Written by Jocelle Koh
Edited by Esther & Michael Veronin
Martin ‘Musa’ Musaubach is an interesting person; to put it simply. But to Musa, nothing is ever as simple, nor as easily categorisable as it seems. A talented musician on the keys, he has worked with some of the biggest names in the Taiwanese music industry; but declines to introduce himself as such. He was nominated in multiple categories at the prestigious Golden Melody Awards this year for his solo instrumental album, but this too did not garner a mention at all throughout the interview.Yet describing him as ‘humble’ doesn’t seem right either; for how can one be humble about their achievements when to him they are not at all considered as such? Within a short few questions, Musa skilfully extricates readers from a world where notifications, connections and awards are considered of utmost importance, inviting us to see the world through his eyes. This dreamer’s story is not one where the takeaway is ‘hustle till you make it’, or one that talks about toughing it out for money or fame. Instead, it is a musician’s story about a passion so deep that it promises to tide you through the most insurmountable of odds; no matter what they might be.
1) For readers who might not know you, can you introduce yourself briefly?
I am a thirty-five year old musician from Argentina who has been living in the Mandarin-speaking part of Asia since 2007 — first in China and since 2012 in Taiwan.
2) Born initially in Argentina, how did you end up so far from home in Taipei?
“Born initially”, that’s interesting. Does it imply that one can be “born again”? That’s a good thought. Maybe that’s what happened to me after leaving my country. Anyway, I ended up in Taiwan because while I was working at the Atmosphere Bar of the Shangri-la China World Summit Wing in Beijing, (where) I met Tu Hui Yuan, a Taiwanese producer. He liked what I did and invited me to audition for an artist he was managing. I asked him to bring my band; we auditioned and we got the gig and a contract for two years. After the contract expired, my wife and I were already so in love with this country and its people that we used our savings to open a company and decided to establish ourselves here.
3) Now I know that you discovered your passion for music when you were barely a teenager yourself; how did you initially discover your talent for music?
Unfortunately, I cannot agree with some premises of this question because they take for granted some ideas that I find very harmful.
There’s no such thing as ‘talent’. It’s a very misleading word — a sort of umbrella term for very separate and unrelated aspects of a person’s life. A child might have been genetically lucky, which can make his or her relationship with a particular subject easier than it might be for another child, but if that innate predisposition is not nurtured, it will fade away. Imagine that you have the seed of a plant that can cure hunger, poverty and illness, but you do not put it into the ground, or if you do, you forget to water it periodically; all that potential will be just that — potential and nothing else. Reality is complex and there are a lot of factors that affect a person’s life. It’s easier to say “talent” and stop thinking about it, but actually (and to reply to your question), I was in an excellent environment for music. My mom and dad loved music; we listened to music every day, all day long, everywhere we went. Also when I was very little, I received a super-small Casio keyboard from my grandmother and keyboards became my favorite thing in the world (and they are so to this day, of course). Finally, no matter what kind of music I played with it, my sister, my mom, my dad and all my family members at every gathering always cheered, clapped and made me feel as if I sounded great (which of course I wasn’t, and there are recordings that prove it). So basically that’s how it happened. To sum it up for you:
1) I was surrounded by this art (music).
2) I was given the opportunity (through my grandmother’s gift) to explore it personally.
3) Because I had already developed a sense for it (thanks to my parents’ listening habits), I instantly liked doing something that was very important in my home.
4) And finally, I was encouraged by my whole family to keep doing it, on my own terms and without any kind of judgment from the people for whom I cared the most. I believe that a similar process can work with everyone. Of course, each and every person might feel a connection with a different subject (other arts, or engineering, or science, or sports, etc.), but I am certain we are all “talented”, which is another way for me to say that actually no one is.
4) Was there any particular ‘aha’ moment when you realized that making music is your passion and you wanted to pursue it full-time? Can you you recall what you were feeling at that moment?
I was seventeen and fully involved with politics. I was the president of the Juvenile Parliament of the Buenos Aires Province. I supervised around 4000 other teenagers like myself in this association and although we were working for different political parties, we were all working together on certain projects. My main subject was Education. I also started Law School, which made my father very proud. After a bit over a year dealing with politicians and three months of studying Law, two things happened simultaneously. First, during every five minutes I had to spare, I couldn’t help myself and rushed to the keys as if my life depended on it. Second, I quickly came to understand that each and every one of the systems of government existing all over the world have absolutely no real interest in solving problems and helping people. They are structures that at an early stage might have been developed with good intentions but subsequently became a tool to keep the bulk of the population at bay while a minuscule number of individuals enjoy the wealth produced by those people. At the University of La Plata in Buenos Aires, all freshmen took a class called Introduction to Law, and I understood what kind of totalitarian monster the Corporations are, and how they relate to government and people, and that was it for me. I had to get out, and I did. I walked out and took the 273 H bus going back to my home and started to think how I was going to tell my father that I had decided to become a [professional] musician. The corollary to this story is that now that I am a musician, I often think about what would have developed in my life if there had been books with the same level of depth and information as there were about Law. Maybe I would have chosen to be a carpenter, which was another of my childhood passions. Ignorance and a small dose of fairytale idealism played a part at that point in my life.
5) I’m sure you have faced many obstacles in pursuing these dreams. During these times when you may have felt downtrodden, disheartened or depressed, what was it that allowed you to keep going?
