“What I wish I had at Kenyon,” Gabriel Alegria ’93, founder of the Afro-Peruvian Sextet, said last Tuesday, “was someone to tell me I suck.”
Alegria, who returned to Kenyon last week to perform with the Sextet, majored in music at Kenyon with a focus in jazz and classical music. He felt that his time at the College gave him more confidence than he was entitled to. He said he needed to be told, “You can’t play trumpet, and you can’t play jazz.”
Alegria found graduate school in New York City much more intense than his music education at Kenyon. After graduating in 1995, Alegria felt he didn’t have much direction; he decided to join a symphony in Peru and feels his time performing there helped guide him toward starting the Afro-Peruvian Sextet in 2005. The band has spent the past decade touring across the United States and Peru and has performed about 800 concerts.
Alegria’s current work is much more focused. He now performs jazz versions of Peruvian music as well as original compositions with a similar style. This is also Alegria’s first year as a full-time performing artist; previously, Alegria taught at New York University. He said most artists who live in the city make their living elsewhere, usually by touring or performing out of state. “New York City can give you a lot of education, but it won’t make you a living,” he said.
The band has used creative fundraising techniques to reach success in a digital age in which record sales are a much smaller portion of a musician’s revenue. Alegria books his band’s gigs and helps generate funding for their albums and tours. His band runs a tour where fans travel to Peru with the band for $2,000 a person, and this is one of their main sources of income. On the trip, fans get to tour museums and Peruvian landmarks with the band.
The band also performs at corporate events. Alegria said many performers see this as “unartistic,” but he sees it as a good revenue source. Designed to be hands-on performances, these events focus on creating a musical experience rather than a show. These events are designed so a company’s employees get the chance to create music together with instruction from professional musicians such as Alegria. He feels his liberal arts education helped him integrate music into these corporate settings. “A Kenyon education makes you open to new experiences,” he said. Alegria’s endeavors in the corporate world were largely driven by his willingness to try new things.
Corporate events, concerts and album sales are important sources of revenue, but they cannot be successful without proper marketing, Alegria explained. “Relationships with the press are really important for music as a way of communicating with fans or potential fans,” he said. Alegria said his Kenyon education allowed him to identify good writing — more importantly, good press releases.
Alegria’s band is not affiliated with a record label. Throughout the presentation, he saidrecord labels are less important among indie artists now than they have ever been before, due to the prominence of digital streaming. He recently cut a distribution deal with a label for his upcoming album. They were initially planning on setting a full deal but realized most of what the label was doing — tasks like creating a website, an online distribution method, or organizing tours — they were already doing without any help.
Alegria finished his speech with one final piece of advice. “You’re gonna need to just be patient,” Alegria said. “Practice a lot — more than you think is enough.”