Musician mixes cultural styles for award-winning tunes

Wayne Wesley Johnson plays guitar at a gig. He’s a New Jersey native but now lives in Rio Rancho. Courtesy Photo.

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Wayne Wesley Johnson sat his guitar in the next chair in a local Starbucks, carefully eyeing the security of its position.

“My guitar goes wherever I can go,” he said.

This multiple-award-winning musician and Rio Rancho resident said he has traveled with guitar since the 1970s.

At one time, the New Jersey native said, he was a thriving businessman. However, he was leading a double life with his music as a secondary profession.

“I always traveled with a guitar and I would try to perform somewhere locally,” he said of his former business trips.

It was a business trip that led him in 1994 to New Mexico, where he first became enamored with flamenco-style guitar music.

Johnson met the now-deceased Ruban Romero, a musician in Santa Fe, where he learned to strum in the flamenco style.

“We decided to play some gigs together. We blended our musical styles, a hybrid improvisation of rumba, flamenco and jazz,” he said.

Johnson said some fans have dubbed him a “flamenco guitarist.”

“Not true,” he said. “I’m not Hispanic. For me to compete with those boys is ridiculous.”

However, his heritage hasn’t hindered him from enjoying performing the style and integrating some of its elements into new sounds.

International and national business trips enhanced Johnson’s exposure to a variety of musical styles. He was once so affected by a traditional Chinese opera that when he returned to the States, he located a Chinese-American musical artist and invited her into his personal studio.

“I got it in my mind that I wanted to bring the world into the studio,” Johnson said. “There are several songs on my albums with an estimated four or five countries represented in them.”

Some may say Johnson’s idea of blending musical styles contaminates cultural authenticity; he views this differently: “It’s a double-edged sword, but music is the universal language.”

In the early days of his flamenco playing, he developed an idea for his guitar that allowed for another layer of sound. Johnson pioneered electric drumming through the guitar, a technique he calls “drumming and strumming.”

“I covered a flamenco guitar in masking tape and rubbed my fingers in carbon dust to leave imprints as I was strumming,” he said. “Then I had dynamically responsive transducer pads placed where the imprints had been made.”

“I could play tracks live and on the fly,” he said, adding that it proved useful for a traveling soloist.

Along with performing, Johnson has also spread his love of music and blending styles through teaching. As a music instructor for Santa Fe Community College, he has witnessed up-and-coming talent make an unusual blend with rumba, flamenco and rap.

“It’s a different sound, even for the hip-hop world,” he said.

Several recent awards have been the culmination of Johnson’s musical career. His “Jazzamanco” CD set was named 2018 Best World Beat Album by Akademia Music Awards; he has received the Top Five Best of the City instrumentalist award from Albuquerque the Magazine, and Akademia recently nominated him as Artist of the Year and for its highest honor, The Akademia Executive Award.

Johnson, now a self-professed homebody, said he will continue to perform locally, teach and promote the idea of music as part of local economic revival.

“Performers are important for generating revenue,” he said.

You can learn more about Johnson and his music at waynewesleyjohnson.com.

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