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La Musica y El Ajedrez: In conversation with chess musician Juga di Prima

Juga di Musica. Credits- Juga di Prima Archives
Juga di Musica. Credits- Juga di Prima Archives
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 20 Sep 2020, 15:13 IST
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Juga di Prima has an interesting story to tell, quite different from the usual chess master's tale. She is a musician who uses her passion for tunes and moves to churn out outstanding lyrics that she presents across the world.

The girl from Southern America, who is now based in Europe, has recorded songs that show the melody inherent in the game of chess. In this interview, we talk to Juga to get an insider's view on how she combined her two passions and invented the art of singing chess songs and made it popular worldwide. So, on to the questions now.

1. Can you please introduce yourself for us.

I'm Juga di Prima, a singer / songwriter, scriptwriter and a chess conceptual artist. I was born in Santiago de Chile, but in the last 10 years I've lived on Easter Island, Buenos Aires and am currently living in Budapest.

With my chess songs and music videos, I aim to make more people come closer to the game and get familiar with the universe around it: the symbolic elements, the champions through insightful content.

2. What led you to chess? Then, how did you get into music?

I've been in love with chess since an early age. As a profession, I studied music composing at the conservatory, had several bands and recorded 3 previous albums with my original songs in Spanish, while working in parallel with chess foundations and organisations to promote and support the sport at a competitive and educational level.

Back in 2007, I founded the National Women Chess Championship in Chile. 

But only 2 years ago, I found a way to bring together my biggest passions: Chess and Music.

3. Now, after the previous question, what made you sync chess with music?

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I am a big fan and an amateur player myself. I have competed in over 20 international classical tournaments, play a lot of blitz games online, follow big online tournaments, and in the last few years I have studied chess theory to improve my level. 

Some years ago, I achieved the second place in an international tournament in Greece in my category.

"Oh Capablanca" was born in the middle of a classical tournament that I played in Rome. The Song describes my emotional rollercoaster through a twisted chess game, in which I suffered from over-optimism. Right after the match, I wrote this song to alleviate my grief from losing.

Although more than 16 million games are played online everyday, chess is unfortunately still quite hidden from everyday culture and media. My chess songs and music videos have already brought many people into the game, and that is the most rewarding thing!

4. You have an extremely unique profile as a singer with a focus on chess. Who has been your inspiration? 

I don't think there have been other performing musicians devoting their creativity to chess, so everything about it feels new, there's no path to follow.

Ever since I released my first Chess song 'Oh Capablanca', I've had warm encouragement from many top players and experts as well as fans, and that was essential to continue this road. 

In music, it would be hard to name all the artists and styles I've been inspired by, but if I could name only one, it would be David Bowie.

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In chess, I have many favourite players from the past. Jose Raul Capablanca, Philidor and Mikhail Tal are among them. From the present, I particularly admire ex-World Champion Vishy Anand, who is playing atthe elite level even after 3 decades. He loves astronomy, is a wise man, and has a very witty sense of humor. I particularly enjoy the conversations we've had in Spanish.

5. How do you select your songs? What gives you the motivation to come up with the themes, lyrics, tunes, etc.?

With my chess song lyrics and music video scripts, I mainly explore the emotional and psychological aspects of the game. I want to express all the restrained emotions during a match, including the nice ones and those that are hard to admit.

I believe that chess is a mirror of life as well as a universal language, connecting millions of people no matter their age, gender or culture, and that it can bring a lot of self-growth and skills to anyone, no matter what level you play at . So I share my own life journey in these songs.

Tal vs Botvinnik inspired my song 'Tactical'. Fischer vs Spassky has been the reason for my upcoming songs. A Smyslov vs Karpov game led to 'Isolated Pawn'.  

However, the modern chess world is very inspiring too. The Carlsen vs Caruana match in London 2018 motivated IM Anna Rudolf and I to make a Chess song parody of Camila Cabello's 'Havana', telling that exciting story.

6. What can you say about chess as an art form? 

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Chess forces you to be in a constant state of creativity since your strategy must change rapidly, to adapt to the possibilities of your opponent. Also, as music, chess is an abstract and universal language.

7. Take us through your process of working on chess music and your journey in performing these songs on stage.

The chess inspiration often comes while playing or studying high level games. The lyrics and the melody come mainly together, followed by the chords and harmony.

Then, when I feel that the lyrics and the music are mature, I record it with my guitar. After that, I select some of them and make a demo version with the computer with my co-producer.

After this, we produce the song's arrangements, inviting different musicians to record, and then we mix at the studio, remotely nowadays, it's slower and harder, but it's still possible.

Since my songs talk about normal life experiences based on chess metaphors, I have performed them at several music festivals and venues.

However, mainly, I'm very grateful to the chess community for inviting me to present my songs and videos at some of the world's top events, such as the Batumi Chess Olympiad, World Chess Championship in London, Altibox Norway Chess, European Golden Pawn Awards in Monte Carlo, Global Chess Festival in Budapest, and most recently at virtual events like the 'Online Nations Cup', 'Steinitz Memorial', and the Magnus Carlsen Tour.

Some months ago, I became a chess karaoke streamer on Twitch TV, a gamer platform in which chess is blooming.

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8. Where do you see yourself in the near future with chess music?

Performing my upcoming album live with a full band show and chess related activities. Presenting my lecture 'The Soul of Chess' for non-chess audiences, universities and companies. Developing other chess audiovisual art projects and other upcoming music videos, and keep collaborating with chess players, artists and foundations around the world. 

9. What advice would you give to others who are into art and chess?

Study classical and modern games to get inspiration, and dare to experiment and express those emotions in any combined art form. 

Published 20 Sep 2020, 15:13 IST
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