Gabriel Garzón-Montano on Life After Being Sampled by Drake

Photo by Camila Rodriguez

Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s debut EP Bishouné: Alma del Huila is an audiophile’s dream. Written, composed, and performed completely by Garzón-Montano himself, Bishouné is a swirling fusion of soul, funk, and R&B. It’s a smooth and slightly psychedelic listen inspired by the greats: Prince, Sly Stone, J Dilla, Miles Davis, and Fania Records. Although the multi-instrumentalist blended these familiar and chart-topping genres, Garzón-Montano’s 2014 album was somehow unlike any other recent release. Unlike the futuristic, hazy beats that contemporary R&B figures rely on, the neo-soul musician employs organic sounds and textures that he himself creates. “I play everything on my music; I do it alone. On Bishouné, literally no other musicians touched that. No other person clicked on a computer file or played any other instrument or wrote anything.”

Photo by Francisco Outon

Garzón-Montano’s deeply personal connection to his music is rooted in his family upbringing. At a young age, his French mother, a member of the Philip Glass Ensemble, instilled in him a meticulous, classical work ethic that continues to guide his creative process. At the age of six, he began playing the violin and recalls his mother repeatedly forcing him to go over a passage until he performed it perfectly three times in a row before moving on. During his youth, he and his sister sang in the New York City Opera’s children’s chorus for La Bohéme, The Magic Flute, and Tosca.

“No other person clicked on a computer file or played any other instrument or wrote anything.”

Later, at the age of 12, he went on to learn the drums, and continued with the guitar, piano, and bass. Although his classical training was a burden at times, it became a guiding force in his path as a musician. For Garzón-Montano, creation through his classical training became a conscious decision that involved preparation and precision. His process begins from within: “Forming yourself as a musician, reading so you have lyrics to write about, getting up with ideas. All the artists that we really love do that, like Björk. They’re so invested in enriching their lives and their mind and that’s that intention, being intentional and controlling.” While his work ethic evolved from his mother, the rhythms and backbone of his music sprung from his Colombian father, who introduced him to cumbia and salsa.

Photo by Francisco Outon

Shortly after he released Bishouné, he was contacted by Drake via longtime friend Zoë Kravitz, who asked if he would allow October’s Very Own to sample the first track off the album, “6 8.”

While Drake has an undeniable “cultural mastery” that elevates him in the R&B, rap, and pop world, he is notorious for remixing, sampling, and even biting a track, cleaning it up and redistributing it to the masses. It happened with iLoveMakonnen’s “Tuesday,” Ramriddlz’s “Sweeterman,” and most popularly with “Hotline Bling” or “Cha Cha” by D.R.A.M. “Jungle,” a track from Drake’s 2015 release If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, is no different, as “6 8” provided the backing rhythm for the entire track.

Jardín is like Bishouné on steroids.”

While Drake does credit (although maybe more discreetly than some would like) and pay a sampling fee for each track, Garzón-Montano said it initially “really fucked me up…To have him take something that I knew was so special and kind of take ownership of it in a way by not exclusively crediting me and playing up his curatorial [vision] – that whole I-find-the-ill-shit” aesthetic left Garzón-Montano with a “weird flavor.” During this period, he was writing his upcoming album and avoided listening to If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late until he completed his writing process. Although it was a bittersweet experience for him, Garzón-Montano is now on good terms with Drake, grateful for the exposure, and views “Jungle” as a career boost.

Photo by Francisco Outon

In the past year, the young singer-songwriter has performed at SXSW, booked a slot at the Colombian music festival Estéreo Picnic, and recently completed his upcoming album Jardín. He cites the album’s namesake as “a place of positivity, growth, healing, and all the things that you would want to bring to the table in any situation.”

Jardín is once again completely written and composed by Garzón-Montano. The overall production will be a lot more “cinematic, arranged, and [features] more music all at once at any given moment.” He was lucky enough to play the completed record for the mythical Peanut Butter Wolf, the founder of Stones Throw Records. “Everyone is floored by the record. It’s like Bishouné on steroids.” Unlike Bishouné, his sophomore release will provide a steady dose of guitar and will be more R&B-based. Although he states that he is “not writing a record full of hits,” he “couldn’t be happier, is writing new music, and has a bunch of cool other shit going on.”