If I am really honest, I never felt downtrodden, disheartened or depressed in my whole life. Maybe it’s because I never actually wanted anything else other than to play, and do it well, so I never thought about the world in terms of ‘making it’ or any such superficial ideas. I wanted to play and continue to improve — always at my own pace and within my own possibilities. Temptations of the external world that bring confusion always appear, but if I don’t bring myself down to Earth, my wife always helps me get back on track.
Many false notions can bring anyone to their knees. Being competitive can bring you down, comparing yourself to others can bring you down, letting society set up goals that you have to live up to can bring you down — all of these and many other thoughts are completely useless. Not only are they useless but also harmful, and worst of all, false. Let’s think about it for a minute. There have been no other human beings that were born of my parents at the exact time when I was born, so if there’s no one even close to being similar to me, how can I compare myself? I think that all competition is a superficial quest to appease the need to be loved. We are all unique, so unique, so overwhelmingly special that there’s no way whereby anyone of us can compare each other. The only real competition that one can have is with oneself. So as long as I am learning something new, and/or trying to do something today that I couldn’t do yesterday, all is well.
6) Can you say a few words about your experience working with Lara and Meimeiwawa on this mash-up? We know you aren’t a first-time collaborator with Meiwa. What is it that keeps you coming back for more?
Love. I love the girls and I admire them for all the work they put into producing the best kind of content possible according to their tastes and standards. Also the fact that it’s a company where the employees are mostly women, which I think in the music business is something rare, and I feel the need to support it. The music business usually uses women in the most awful and disrespectful ways possible, making the singers look like silly dolls that are only relevant either to scream in high-pitched songs or as a sexual offering to the audience. I despise this, and it’s the same all over the world. I am not a feminist nor do I support any “ism” because I think ideologies are structures that suppress free-thinking, and complex social problems require deep and careful reflection; nevertheless, in this particular case, whatever I can do to support people and institutions that try to push back against so much disrespect and covert misogyny as there is in the entertainment and music business, I try to do. And working with Meiwa is a way.
7) What (or who) would you say have been crucial in motivating you to do what you have always wanted to do?
It’s hard to pick particulars in such a general question. As long as I was free to do whatever I wanted, motivation was never a problem. Rules and impositions such as goals or achievements affect motivation, but as I was encouraged but never pressured, I never had problems to be motivated for action. So my reply to this question is different. If I consider this question from the perspective of what elements have been crucial in order for me to be able to do what I do, I guess the answer would have to be: Everyone and everything. All the good and all the bad combined.
Let’s put it this way: Everything that happens has a cause, so if I change any part of my history, I am surely changing a cause and with it, innumerable consequences. The connections between causes and consequences are never clear or straightforward, so we must be careful when considering history from a linear perspective or a fixed point of observation. And this is true even if the part of my history that I would want to change is a deeply painful one (like my mother dying of cancer while I was working in China). Even if I change this, all things would surely be different. And if things were different, would we be having this conversation? Would I have worked with Esther and Lara? Would things be better? Better how? Looking at the past is good as a way to learn from one’s own mistakes, but paradoxically, without having made those mistakes, there wouldn’t have been any actual learning in the first place. Everything that happens is necessary and inevitable; the fact that it actually happens is sufficient proof. So again, everything and everyone has been crucial in order for me to do what I do — even you, Jocelle!
8) As a professional musician with experience in various music industries all around the world, what advice do you have for aspiring musicians who may not know what the road ahead holds?
Look inside. Be painfully honest with yourself. Why are you doing music? Do you love music or are you just looking for a way to be famous? If you do want to be famous and rich, why is that? All these kinds of questions are very important. Making an effort to really understand why we do what we do helps us flow better in a satisfactory direction. Usually when we feel stuck it’s because there’s a dichotomy — a contradiction between what we really want and our actions in the world. Knowing what you want, without even a hint of hypocrisy, is essential. “Getting out of the closet” should be a universal phrase because we all hide from ourselves and from the world in one way or another at some point in our lives. I think that aversion to deep honesty is what is behind so much homophobia. Also, it is very important to read good books, listen to the most diverse palette of music, and of course, master to the best of your abilities your chosen instrument (practice).
9) Despite your wealth of experience, is there anything on your bucket list that you still haven’t ticked off? Can you share what it is?
This question is easy to reply: To study a major in Composition at a Music University. And maybe to also do a Philosophy major. I hope my life is long, ‘cause maybe if there’s a point where the daily financial pressures on my life are lifted a bit and I have actual time to sit down and read for long periods of time, I will surely enrol in College and do it.
10) Over your career, can you share one of your most memorable moments or achievements of which you are most proud?
Hugs…Real heartfelt hugs after a gig. No matter what kind of gig. Could be a wedding, a year-end party for a company, a gig at a small club where we played some of my own stuff, or even a big pop concert. When the show is over and you are still on stage many things can happen, but when the connection between the musicians is real, deep and meaningful, there’s always a hug. Gender, sweat, smells — at that moment all become irrelevant. Eyes close and you hug the human next to you because something that’s bigger than any one person has just happened. It’s a very special experience that sometimes even includes the audience, mostly in small clubs. That’s why I love playing in small places so much. Everyone ends up feeling that something beyond words has just happened. Those are the moments I treasure. Human connection — that’s all there is. The rest is silence.