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Colombian Songwriter Flourishes at Concordia

July 18, 2023 - 3 minute read

Majo singing in Concordia's recording studio

MARIA JOSE “MAJO” INSUASTI came to Concordia from Colombia to study commercial music and brought with her an immense talent as a singer/songwriter.

“She’s a game-changer in our program,” says Steve Young, director of commercial music at Concordia. “Just by her presence, she sets the bar and shapes the culture.”

Majo came from a family of engineers in the city of Pereira, and from her earliest years dreamed of being a musician. Guitar and vocal technique lessons fueled the passion.

“I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is my language. It’s the best way I can express myself,’” she says.

Original melodies flowed, and at 14 she began competing nationally as a soloist and songwriter.

“I was really persistent in going to a lot of festivals, and I started winning some of them,” she says.

Before graduating from high school, she arranged and recorded her songs on an album which combines Colombian folk music, jazz, and pop sensibilities. She studied composition under a leading Colombian folk artist, Luz Marina Posada, and wanted to study music in college, but not at a conservatory. Discovering Concordia’s commercial music major, she says, was “exactly what I was looking for.”

“I prayed a lot, ‘God, if this is the place, let me know.’ And he did,” she says.

Her audition — to the jazz-pop standard, “All of Me” — brought an invitation and a scholarship. She arrived in Irvine, her first time in the U.S., in August 2021, and here has continued her songwriting odyssey in her time on campus.

“It’s been a whole journey exploring how much of Latin American, how much of jazz, how much of this and that should I put into a new song?” she says. “Should I make it completely folky? Poppy? Jazz? Latin? Or a little bit of everything? ... My goal in music is to convey a good message to people, a message that transforms.”

She calls it “the fresh sound of youth.”

Young calls Majo “a hard-worker who’s crazy talented,” but emphasizes that it’s her kindness and affability that speak volumes.

“She’s so encouraging, always helpful. You wonder if she understands how talented she really is,” says Young. “She’s also curious about how music is built. Where does it come from, what are the hallmarks of each style?”

In six years, the commercial music program has become the biggest major within the music department. This year’s class is particularly talented, with several students functioning at a semi-professional level already, says Young.

For Majo, Young has become “a mentor to me,” she says. “If I’m not doing something right, he tells me. He explains that an artist is not only a musician but a great person. I connect with Steve and his ideals. He’s a great educator shaping new generations of musicians.”

Majo already has sung for projects for PBS and Kip Fox’s Songwriting Initiative in Concordia’s Center for Worship Leadership. She was invited by the owner of Campus Jax restaurant in Newport Beach to open for major artists such as Tony Guerrero and jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. And for the recent Gala of Stars, she sang her original song, “Adios.”

Attending Concordia rather than a conservatory is broadening her thinking, she says.

“I am exposed to so many things: math, philosophy, biology. I feel like if I hadn’t taken those classes, I wouldn’t be half the person I am now,” she says. “It changes my whole perspective. Going to college helps you understand why the world is the way it is.”

Those discoveries are reflected in her lyrics. She writes about places — her home city and country, and now, California — along with critiques of violence in Latin America, and, of course, love songs.

“All songwriters need love songs,” she says. “You can express so many messages in them. I talk about the world in love song form. There’s something special about the style. It’s always in awe of things, a hyperbolic way of saying things. Everything seems really wonderful when you’re in love. It’s very idealistic. That is my way of writing about anything.”

She plans, “with God’s help,” to record her next project in Concordia’s music studio while still a student. After college, the sky’s the limit.

“I think she could do anything she wants,” Young says. “I see her being an artist who writes her own music and is involved in arranging and producing that music, too. I think she could do it all. She may end up being the first big artist that comes out of our program.”

Meanwhile, Majo is flourishing at Concordia.

“California is a place for dreamers,” she says. “There are so many opportunities.”


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