By: Jorge Munnshe

paniagua2.jpg (16282 bytes)Luis Paniagua resembles a minstrel from the Middle Ages, yet one adapted to the new times. Through his travels, he has accummulated a wealth of experiences he narrates under a musical form in his albums. He has built a bridge between the Eastern and the Western cultures, he has drunk from the fountains of Hindi philosophy, and has broken many conventionalisms. The music he offers us is a reflection of his personal attitude towards life.

Having released a considerable amount of albums and movie soundtracks, Luis Paniagua already is a noteworthy figure in the  panorama of the alternative musics. The fact that his concerts are often held in such places as monasteries, temples and yoga centers, points at the spiritual nature of his music. Nevertheless, defining his style turns out to be difficult as it spreads over a wide range of elements. In his works the listener can appreciate the heritage of the classical musics from the Western countries channelled towards unexplored paths, often of an impressive nature, where the cosmic, the magic and the sensitive get together. His is a music with no given time or geography, which appears to flow through the mind as if in a dream.

Born in Madrid in 1957, since his early childhood he had a marked inclination towards music, helped by his family environment. At the early age of fifteen, he began to play music with Atrium Musicae, a group devoted to compiling and performing European music from the Middle Ages. His public debut took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. During the 1970s he released a good deal of albums with this group, and toured the USA, Canada, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Finland, Poland, Russia and Spain, including a concert before the monarchs of Belgium and Spain.

At age seventeen he discovered the sitar, an Hindi instrument whose great expressivity seduced him completely. As time went by, he became a magnificient virtuoso of the sitar, playing with it not only Hindi music, but also his own compositions beyond the folkloric sphere associated with this instrument. In 1983 he devoted himself to his solo career as a composer, after having left Atrium Musicae.

The opportunity I have had to interview Luis Paniagua so as to write this article will allow us to get to know some of the experiences and ideas that lie behind his music.


Luis lived in India for six months in 1980 in order to study the sitar and the classical music of the North. This was his main objective, yet once he was there, the conversations he had with his music professor, T.N. Nagar, his walks through the city of Benares on the banks of the river Ganges, and the people he met there, allowed him to learn other things besides music. Nevertheless, he points out that "Not only in this journey to the East did I learn things related to the spirit. You needn't go to the East to find the spiritual, since this can be found anywhere if you are ready to look within yourself as well as outside yourself, and furthermore this is an endless job, just as music is endless. In all my travels, even without travelling, I find clues, signs and people I can learn from".

He believes that the role played now and in the future by the most spiritual aspects of Western culture in the evolution of Western society is important, yet it is not the only one. "The West has a lot to learn from the East, and the East also has a lot to learn from the West".


He doesn't follow any given religious or philosophical path in particular. "I learn from what I sometimes look for and what I sometimes find in the people and in different cultures".

Thus he sees the path of the Human Beings towards their self-perfectioning: "Everybody has a lot to learn so as to approach a balance between the extremes of reason and instinct, spirit and matter, because everything has its worth and nothing is worthless".

He admits having had an uncommon experience which made him "perceive things in me that I had never felt or lived before", yet he does not believe it necessary to explain this in detail. "It is so personal, and so intimate, that, although I don't mind telling it to someone interested in it, today I cannot explain it publicly. I guess it is told in my music".

His concerts in monasteries, chapels, churches and temples suggest the connection his music has with spiritual questions. In these places, Luis feels at ease when playing. "These ususally are places with a wonderful acoustic reverberation. Furthermore, any small noise is amplified in a natural way and one can be made more aware of the sounds one originates. I like temples, the air they contain, and even more so if they are made of stone".

Theatres and museums of art are likewise the stages that motivate him and that he considers to be spiritual as well. "The theatres are the temples of dance and the scenic arts. The art museums are the temples of painting and sculpture".

The yoga centers and other similar facilities are also ideal places for his music. "These don't tend to be wide rooms, yet as a general rule the people going to them tend to be readier to listen to music because they usually are readier to listen to the silence and to listen to themselves".


Almost all the music he has composed has stemmed from making   improvisations. When improvising, he plays different melodies and rhythms, and all of a sudden he hears something that attracts his attention in a special way. Then he continues with this passage, plays it a lot of times, writes or records it, and works on it.

The titles he chooses for his compositions depend on his personal circumstances. "If in these moments I have worries, feelings or experiences in mind, then there I find the title for this music". Nevertheless, sometimes he must make use of other means. "Occassionally I ask some oracle such as the book of wisdom I Ching and it always gives an answer to my question". There also are cases in which some person near to him has made him see that a given piece suggested certain things, and that therefore, in these questions he should look for the title.

The relationship between his music and philosophical or spiritual issues is not what could be expected. "Rather than creating my music based on such questions, I compose it and then it teaches me to recognise the great and the little things in life, in the human beings and in everything."

Inspiration is for Luis an element rather difficult to define and even to recognise. As an example, he tells us an anecdote that he experienced some time ago. He visited a friend of his, a musician, in his studio. At a certain time his friend had him listen to a piece of music created by computer which had been given the instruction to make all possible combinations of a given musical scale. The computer did this. At a given moment, there was a passage in the series of notes that attracted his attention in a very intense way. It reached him deep inside, whereas for his friend it went unnoticed amongst the rest of the passages. "It was a musical phrase I was in empathy with and I would have started to work with it at once in this very moment. Yet, my friend didn't even react. He could have paid attention to any other phrase, or maybe none". From this event, Luis concludes that "inspiration can come to one, yet one must work for hours on end, and quite often nothing comes, or nothing attracts your attention; that is to say, you don't know how to listen to that which comes".

