Javier Chaparro lost all of his earthly possessions in the Bastrop wildfires that destroyed 34,000 acres in September of last year.
A few days after the fire, the violin virtuoso surveyed what was left of his house.
“I lost everything,” said Chaparro, who’s called Texas home since 1982. “I had a house with five acres in Bastrop and the fire ate all of it.”
The house had a gable roof, he said, and when the fire consumed the walls, the roof collapsed onto the structure, turning the inside of the house into a furnace, destroying everything inside.
“I stood in front of the ashes of my house, next to my wife and I grabbed her hand,” said Chaparro. “I knew I had to be strong for my family. I squeezed my wife’s hand and told her I was going to take care of everything. I thought I needed no one. I didn’t think it in an angry way, just in that Latin macho way, you know—that can-do attitude.”
Chaparro should know. This is the second time he’s had to start his life over from scratch.
A fifth generation musician from Peru, he was a young prodigy and had finished both high school and musical studies at the National Conservatory by the time he was fifteen.
As a recent graduate in 1976, his talent took him to Mexico to play with a youth orchestra a day before a law prohibiting the exodus of young talent was made official in his native country.
Locked out of Peru in an unknown country and away from his family, Chaparro was left only with the clothes in his suitcase, his violin and his talent. A short stint with the youth orchestra and then six years with the Fine Arts Theatre Orchestra in Mexico City followed.
Then, as a young musician, and now, as a successful producer and recording artist, Chaparro found a way to use music to survive and rebuild his life.
Despite his determination and the fact that he counted on no one to come to his rescue after the Bastrop fires, people immediately started putting together fundraisers and helping out. The financial support helped he and his family get their lives back on track. It also allowed Chaparro to put out his latest album, Tuyo.
“The new record is really a celebration of life through music,” said Chaparro. “I want people to listen to the album because it truly has a global feel. There’s no need to speak the language; you can just feel the music and enjoy.”
The album was recorded with his group, Javier Chaparro and Salúd, which includes renowned mandolinist and Texas Swing Hall-of-Famer Paul Glasse, guitarist Mitch Watkins, who plays with Lyle Lovett, guitarron player Stephen Jarrard, whom Javier has been playing with for almost three decades, and Laura Mordecai, whose percussion brings a Latin touch to the proceedings.
For Chaparro, the charitable gestures changed the way he looked at his situation.
“It was unexpected and it felt good,” said the violinist. “It was as if a bunch of hands were somehow pulling me up you and giving me support. I had been determined to do everything by myself, but that feeling of support changed me and I sort of melted a little. I know it sounds strange, but that’s exactly how it felt: like melting. I knew that I could relax a little because I had people that were willing to help me get back on my feet again.”
Luckily, help came not only in the form of money and clothes. He’s slowly rebuilding his violin collection.
“I lost my five violins in the fire, but now I have four new ones—well, they’re new for me!” said Chaparro with a laugh. “One of them is from 1950, one from 1870, one from 1799 and I have one from 1670. I play each one of them every single day. You’re obligated to play them daily in order to make them better. Playing them is how I make sure they receive the maintenance and respect they deserve.”
The Bastrop fire is nothing compared to the passion for music and love for life that burns in Javier Chaparro’s chest.
“My plans are clear right now: I want to write more music and write more songs,” said Chaparro. “I would also love to get the chance to play in my country and be recognized there.”
Despite having lost everything twice, Chaparro still exudes joy. His love for music is contagious. Whether he’s talking about how there was a lot of room for improvisation during the recording of Tuyo so that every musician could add his or her touch, or throwing out names of artists he’s played with, it’s clear Chaparro has a zest for life.
“I’ve learned that life goes on,” said Chaparro. “You can lose what you have, but life’s still beautiful and you have to go on no matter what. It’s a matter of attitude and if you have the right attitude, you’ll also notice that you’re never alone in the world.”
Listen to Chaparro’s new album, Tuyo, below.