Young Fil-American singer-songwriter Kurt Tijamo (last name is Winterhalter) impresses everyone with his unique guitar playing.
“I find fingerstyle guitar to be the best way for me to accompany myself in a solo context,” Tijamo told ABS-CBN News. “There’s just so much variety you can get out of the fingers.
“If I grow out my nails a bit, I can strum just as well as without a pick. So, it just seems like a win-win situation. But, to be honest, that’s mostly post-hoc justification. I really just play like that because of the stuff I was learning early on in my guitar playing.”
John Mayer and Fil-Am singer-songwriter Gabe Bondoc are both Tijamo’s early influences in his music. In songwriting, Tijamo’s biggest musical influence has been Bondoc, a California-based pop-acoustic artist who rose to fame for his One Take Sessions of famous songs and his own compositions.
“I didn’t really take guitar playing seriously until my cousin showed me one of Gabe’s YouTube videos very early on,” Tijamo recalled. “I was hooked and I literally learned to play guitar by watching Gabe’s videos and learning his songs. A lot of the foundation of my style was formed by learning Gabe’s songs and technique.”
When Tijamo was still a teenager learning to play the acoustic guitar in the confines of his bedroom, Mayer greatly influenced his guitar playing and even musical tastes. “He is constantly growing as an artist and that is something that I want for myself as well,” Tijamo said of Mayer.
“I also really enjoy listening to the jazz guitar masters as well, like Wes Montgomery, Herb Ellis and Joe Pass.”
Guitar-playing isn’t the only interesting entry in Tijamo’s resume. In fact, he is a multi-faceted artist. Only 28, he is also a singer-songwriter, theater actor, and pianist.
Understandably, the earliest and most influential person in Tijamo’s musical development would have to be his dad. “He taught me to play piano and even gave me a musical vocabulary very early on that, I feel, still influences me today,” he said of his father.
“I also had very supportive directors in high school, as well as an amazing choir teacher. He taught the AP [Advanced Placement] music theory class and I learned so much from him that really helped me in my own songwriting.”
When he was younger, Tijamo wasn’t sure about the exact career to pursue. He simply bristled at every possible opportunity. Since he has the height, he loved playing basketball. Meanwhile, his mom always convinced him to become a doctor.
It wasn’t until in his senior year in high school that he realized his “deep passion” for singing. “So, it was kind of serendipitous that I auditioned for a musical on a whim,” Tijamo shared.
“Of course, it was scary to decide to study music in college instead of something more traditional. I remember second guessing my major, but then I thought, ‘Well, the world has enough accountants.’ So why not pursue music?”
Tijamo didn’t actually realize he wanted to become a singer until he was a teenager. “I started out learning piano from my dad and thought that’s what I wanted to do,” he shared.
“Even when they bought me an acoustic guitar for my 13th birthday [cliché, I know], I didn’t think about being a singer-songwriter. So, I didn’t really figure out that I had an instrument until I auditioned for musical theater in my senior year of high school, when I was 17.
“They decided to cast me as Javert [in ‘Les Miserables’] and then all of a sudden, I discovered a love for singing and decided that I wanted to study music in college.”
Tijamo studied classical voice and opera performance at the California State University Northridge. He completed his Master’s degree in the same major from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). Presently, he is pursuing a professional studies certificate in voice from the SFCM.
Although not daunting for him, Tijamo is also into writing songs. He has written a lot of tunes. “Writing songs has always been a hobby of mine; sometimes as a way to process intense feelings or just to compose a cool idea that I had,” he said.
Tijamo was recently signed up by Curve Entertainment and he released his single, “U & Me,” an original, pop R&B track. Song arrangement and production were done here in Manila at Kindred Productions.
The singer-songwriter expressed his desire to record an OPM song soon or perhaps re-imagine a song that everyone is familiar with.
Although he has yet to visit the Philippines, Tijamo was raised in a very Fil-Am tradition, coming from a family of working-class immigrants.
“My cousins and I were looked after by our lolo during the day, while all the parents were at work,” Tijamo disclosed. “So I ended up identifying very closely with the Filipino side of my family.”
Balancing work and his personal life has always been challenging for Tijamo. “That is always a unique hurdle that musicians have to inevitably learn to get over,” he said. “Since we draw upon our personal experiences so much to vitalize our work, if you’re not careful it can get messy.
“And it’s not like as a musician, I clock in and clock out from work on a regular basis. Sure, there are gigs and teaching jobs, but I still have to find time outside of ‘work’ to practice, write and to study the music I want to emulate.”
Whatever time he gets to spare, Tijamo spends it catching up with friends and family. He’s the eldest in the family and he’s got three younger brothers. “Thankfully, the rest of my family is all very close, too,” he maintained.
“We even have a Facebook group where all my cousins, titos and titas can stay up-to-date with each other and family events.”
Unfortunately, because Tijamo’s mom had to work while also going to school, learning Tagalog was not successfully passed on to him and his siblings.
“We know some of the basics and a few phrases that all Filipino kids hear when they’re in trouble, but I’m not much of a speaker,” Tijamo said.
“That’s something that I’m trying to work on now on my own, because with all of the social consciousness happening here in the US, I’ve decided to really dig down and rediscover my Filipino roots. My mom is doing the same rediscovery and she even started learning Baybayin script.”
Not surprisingly, Tijamo is familiar with Filipino artists, especially the ones that his mom loves to listen to. “My mom always liked to sing ‘Mr. DJ’ by Sharon Cuneta when I was growing up,” he said. “I love singing in Tagalog!
“I even did a set of Filipino kundiman for my graduate recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Exploring the work of composer Francisco Santiago [father of kundiman] was an incredible and enriching experience. I really love Filipino music, especially a lot of the songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s. I’d love to do an OPM cover soon.”
Admittedly, Tijamo has yet to see the Philippines and he is undoubtedly raring for it to happen. “We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up,” he unabashedly shared. “So we weren’t really able to schedule a flight to the Philippines to visit.
“It was only recently, maybe in 2015, when my mom was able to go back to the Philippines and show my dad where she grew up. Hopefully, in the future, I’ll be able to visit the Philippines, too.”
Tijamo knows the 2022 will still be challenging in every aspect. Yet, he remains upbeat about every possible new opportunity, especially when it comes to his young music career.