East Bay graduate student nabs Grammy

Veronica Sanchez,


Photo by Tam Duong Jr.

The first time Mario Silva picked up an instrument — a clarinet — was at 16. He then played and experimented with different instruments, like the bass, drum and guitar, but he didn’t truly connect with an instrument until he chose one for himself: the trumpet.

Silva connected to the trumpet because it is a lead voice in a symphony or orchestra, one of the brightest and loudest instruments people in the audience can hear. “It’s an instrument played by angels and along with the drums, the signal called in war,” Silva said. “I loved what the role of the trumpet was in music and found a connection to its voice.”

Silva, 36, is pursuing his Master’s degree in jazz studies at Cal State East Bay. Along with two other Bay Area musicians, Silva contributed to six tracks on Morgan Heritage’s album “Strictly Roots,” which won the award for best reggae album of the year at the 58th Annual Grammys on Feb 15.

“I was driving on my way to Los Angeles at the time the announcement was made and when I received the news, I was super excited,” Silva stated.

Mario’s initial involvement began about a year ago, with a phone call from his friend Balboa Becker, who asked him if he wanted to collaborate on the album with him.

“We did it by ear,” Silva said. “The singer sang us the line he wanted and we interpreted it and came up with the harmonies on the spot.” The whole recording process took about one night to complete. From that point forward, it was history. “I remember recording it and thinking wow, this sounds pretty amazing,” Silva said. “It sounded really unique.”

As contributors, Kobsef and Silva didn’t receive any award for their work. Although they didn’t get recognized for their contributions to the album, Kobsef said it was still a great experience. “This was a once in a lifetime deal and in a sense, bittersweet because the Morgan family were the only ones who received an award and recognition,” he said.

Silva’s mother Sonia played the piano, his uncle Albert was a salsa DJ and his uncle Norman “El Pulpo” was a bass player, vocalist and percussionist in Cuban music. Growing up, Silva was exposed to funk, blues, jazz, Latin music, Balkan music and R&B.

Photo by Tam Duong Jr.
Photo by Tam Duong Jr.

“I wanted nothing more than to make them proud,” Silva said. “I started getting calls, because I could sight read really well, to play in a lot of salsa bands.” By 19, Silva was playing professionally.

On a daily basis, Silva goes to school, teaches private trumpet lessons at home and online, and works on recordings for his musical projects at night. “Music is a process, a motivation,” Silva said. “I don’t do it for the awards, I simply just do it for me and the love I have for it.”

Silva is currently working on several musical projects and writing his own material. “I want to move on to writing more Latin jazz and straight jazz and also a mix of danceable, salsa jazz.” All of his work can be found on his website at marioalbertosilva.com.