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The relationship of Luis Paniagua with musical therapy is mostly marked by his performance at the VII World Congress of Musical Therapy held at the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz. "I found it wonderful and very important to see that from so many parts of the world there are so many people interested in the health of the Human Being at all levels of psychological and physical unstability". He gives music a great value given the importance, often undervalued, of the auditive sense in front of the other senses of the Human Being. "I believe that the sense of hearing  is the last one we lose before our body dies. We have this sense open during all our lives; even the deaf people can feel the vibrations of the sounds, especially on the chest and the stomach. Sound and music can help us a lot, although to each one in a different manner. To those who in theory are called "healthy", they can relax us, if this is what we need, or stimulate us to take action if need be".

His spiritual relationship with music is complete. He claims that with it he has laughed, cried, relaxed, been excited and even gotten nervous. Music has accompanied him in many activities.

He values in a very positive way the capacity that music has so as to be able to make contact with people who have problems of communication through it, as is the case of autistic people. "Playing with percussion instruments primary dialogues are created, which later can be of physical or verbal communication". His conclusion about the importance of auditive stimuli is that the attention on them should be encouraged from early childhood.


His attitude with respect to nature is ecological. "I do my best to respect planet Earth, its inhabitants, and I make the best possible use of natural wonders as well as the ones created by the Human Being within the Chaos-Order we live in". He understands perfectly well that we human beings are part of nature and he thinks that we should be more aware of ourselves so as to prevent ecological damage. "We must respect ourselves more, to begin with. If we are more aware of ourselves, and if we respect ourselves, we have better chances to respect the rest of nature".

He believes that music can contribute to social awareness of the need to respect nature more. "Music can help, as it enters within us and touches deep places of our being. In my case, the fact of creating music or listening to it allows me to see the wonder that there is in wonder, and the horror that lies in horror".


Although he admits that he doesn't have a clear idea on the paths that music might take in the coming decades, he does make some predictions. "Nowadays these is a clear communion or communication among different cultures, and I guess that thanks to the fact that music is a universal language, or at the very least this is so on planet Earth, this communication will be very intense among countries and cultures as time goes by". With respect to the technological side of sound and music, he is certain that how acoustic vibrations affect the Human Being will be studied more in depth. In his opinion, this will lead to revealing certain sounds as very dangerous indeed, whereas the hearing of certain types of sounds or music will be routinely reccommended by doctors as therapy. As for the question of whether several musical trends will progressively become unified or not, he is convinced that "all kinds of music will continue to exist, as there will be all sorts of people to make them and to listen to them will continue to exist as well". He hopes that  the most ancient musics, those having deepest roots, from each place, will not disappear, while at the same time new spaces are opened for "new musics that we cannot even imagine yet".


He spent two months in Venezuela and Colombia to give concerts, invited by the VII International Festival "La Otra Musica" ( "The Other Music") at the Ateneo in Caracas, and by the Embassy of Spain in Bogota to play at the Hall of Concerts of the Library Luis Angel Aranjo. In Caracas, he also recorded an album with Julio D'Escriban (electric guitar), Miguel Noya (keyboards) and Nene Quintero (percussion). He played the sitar. The evaluation he makes of this stage is very positive. "The peoples from these countries are very kind, and it is a wonder that despite the fact that they are so far away we understand one another speaking the same language. I have met some wonderful people and places; everywhere there are beautiful beings and landscapes".

He has composed the soundtrack for the movie "Amanecio de golpe", by Venezuelan director Carlos Azpurua. The film is about the coup that took place in  Caracas in 1992. He has played live in several cities in Spain.     Last but not least, he adds: "Other activities having the same or even more importance than the former ones are: trying to listen to the signs that life shows me and trying to carry out the things that I feel as truths, yet... It is so difficult!..."


Within the band Atrium Musicae:

Música Iucunda (Siglos XII al XVII), 1976
Musique Arabo Andalouse, 1976
Tarantule-Tarantelle, 1976
Diego Ortiz Recercadas, 1977
Codex Glúteo, 1978
Las Cantigas de Hita de Alfonso X el Sabio, 1978
Teobaldo I de Navarra, 1978
Musique de la Greece Antique, 1978
Villancicos populares españoles de los siglos XV y XVI, 1979
La Spagna (Siglos XV, XVI y XVII), 1980
Las Indias de España (Música precolombina de los archivos del Viejo y
Nuevo Mundo), 1981
La Folía de la España, 1982

Solo works:

Oriente-Occidente, 1981
De Mágico Acuerdo, 1986 (remasterizado en digital en 1996 para su reedición en CD)
Neptuno, 1987
Planeo, 1990
La Bolsa o la Vida, 1992
Muy Frágil, 1993
Arbol de Cenizas, 1994
Soltando Amarras, 1997


Cantata de par en par, 1981
Canto a un árbol caído, 1982
En torno al círculo, 1982
Encuentro, 1983
Luz, 1984
Uadi, 1992
Bambú, 1993


Salomé, 1985
Antígona, 1986
Comedia sin Título, 1987
Peer Gynt, 1988
Las Cuatro Niñas, 1988
El Castillo de Lindabridis, 1989

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