Belmont Shore’s Martin Espino has been experimenting with music since he first picked up a classical guitar when he was 11.
“To put it simply,” he said. “I make a living making strange sounds.”
Now 65 years old, Espino has taught himself how to play dozens of instruments, performed traditional Mexican music around the world and taught schools of students how to construct and play those same instruments.
He’s traveled to different universities, museums and events to lecture and perform historical renditions of Native dances, complete with traditional garb and live music. From head to toe, Espino shows his appreciation for his Native Yaqui and Tepehuano heritage daily through his clothing selections and home decor.
He graduated with honors from Immaculate Heart College in 1978 with a Bachelor’s degree in music, and said that his background in music education has presented opportunities to engage with audiences from all backgrounds, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing and special needs children.
But in 2020, with the pandemic in full swing, Espino has had to rethink how he showcases his work. Any events that were scheduled for him to perform in 2020 were cancelled.
“It was March 13 and I remember I came home from performing at a preschool,” he said. “I sat at my computer and checked my email, and I was receiving notification after notification that events I was supposed to play at were being cancelled because of COVID-19.”
He said that he needed to find something else to supplement the two to six events per week he was now missing, so he took to Zoom and learned how to host classes online. He quickly started offering online versions of his classes, which range from instrument building, Chicano studies lectures to traditional sound baths.
“Since 1990, I’ve made over 400,000 instruments,” he said. “I’m a fast learner, so right away I knew I had to adapt to keep doing what I love to do.”
Folks who attend his classes can learn how to make traditional Native Mexican instruments made out of clay, fruit, bark and other natural materials that present scales and tones that range from beautiful, relaxing sounds to irritating screams and growls that mimic animal sounds. Espino hand carves all of his instruments, and has recreated classical Native instruments for museums and schools.
“I believe that native people used instruments as weapons,” he said, demonstrating the sound emanating from a wind instrument he carved out of clay. “Imagine if you heard this, it sounds scary, like a jaguar.”
Lectures and performances feature traditional dances and musical performances with Espino’s handmade instruments. While his events have moved online, his performances are filled with the spirits and teachings of his ancestors, he said.
“Telling stories, it’s what keeps our history alive,” he said. “These performances are magical and beautiful and historical.”
His next online event is happening from 5 to 6 p.m. this Saturday, Feb. 20, online at the Soul Long Beach Yoga Festival. Espino will be offering guided meditation and sound work with his handmade ancestral instruments.
For more information about that event, go to soullongbeachyogafestival.com.
For more information about Martin Espino, or to book an online class or performance with him, go to martinespino.com. Free learning materials that include music lessons and downloadable content also are available on his website.