His name is Juan Gabriel Oliver Cristóbal Moreira Katny. And, while that name may not be the longest in the world, his country of origin certainly is. At least, from north to south. Did you know that the Chileans began to mummify their dead two thousand years before the Egyptians? And that Chile is home to the most southern city in the world?
Oliver and his friends Alex, Saúl, Adolfo and Javier are collectively known as Soul Trip, a terrific band that performs all around this area. Oliver is the lead vocalist and harmonica player. And, man, does he play a mean harp. His favourite instrument is Hohner. And Hohner is the best known harmonica in the world. Years ago, President Lincoln carried one in his pocket. And both Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp were known to play one as well. But I don’t know about that. I’ve just watched Tombstone for about the tenth time and there don’t appear to be an harmonica, so believe what you want.
Spend some time with Oliver and you soon realize how high-spirited he is, how fervently he pursues what he calls ‘this adventure of life.’ You’ll also learn that his other passion, after music, is the cosmos and, consequently, the career of Carl Sagan.
Dr. Carl Sagan was one of the world’s foremost astronomers and cosmologists. Both he and Oliver were bitten at a very early age by the mystery of the stars and both alluded to their first introduction to the subject as a kind of religious experience. Sagan also played a leading role in the American space program, right from its inception. And he had top-secret clearance at both the U.S. Airforce as well as NASA.
When NASA was developing the Voyager Space Program they decided to include a message on board. A kind of time capsule, intended to communicate to extraterrestrials a story of the world of humans on Earth. It would be called the Voyager Golden Record. And the contents of the record would be selected by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan. When completed it contained all sorts of images, sounds, spoken greetings and, of course, a selection of music from throughout the ages. One of the songs he chose was Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode. He was criticized for suggesting the inclusion of this tune with some claiming that rock music was “adolescent.” His response was, “There are a lot of adolescents on the planet.” Cool. Another guy sticking up for what he felt was right. Sagan had some interesting quotes. For instance, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, first you must invent the universe.” He also served as an adviser on Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sagan’s best-known scientific contribution is research on extraterrestrial life.
Another guy who delved deeply into extraterrestrial ‘stuff’ was Dr. J. Allen Hynek. He was an expert in UFO-ology and the man who first suggested the term Close Encounters. And, as it turns out, another fellow, a young movie director who had just completed his first smash hit, Jaws, was very interested in that same subject. Steven Spielberg was sixteen years old when he wrote and directed his first independent film Firelight that would later inspire his second blockbuster. And he borrowed Hynek’s term to create Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Hynek was a consultant on the film and also had a cameo appearance.
The USAF and NASA did not want the film made. In fact, it is reported that NASA sent a twenty-page letter to Spielberg, telling him that releasing the film was dangerous. But Spielberg remained faithful to his vision.
Oliver never met Carl Sagan but he talks about how he sure would have liked to. Supposedly, back in 1984, Sagan did meet Hynek backstage at the Johnny Carson Tonight Show and Sagan said, “I know UFO’s are real but I would not risk my research funding, as you do, to talk openly about them in public.”
The idea of guys like Sagan and Spielberg standing up to higher authority in order to pursue their visions is a subject dear to Oliver’s heart. And it is exactly the kind of thing that he admires about the human spirit. As he says, “The decision to dedicate one’s life to music (and art in general) is a difficult one. Especially in Latin America. It usually goes against everyone’s thinking and advice because the chances of success and/or survival are very low.”
He goes on to describe the five members of the band as kindred spirits. “We don’t believe in dooming our existence to what society thinks is proper for us. We each mean to be faithful to what makes sense to us. And that’s our adventure of being a musician. Our adventure of life. Our Soul Trip.”
One of the places Soul Trip regularly performs is The Drunken Duck in Bucerias.