When you look at many lists of the most famous Hispanic people you usually find popular musicians like JLo, Shakira and Ricky Martin. Not as well known in the U.S., Berta Rojas is one of the most famous Hispanic people and one of the top classical guitarists in the world! Latin Grammy-nominated Rojas describes herself as inspired by the love and affection she receives from her people, homeland, culture and roots, and, by extension, from Latin America, a great source of inspiration for her.
She began studying the guitar at age 7 when her older brother, who also played the guitar, handed her the instrument. From that moment on it was love at first sight” First with music and then with the two instruments she studied, piano and guitar.
Rojas has also recently partnered with the famed Recycled Instruments Orchestra of Cateura, also known as the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra, to create instruments out of garbage. Together they charm audiences with their humility, creativity and talent.
Washington Post and Classical Guitar Magazine have praised you as a “guitarist extraordinaire,” and I will pose that you’re actually one of the most famous Hispanic people around the world. What makes you stand out?
In the classical music world it’s very easy to follow the European school of thought which is where classical guitar music began. I have decided though, to take a different approach, one that’s based mostly on my South American roots. Perhaps that made me a little different and gave me the chance to stand out.
As a professional woman, what are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career and how have you overcome them?
As a woman, working in a field that is still dominated by men is not an easy task. You have to be prepared to answer the stereotypical question that always comes up: “Can a woman play the guitar?” That was a question that I was asked frequently along with: “What are you studying?” When I would explain that I was studying classical guitar music, they were dumbfounded; as if playing the guitar was supposed to be only my hobby. This attitude is changing slowly as more women are making their way into classical guitar, bringing something new and exciting to the field. The number of women studying the instrument professionally is growing, especially in countries like China and the U.S.
What do you find the most satisfying part of your work?
Without a doubt it’s the affection I receive from the audience. When you give your heart and soul to the audience and they reciprocate in kind, that’s truly magical.
There are several reasons one chooses to pursue a career in music. I hope the main reason will always be a love for the art and a need to express oneself. That’s certainly a good place to start.
Give us an example of how you’re currently helping other women advance professionally or fulfill their career goals?
I teach a master class globally to help students develop their technique and musicianship. Many girls, hoping to pursue a career in music, attend my classes. Our gatherings allow me to share some useful career tips. In addition to teaching, I am involved in a project which I have been working on in Paraguay that is comprised of a series of motivational talks I host in grade schools and universities throughout the country. Through music I hope to help students of all ages develop their talent and bring out the best in them. Women’s issues always come up in the talks with them. In the four years I have been doing this project, we have reached out to 26,000 students and we hope to continue it.
Could you mention one or more women who have contributed to you being considered one of the most famous Hispanic people in the world?
My grandmother Leona and my mom, Fidela. Leona means “lioness” in Spanish. So, you can tell from her name what type of woman my grandmother was: protective and loving. I admire my mom for her determination and fortitude. I would be nowhere today without the support I received from either one of them.
What is your signature quote:
“The world can be a better place if we try.”