Well-known musician virtually visits MISD students

Students in Sam Watts’ music class in Marfa played a Joachim Cooder song, sharing the recording online. In return, Cooder, a professional musician, held a special Q&A session over Zoom with the class, calling it a “highlight” of his career.

MARFA — Marfa Elementary School students had a visit from singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Joachim Cooder Friday afternoon for a question-and-answer session via Zoom.

Cooder, the son of iconic Americana musician Ry Cooder, has appeared on drums in many of his father’s records, including the classic 1995 debut record of Buena Vista Social Club.

Cooder’s invitation to meet and greet the children of Marfa came at the behest of Marfa art teacher Sam Watts, who had earlier led the children in learning and performing “Over That Road I’m Bound,” from his 2020 record of the same name.

Over the course of the session, Cooder answered questions from students on how he became a musician, what ignites his inspiration and his future as a musician.

Though initially a drummer, Cooder said, answering a question from fifth-grade student Lily Aguero, he began writing his own songs later in life after having performed with his father over the years.

“I grew up around music because my dad is a musician,” Cooder told the class. “I was an only child, so it was easy for him to take me around to shows. I could also play guitar, so I started singing and playing songs of my own and it opened up a new chapter of my music career.”

Student Noah Barton inquired about Cooder’s first instrument, and Cooder answered with a drum set from his father’s drummer, Jim Keltner, whose impressive resume includes stints with rock luminaries such as Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Harry Nilsson.

“[Keltner] would leave his drums at our house, so I’d sneak down at night and play his drum set. One night, he saw me playing and gave me my first drum set,” Cooder told the class.

One of Cooder’s favorite parts of writing music, he explained, is the happy accident that occurs in the song-writing process: “When you make music, you think things are going to go one way, and sometimes things happen you don’t expect. Sometimes someone messes up and it ends up being the best part of the song.”

Cooder also showed the class his favorite instrument, the mbira, which is part of the idiophone family of musical instruments.

“It’s very soothing and you could play by yourself and be your own little band,” he said, adding that there are other instruments he wishes he had learned. “I always wanted to play the marimba. I tried to learn, but I didn’t stick with it and now I regret it.”

Cooder also spoke about his experiences travelling to Cuba to record with Buena Vista Social Club, and the challenges involved in making the record.

“Buena Vista Social Club was a very accidental thing that happened. We flew down to make a different album with some African musicians that were supposed to [join] but never made it. Sometimes when you got one idea, something else happens and it’s way better,” he said of the making of the record. “We wound up playing with some Cuban musicians, and they were very warm and brought you in and would make you feel good.”

“I hope I’m able to do what I’m doing now,” Cooder said in response to a question by Matteo Masa on whether he plans to keep making music in 10 years. “Music isn’t easy. You have to make the music and then play it, and then you have to sell it and hope people pay for it. I’ll do it as long as I still have ideas.”

According to Cooder, through his experiences as a professional musician, the project led by Watts for the children to learn “Over Than Road I’m Bound” has been a career highlight.

“Seeing you guys play has been the most exciting thing so far,” he told the class. “I’ll need you guys to back me up next time I go to Marfa. We’ll do it together!”