"Don't let the bright city lights blind you to Australia's hidden beauty"
Country of Origin: Colombia.
State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Alice Springs. Upon arrival: Surprised by the beautiful nature and the most crystal clear beaches
Photo by Katherine Gailer
By Trini Abascal
Oscar Jimenez is a world-class singer, songwriter and producer originally from Colombia. His journey in Australia has seen him grow from being an international student to a local accomplished musician. His musical journey has been full of cross-cultural adventures including experiences with indigenous communities in Australia, Colombia and Peru. He is passionate about the connection of music and people. Whenever possible he is committed to social work and benefit concerts for children and communities with educational needs. He has championed the Latin-roots scene since arriving to Australia 16 years ago.
Tell us Your Story
A friend of mine told me that in Australia it is easy to work and study at the same time. So I decided to try my luck and moved to Australia in 2000. My plan was to study for a while and see where life would take me. Little did I know I was coming for the biggest adventure of my life. In 2002 I received a Recording Arts Degree from SAE Institute Australia. Afterwards I worked as a production editor for a while. I had the opportunity to apply for a visa in 2003. While I waited for my visa I was working in cafes as a waiter. Finding a job at the beginning was hard but within the Latin-American community I found my first jobs that helped me to survive. I have to confess that although my English wasn’t bad, I found hard to follow a conversation with native Australian speakers. The accent was so different to what I was used to. Working in cafes and getting involved with English-speaking people helped me better understand their accent and way of life.
At the same time, I was also having a lot of fun singing and playing at house parties. During that time a very close friend asked me to start a band with him and few other local musicians. We did our first gig in a little restaurant at Bondi Beach. Since we were well-received we kept doing gigs. In 2006 we recorded our first demo and named the band: Watussi. It was then I realised that my interests changed from just being a producer to actually wanting to perform in front of an audience. This change was instigated by my supportive friends who suggested I should be an artist. It wasn’t an easy decision but, since I took on the music road, it’s been an amazing journey. Watussi has had a lot of success. In 2008, we got an Aria Award nomination for our first album. We had the chance to travel around Australia, Japan, Korea, and Malaysia. In 2013, I was invited to be part of a mentoring program for Aboriginal artists in Alice Springs, Central Australia. This experience allowed me to learn a small piece of the ancestral roots of Australia. This experience transformed me. Since then, Australia has a special place in my soul, now I feel more connected to this land, I feel connected to it in a similar way to my South America roots.
During 2013 important events in my life took place in Melbourne. I opened the concert for Manu Chao at Melbourne’s Palace Theatre. It was then I realised how much Melbourians love concerts and music gigs. Also I learnt how big and vibrant is the community of multicultural artists that live here. That same year I met my best friend and now wife with whom I get to perform with in different gigs. Moving to Melbourne was an easy decision as there was a new cycle for me to begin. After 10 years together, this year, Watussi will close a chapter as we all are moving in different directions. However, I am currently working on a new production company for world music artists called Vibrating Planet. Together with a team of creative entrepreneurs we are creating local connections within the multicultural artistic communities. We are doing recordings in unique places around Melbourne to start connecting this scene with the world. I have also realised that one of my missions in Australia is to portray a different image of the Colombia shown by the media, so I am trying to do that through my projects.
Real connections - Sydney is a very fun city; however it can be very superficial so you must look deep for real connections. Living in Bondi, a very touristic spot, I had the opportunity to make friends from all around the world. At the beginning it was hard to have a sense of home as I would often hang out with tourists. Only in the last years in Sydney I felt I had made meaningful connections.
Breaking stereotypes - Because of what I do as a musician I was able to connect a bit faster in certain places. However, it wasn’t always easy to get gigs. I think that there is a stereotype of Latin music, which sometimes can be limiting. I have try to break that stereotype by being open minded and working with Australian musicians who are willing to try new things and discover Latin culture. Regarding the band, we have had the support from both, the Latin American and the Australian audiences. That makes it a very unique and special project.
Vibrant culture - I feel I grew up surrounded by lots of energy in Barranquilla. People in Colombia are very vibrant and like to celebrate everything. This brings a nice spark to the people and the community. However, in Australia people don’t celebrate as much and you have to plan any social encounter a month ahead.
Rules - Probably the hardest part of Australian culture is the strictness with rules and following certain patterns. However, this is a good thing when you work with people and need things to be done on time. It also helps to keep the country organised and working. In Latin America people don’t follow any rule, though.
Indigenous culture - Australia has a very different history and its Indigenous culture has not really been embraced and acknowledged. One example that comes to mind is the food. I was recently doing a recording with an Aboriginal musician friend and he cooked for us a delicious Aboriginal dish, which you won’t find in any restaurant in Australia. In Latin American most dishes are mixtures of the different cultures.
Piece of Advice
Get to know the real country - Don't let the bright city lights blind you to Australia's hidden beauty. There is so much more to explore. The real heart of this place is its Aboriginal people and its outback (e.g. deserts, oceans, rivers, reefs).
Be culturally intelligent – Be open to what this country can offers you, but also see what positive impact you can bring to it. As a good friend told me: we are entering into an era when it is important to be culturally intelligent. If you want to survive in a country that is very different to yours, you must make the effort to understand its culture, language, music and history.
In the next few years...
Oscar is planning big musical collaborations between Australia and Latin America. He will continue working with Vibrating Planet. He is also looking at learning more about the Indigenous cultures of both sides (Australia and South America), to then support ways of connecting and preserving this ancestral wisdom. He believes that their knowledge could help us deal with the challenges that are coming ahead. If you wish to contact Oscar email us at email@example.com