. That upbringing surrounded him in his early years with classical and European music, though he soon found out about popular North American music through television and radio.
“As a kid I wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll like most kids do, but as I got older I started to appreciate more of a world music sound,” he said.
Another way he was able to expand his musical worldliness was though his first guitar teacher, who demonstrated the allure of classical music.
It was still a few more years before Michaels embraced the flamenco style of guitar – which has been his signature style throughout his career.
“Classical really ended up helping me with flamenco; I was utilizing a lot of the same right-hand techniques as far as finger picking goes.”
His musical abilities had more flavour added to them while studying a jazz program at Humber College in Toronto. A couple of years following graduation, in the early 1980s, he travelled to Cuba and steeped himself in that country’s methods of music-making.
“I was extremely blown away by some of the Cuban musicians,” he said. “They had these inferior instruments – I guess they were the North American rejects. Instruments that, at the time, you would buy from Sears catalogues. Now I know what they did with all their stock that didn’t sell – they shipped it off to Cuba.”
But regardless of how low quality the instruments were by Canadian standards, the Cuban musicians had no trouble making them sing.
“That was a big lesson I learned: music doesn’t come from the instrument, it comes from the person,” he said. “That really woke me up to realize that it’s all about how you play, not what instrument you own.”
In addition to the willingness of Cuban people to utilize any instrument that’s available, Michaels said he was also impressed by their skills.
“They are extremely educated musically – for their ages, I found the capabilities superior to what I saw in Canada.”
During that trip, he befriended some Cuban musicians and now visits the country regularly to perform. He said Cuban people and culture have been extremely influential on his music.
Throughout all of his experiences, Michaels said his flamenco sound has grown to dabble in the genres of jazz, alternative rock, and reggae.
“Everything’s kind of blended in there.”
While flamenco is taken to a deeper level within other cultures, Michaels said his style is palatable for the average person.
“Hardcore flamenco can get somewhat intense, and unless you understand the culture and energy of it, it’s kind of like trying to understand the flavour of jazz music and classical.”
But audiences don’t need to be flamenco connoisseurs to enjoy his music.
“My songs include a modern flavour with modern influences – not that I try to do it, that’s what happens spontaneously.”
By absorbing every flavour of music that intrigues him, Michaels is never short on new ideas.
“I like the freshness of keeping it new and innovative, and then adapt my own personal styles to it.”
His shows both begin at 8 p.m. at the Dream Cafe on Sept. 4 and 5. Tickets cost $32 and can be purchased by calling 250-490-9012.
“It’s always a fun, intimate show with a great audience,” he said. “I’m planning to come a few days early and stay a little after just to kind of roam around the area.”